by Shunju Aono; adapted by Akemi Wegmuller
published by Viz; $12.99 US
And so the story of Shizuo, 42-year-old wannabe manga artist, comes to a close. I’ll miss seeing how clueless he can be, because in spite of his loser life, the way he gets knocked down but keeps trying is quietly inspiring.
It helps that his head looks like a balloon. There’s a certain amount of “wow, I may be struggling and uncertain, but at least I’m better off than he is.”
I think my favorite part of the series is still the backup story in Book 4 (which I didn’t talk much about at its release, to avoid spoilers). It’s the one focusing on editor Aya’s relationship with her father, who reminds her of Shizuo in his determined ability to make art in spirt of no one wanting it. That story is echoed in the final pages of this book, only this time, we see how Shizuo’s daughter Suzuko thinks about her life and her father.
First, book 5 opens with Shizuo once again determined, creating new stories that Aya rightly rejects. But he’s coming to a better understanding of how to, as she puts it, use “the experience and knowledge you’ve gathered over the course of your life” to “serve as powerful weapons in your work.” He’s up against an age bias, since a magazine aimed at school-age readers likes younger creators as more relevant to its audience. He’s also got to stop writing stories that “have more to do with persuading yourself of something than your readers”. In other words, he’s got to empathize with people other than himself and communicate with them.
That theme is echoed in a disturbingly unhappy subplot. Shizuo’s friend Miyata opened a bakery because it was a way to connect with his son after the divorce from his mother. However, the ex-wife (in the last book) announced that she wanted to take the child with her and move to America. Without any relationship left with the child he loved so much, Miyata doesn’t see any purpose in continuing, leaving letters behind to explain his feelings to others.
The idea that sometimes, a middle-aged person feels as though there’s no point going on, that his best days are behind him, is one most adults can sympathize with. Yet friendship can be the tie you need to continue. Like any artist, Shizuo then uses the experience as the basis for his next manga attempt, which gives him the breakthrough in thinking about someone else that he needs.
The book ends with a focus on the next generation in the person of Suzuko. We get to see what happened to her mother (to a degree) and learn about her history in school, where she faced horrific bullying we never previously knew about (because Shizuo never let her father know about it). Also revealed is why she wants to go abroad and study architecture. It’s an odd way to end the book, but it allows for a flash-forward and a hint of how Shizuo might end up in another five years. I prefer to think of him as perpetually in the now, still striving and making manga in an attempt to understand his own life. (The publisher provided a review copy.)