Danza

This isn’t the first collection of short stories by Natsume Ono (Ristorante Paradiso, House of Five Leaves) to make it to the US. Viz put out Tesoro last year. Since I liked that volume, I had high hopes for this one, but it wasn’t as satisfying for me. That may say something about the work, or more likely, it says that I was looking for a different kind of subject matter.

Danza contains six short stories. All have the unfinished melancholy I associate with Ono’s work, so fans will likely be happy to see this, consistent with her typical tone. By “unfinished”, I mean that I always feel a bit unfulfilled after reading Ono’s stories — I wish she’d told us a bit more about these characters, their histories and motivations. The characters often read like sketches to me, needing a little more meat to seem three-dimensional.

Artistically, the weirdly round heads and giant eyes continue. I’m reminded at times of the 1960s work of Jules Feiffer, although his figures have more sense of movement. Ono’s people, in contrast, are lumpy and grounded.

Fans of Ono’s work might appreciate seeing her stretch into other genres. Two of the tales here fall into that category. “Memories of the Lake” is science fiction, postulating a time travelling visitor who brings a father and son closer together, while “Partners” is a cop show in comic form. Two police partners risk being torn apart by rumors unless they trust each other. The latter is a better choice, in my opinion, for Ono’s style. Perhaps it’s too many expectations on my part when it comes to SF, but I prefer a slicker, more polished style for that type of story, even with her emphasis on the people instead of the concept.

“Rubber Boots”, which opens the book, similarly reunites a father and son, this time around the grape harvest at the family vineyard. It’s one of those stories where I want to shake the participants, because if they’d just bother to talk to each other, there wouldn’t be a need for this many pages. On the other hand, it gives Ono a chance to show just how wonderful she is with emotional expression, surprisingly so with her thin-line mouths.

“Diorama” has a Japanese father annoyed with the visit of his daughter and her German-American husband. You’ll notice a theme, that Ono is focusing on fathers and sons (or sons-in-law) … which around this point made me mad that we didn’t know enough about how the daughter/wife thought about all this. She was merely a connection point, an excuse to bring the two men into contact. The actual bonding moment is quite silly, but if you’re playing along with the mood Ono has created, you won’t notice that until later.

“The Gelateria and the Carabinieri” indulges Ono’s love of Italy, with a joke among police officers (another theme, as the son-in-law in “Diorama” is also one) involving ice cream. “Smoke” has two estranged brothers trapped in a collapsed basement after an earthquake, the perfect setting for Ono’s wallowing in emotion, since there’s nothing else to do but talk while waiting to be rescued.

Ultimately, this volume is all about male bonding, which is probably why I didn’t care for it much. There’s an awful lot of that in comics already, and I’m seeking stories that reflect the views of women or have significant female characters. In contrast, this book portrays a world almost without them. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

2 Comments

  1. I quote “Ultimately, this volume is all about male bonding, which is probably why I didn’t care for it much. There’s an awful lot of that in comics already, and I’m seeking stories that reflect the views of women or have significant female characters”. But Ono writes about men relationships more than anything else, that’s her trademark. She’s not the kind of writer as maybe Fumi Yoshinaga who also loves writing about women (as she did so well in All My Darling Daughters).

  2. That’s true, it does seem to be a subject that Ono sticks with. I hope it was clear that it’s simply a mismatch with my taste, not something I thought she should change.

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