Tesoro

By Natsume Ono. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Ikki and in various doujinshi. Released in North America by Viz.

It’s time for another Manga Movable Feast, this one timed for the release of Tesoro, a collection of short stories by Natsume Ono. It’s a good collection to discuss, as I think it contains most of her strengths and weaknesses in one convenient package. Plus it has a bear on the cover. Everything’s better with bears.

The strengths of the book are mostly all at the front, as she’s put her later work first. This is good, as by 2003-2006 (the period we see here), she’s already developed and honed her style and type of dialogue. There’s some Italian stuff here, as you’d expect (it’s almost inevitable by this point, Ono simply loves Italy – and no doubt finds the constant conversation she does easier to justify with Italian men). But there’s some excellent stuff that takes place in Japan as well, including what is probably my favorite of the collection, a story about a couple who are both very thin, and tend to have gossip floating around them. “Quiet stubbornness” is possibly the most defining trait of Ono’s men, and it’s in full flower here.

The other story that really captures the attention here is Eva’s Memory, about an orphan girl with a tendency to call various men her father and how that gets a man running for election into a bit of controversy. It’s told through the point of view of her friend, who has just the right amount of exasperation and sympathy. Which is good, as Eva also rides the line here between liking her and wanting to smack her. It’s a good thing that the politician in question is so nice… and there’s also a question of who her real parents actually are, something our hero finds out as he tries to help Eva and also regain his sense of optimism about anything good in the world.

The second half of the book contains doujinshi that were written in the late nineties and early 2000s, and it shows – they’re far messier, and not just in the art. There’s a story about a young man getting out of a 5-year prison stint (he killed someone while drunk driving) that cries out to be rewritten now that she’s at the height of her powers, but instead comes across as… well, here’s the thing. When Ono is on, you can read 800 pages of her characters sitting in one room talking and you don’t care a lick. When she isn’t, it’s all just so much verbosity that you want to scream at people to “get on with it!”. Likewise, her characters ride a fine line, as I noted above in the Eva story. In a later story involving a girl named Monica and her bad luck with men, she came across as the villain to me, so I never got into the story.

Tesoro is therefore an excellent sampler of Ono’s work, but not something that should be a beginning for anyone who wants to try her. They’re better off with Ristorante Paradiso, in my opinion. For the seasoned Ono fan, however, there’s several gems in here. And even the sketchy ones have something to pick out – the story involving the chef who wants to see a movie is almost incoherent at times, but the punchline is fantastic. (And yes, he’s right – it *is* OK if it’s The Sting).

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