Danza

By Natsume Ono. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Morning Two. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

After seeing how popular (well, popular with manga bloggers) Natsume Ono’s other works were when Viz Media was putting her stuff out, Kodansha decided they wanted to get in on the game as well. After all, Ono didn’t only write for Ikki and Manga Erotics F, she also did stuff for Morning Two, Kodansha’s alternative manga magazine best known for Saint Young Men (which will never be licensed here ever). And Danza seems to be a good test market – it’s a collection of one-shot short stories, so little investment is required, and it deals with the same thing most of Ono’s best manga deal with – awkward conversations between people who have trouble communicating.

As with a lot of short story collections, it’s a mixed bag. Viz also did some of her collected short stories, and I think it shows that she works better at a slightly longer form with characters we can invest in (such as Ristorante Paradiso/Gente). Of course, this doesn’t mean that this collection doesn’t have some excellent stuff. But these are stories that are meant to provoke a wistful mood, with only one of them (involving Italian ices and police officers) even getting close to giving me a wry grin. When you draw mild, somewhat sad low-key manga, you need to anticipate that the reaction will be somewhat low-key as well. There’s also one short-story here that didn’t work for me, involving time-travel and father-son relationships. I felt this one added one too many plot complications, which is ironic given that almost 40 of its 60 pages are taken up with sitting at a table talking.

But as I said above, when Ono is on her game there’s no one I enjoy reading better. The best stories here involve things, again, I’ve seen from her before – grumpy fathers (or father figures) who gruffly disguise any feelings or emotions they may have under a veneer of indifference, doubly helped by the fact that they’re taciturn and uncommunicative naturally. Long pauses, saying things slightly poorly, shutting up for hours because you don’t want to risk spoiling the mood further… these are all things any reader is familiar with no matter what the country. And these stories (which take place in not only Italy, Ono’s default country, but also the United States and Japan)make you yearn for that connection, make you want to see everyone work it out. You want to see people talk, but it’s not drawn out enough that you’re yelling at the page.

As for Ono’s art, it is what it is, and I don’t think too many people read the story for her expressions. Which is a shame, as they fit her mood so well. If you have skill at drawing men who sort of frown and glance downwards furtively, well then write stories that use that! Ono’s heroes tend to look shifty even if they aren’t, which can sometimes help to pace a story as well, particularly the final one about a police officer and his new recruit, who’s listening to far too many rumors.

This isn’t going to be a knock-out up there with the best of Ono’s works, but nor is it just a collection of throwaways. It’s a Natsume Ono book, and if you don’t know what you’re getting by now it may not be for you. For those who do, it’s more of the same. (furtive glance to the side, frowns) And that’s enough.

(This review was based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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