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Ohikkoshi

Written and illustrated by Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse Manga
252 pages, $12.95
ISBN-10: 1593076223
ISBN-13: 9781593076221

 

Read excerpt from right to left. College boys will be college boys; sequence from Ohikkoshi, ©2006 Hiroaki Samura.

 

At the height of his career as a manga artist, Hiroaki Samura decided to try something different, and began creating stories more rooted in reality, working under the pseudonym Takei Teashi. I've never read Blade of the Immortal, the action/adventure series for which he's best known, but the three stories reprinted in this volume show a practiced flair for character and storytelling that suggests more range than one might expect from someone long used to the fight-comics trenches.

The title story, a tale of students looking at the end of their academic careers and the beginning of the rest of their lives, isn't quite the entryway to literary comics for which Western art-comics fans have been clamoring since manga first reared its exotic and unfriendly head a few years back, but it's close enough for horseshoes. "Ohikkoshi" follows a young man named Sachi and his friends as they make one last attempt to find love within the circle before the real world sweeps them all off in different directions. There's a certain amount of overacting at work here, and a subplot involving a foreign-born man looking to avenge his Italian mother's broken heart at the hands of a Japanese businessman has a distinctly melodramatic flair, but Samura's ability to keep the plot moving with humor and romantic sparks does a great deal to sweep such caveats under the rug. I found myself falling along with these characters as they experimented with adult rights and pleasures, and recognized more than a few of my own last steps toward adulthood in their antics.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. Alcohol, cigarettes and conversation; sequence from Ohikkoshi, ©2006 Hiroaki Samura.

 

The other two stories are a bit more slight, but still enjoyable. "Luncheon of Tears Diary (Vagabond Shoujo Manga-Ka)" follows a young female cartoonist as a love affair gone wrong leads her into a fourteen-year detour away from her chosen profession, trawling from one end of Japan's criminal underworld to the other before returning to cartooning. It's a bit of a shaggy-dog story, of course, but I couldn't help but feel for her plight nonetheless, and the ending made me laugh. The autobiographical "Kyoto Super Barhopping Journal (Bloodbath at Midorogaike)," which closes out the volume, is really more of a vignette than a fully fleshed-out story, but it's fine enough for a closer and short enough not to leave one feeling cheated by the lack of plot.

This isn't high art: Like Samura's other cartooning career, the purpose of these stories is clearly entertainment rather than some higher literary standard. Still, they provide a glimpse of a cartooning world that approaches middlebrow, non-genre literature, and that's more than Western comics can really provide. Comics afficianadoes hoping to see the current generation of teen manga readers graduating to some Japanese version of Adrian Tomine comics are likely to be disappointed in the coming decade, I suspect — but the possibility of a maturing first wave of manga fans supporting more works like this doesn't necessarily strike me as a bad thing.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. Alas, she has a bit further yet to fall; sequence from "Luncheon of Tears Diary (Vagabond Shoujo Manga-Ka)," ©2006 Hiroaki Samura.

 

If nothing else, the tales found in Ohikkoshi point toward a sub-genre of comics likelier to appeal to the non-comics-reading masses than anything currently found in their Western counterparts' two current extremes, superhero decadence and art-comics purity. Whether or not this is good or bad really depends, I suppose, on whether you want the future medium to be successful or aesthetically correct. I'd prefer the latter, I suppose, but after fifteen years of watching my favorite medium adrift in the wilderness, I can't say I'd be too disappointed with the former, either.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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