Emanon, Vol. 1: Memories of Emanon

By Shinji Kajio and Kenji Tsuruta. Released in Japan as “Omoide Emanon” by Tokuma Shoten, serialized in the magazine Comic Ryu. Released in North America by Dark Horse Comics. Translated by Dana Lewis.

I must admit, I wasn’t even aware this was a famous Japanese SF story till after I’d finished this volume and was reading the afterwords. Japan’s market for such titles tends to wax and wane (as the afterword itself notes), and I had never read a translation of this story. That said, I’m definitely interested in seeking it out now, as I found this to be an excellent adaptation. A great combination of thoughtful dialogue and striking art, it’s also exactly the right length, though I say that knowing that there are more volumes coming in the future that apparently expand on the original story. This particular volume, though, works very well as a stand-alone, and also gets into some of the big questions of how memory works, what makes a human, and where are we headed in the future. All that plus a bittersweet not-quite romance.

Our protagonist is a young college-aged man who’s getting over a broken heart from a one-sided love, so takes the ferry back to his hometown. While on the ferry he meets a young woman, and though they initially don’t get on, they are drawn together in a mutual desire to avoid drunken creeps hitting on her. Eventually she gives a name to him – Emanon, aka “no name” backwards – and, since he’s a science fiction reader and thus has an open mind, tells him a bit about herself and her life, which seems to go back about three million years, Despite her being born in 1950. (The story is set in 1967.) She’s very guarded, at one point passing off her entire confession as a story, but the guy’s open curiosity and acceptance helps her open up more, and they grow closer. That said, this is not really a romance.

The manga seems to alternate between pages of quite, introspective panels and pages that are filled with dialogue as the two leads discuss Emanon’s situation, what it means for her, and what it means for humanity. The story’s origins as science fiction really come to the fore here, but it’s a tribute to the story itself that I was never bored. This volume has a postscript years later, where the (now married) protagonist sees the girl he met on the ferry again, only she doesn’t know who he is. That said, this does not mean Emanon has forgotten him. It’s a good, wistful yet hopeful end for this story, and I’m actually rather curious to see how the manga develops in future volumes, which appear to follow Emanon’s journey. The art is also fantastic, to the point where the end of the book is several pages, both color and black and white, of Emanon just wandering around Japan wordlessly.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, and ended up pleasantly surprised. If you’re looking for something introspective and thought-provoking, this is a very good title to pick up.

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