I used to think I didn’t like a manga because of the style, the layout or the look of the characters … but I was wrong. It was my failure to engage.
Put differently – it was the artist’s failure to deliver characters and a story that engaged me. And that’s because so many mangaka cannot inject real humanity into their characters. They’re always cliches. Shallow one-note-sambas. Okay – so I’m not the target market. I’m not Japanese. I’m no teenager; I’m not ‘hip’; and I’m profoundly disinterested in mecha, magical girls, swords, the supernatural, in-ya-face fan-service et al.
But sometimes I find a manga that absolutely utterly grabs me, and Soredemo Machi Wa Mawatteiru did exactly that.
I’d seen the first 12 episodes of the anime, then I watched them all again. Stylistically fabulous: weird camera angles, irrelevant closeups, and scenes that develop like a Seinfeld comedy – only a lot better.
I became enchanted. I researched it. I recorded the opening soundtrack and now it’s my ringtone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxQqb_ULBjk
And one particular episode totally grabbed me: Episode 12. No spoilers, but it is very powerful, very unexpected, and very emotionally engaging. something hit home. At a very deep level, it dug into my humanity and didn’t let go. I was hooked.
I wanted more, and I finally found it in the original manga. I almost didn’t start because the anime is overpumped, cranking up the zany side of the characters at the expense of the more subtle stuff, and the manga starts in a similar fashion. But I persevered, and got HOOKED, and I raced through it: All 133 episodes. And it is extraordinarily good.
The core character is un-typical high school girl Hotori Arashiyama – seemingly a total ditz; a dim-wit and a loser. A self-centred prat cheerfully fucking up everything she does, then going all emo about it. And all the time she nurtures a seemingly hopeless dream of being a detective. (Note this – because it becomes the core of everything about this manga.)
But she grows. She gets smarter. She starts to see beyond herself. And very subtly, very skillfully, the author reveals in her a deep sense of ethics. Of ‘giri’ (look it up if you don’t know it.) She’s a big sister. She works hard for her siblings (who have their own fabulous side-adventures). She works hard for her class. She cares about love and justice and discovering the truth behind all the oddball mysteries that keep popping up.
And the stories get better and better too. Clever, layered, definitely from the mind of a genius. And a storytelling genius, too! I’ve never had so much fun reading a ‘comic’. It’s like a brilliantly constructed movie. I was set up, tricked, delighted, enchanted by all the twists and turns. Mind. Blow. And the bizarre diversions Ishiguro Masakazu would occasionally take into Science Fiction, Dreams, the Supernatural and even Death. Whack!
Brilliant stuff. EXAMPLE: The opening scene plays out – it seems irrelevant – it disappears – you forget about it … then 20 pages later he comes right back to it – BAM – it’s the very core of the entire episode.
Oh and the cliff-hangers! He sets up a pivotal scene loaded with emotion … you turn the page … and you don’t get the pay-off. You never see it. You have to imagine it for yourself. Sure: the reveal comes around but meanwhile you’re on tenterhooks … “So what happened?” “What did she say?” “What did he say?” “Oh no – he lost!” …
The characters often lose. But they take something from it. And there is always someone there who still cares (often Hotori), someone waiting with cake, coffee or a kind word … And they argue too, they get pissy with each other, even to having complete fall-outs. They’re human. And it is always Hotori, the supposed idiot, who becomes the skillful peace-maker. There are moments of pure WIN. You’ll get it in the feels, I promise. (well; I did.)
She also scrubs up as a detective! Some fab stories later in the series.
Some Final Points of Praise (and this gets mentioned in TV Tropes): Ishiguro succeeds at drawing every character different! If you get lost in manga because the artists keeps replicating the same style of face, you’ll love this manga. SO Many Characters; every one unique. The anatomy is impeccable. The expressions: priceless. The poses: infinite. So. Damn. Good!
Give it time to hit its straps. I recommend MangaFreak. Start HERE:
Soredemo Machi Wa Mawatteiru by Ishiguro Masakazu