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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
29th-Mar-2007 12:00 pm
Atagoul
And a new URL! We now have www.smithsoncomic.com as a mirror, so you can click over there to read this week's page, which is all about the steam tunnels.

And Andrew has a new installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion:

http://www.webcomicsnation.com/andrew/bazillion/series.php

Also, the deadline is nearing for the nominating round of the Harvey Awards, one of the comics industry's big three awards. If you're a comics creator, and you enjoy our fine comics, please consider nominating Narbonic, Smithson, and/or William Bazillion in the Best Online Comics Work category. Since Narbonic ended in December 2006, this is the last year it can be nominated.

What else? Oh, right! Overlooked Manga Festival!



Other bloggers have been talking about this one, but that doesn't mean I can't, right? Right. Okay, let's do this thing.



Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms just came out in a lovely edition from jaPRESS and Last Gasp, with color pages and endnotes and a map and everything. It won crazy awards in Japan, while attracting some controversy for its subject matter. The slim volume comprises two stories by Fumiyo Kouno about her hometown, Hiroshima, and the ghosts that still haunt it.



The first story, "Town of Evening Calm," is set in Hiroshima in 1955. Ten years have passed since the atomic bomb was dropped, but in the dirt-poor "atomic slum," families are still decimated and people still die of radiation sickness. As grim a backdrop as this is, Kouno creates a warm, fond portrait of the devastated city, full of sweetness and small pleasures. Her art is lively and cute, brightening her drawings of Minami, a young woman who survived the atomic explosion, as she goes about her day.



But beneath the joys lie unbearable sorrow and pain, as both Minami and the city itself suffer from a gnawing wound that refuses to heal. This is a sweet story, but also a deeply sad story. To the Japanese mentality, this is not a contradiction.



The second story, "Country of Cherry Blossoms," is divided into two parts. The first takes place in 1987. Nanami, a baseball-loving tomboy, lives in Tokyo, but she's the daughter of a hibakusha, an atomic bomb survivor, and the spectre of death and illness drifts over her family even in its happiest moments.



In the second part, set in 2004, Nanami secretly follows her father on a trip to Hiroshima. Nanami's afternoon adventure is interspersed with flashbacks depicting how her parents met in the atomic slum.



Discrimination against the hibakusha (there are over 250,000 living in Japan today) is a recurring theme in "Country of Cherry Blossoms." Valid fears about the long-term effects of radiation get muddled up with superstitions, half-truths, and a general attitude that the people who walked away from the atomic bomb aren't quite right and should be avoided.

But neither half of the story is about Hiroshima, per se. The first half is about moving and losing a friend, and the second is about reconnecting with that friend in adulthood. Hiroshima is just there, an unavoidable part of the scenery, like a mountain or the moon.



Hiroshima stories have long been a part of manga, and particularly a part of manga in America. One of the first manga published in English was Barefoot Gen, a heavily autobiographical account of the bombing of Hiroshima by survivor Keiji Nakazawa. What Kouno brings to the genre is a sense of distance and a quiet, conversational, uninsistent tone. This is not, for the most part, a book about the horror of the atomic bomb. It's a book about the sad and lovely and aching city that grew up around that horror.

It's not quite accurate to say that the charming artwork and gentle mood of Kuono's stories provide a counterpoint to the darkness of the atomic bomb, or that they mask it. It's more that Kuono finds beauty and sweetness within that darkness. I'm reminded of a snippet of dialogue in Mariko Parade, a Japanese-French coproduction and probable future Overlooked Manga:

"Though you know, for the Japanese, there is a feeling that is stronger than love itself..."
"Do you think I'm not fully aware of that? It's been a few years now that I've been living here among you! Stronger than love itself is...the decline of love. A flower is never more beautiful than at the very moment it begins to fade..."

The Japanese term for this is mono no aware, an awareness and love of transience, of mortality, of the beauty of things that are doomed. It suffuses not only Japanese art and literature, but much of the Japanese sensibility in general. The cherry blossom is the most beloved flower in Japan precisely because it dies so quickly.



Manga fans may be a little taken aback by Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms. In stark contrast to the fast-paced, plot-driven approach of most mainstream manga--and, for that matter, a lot of alternative manga--it's slow, casual, subtle, and largely plotless. Kouno invites you to spend some time with her characters and their city, and then she steps aside. But what a visit.



Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Basara
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Dr. Slump
Your and My Secret
Phoenix
Kekkaishi
Wild Act
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Monster
Swan
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
Banana Fish
Skip Beat
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Cyborg 009
Anywhere But Here
To Terra

Comments 
29th-Mar-2007 09:26 pm (UTC)
This is one I'll have to look for, in addition to replacing my Grave of the Fireflies disc.
29th-Mar-2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
Also for your Harvey Awards consideration:

BEST SINGLE ISSUE OR STORY
(LIST ISSUE NUMBER(S) OR TITLE OF STORY AND PUBLISHER)
1. "AIM Lang Syne," Marvel Holiday Special 2006, Marvel Comics (by Andrew Farago, Shaenon Garrity & Ron Lim)

BEST ANTHOLOGY
(ANY MAGAZINE, COMIC BOOK, OR BOOK WITH WORK BY THREE OR MORE CREATORS, AT LEAST 50% OF WHICH IS NEW – LIST TITLE AND PUBLISHER)
1. Marvel Holiday Special 2006



30th-Mar-2007 10:35 am (UTC)
I've really been intending to get this...

Two pointless questions--a few people have mentioned it attracted controversy in Japan but no one said why... It seems to me, since there have already been a few manga/anime related to Hiroshima although in quite different, more direct ways, that any modern controversy would be kinda odd. Any specifics?

Also, because I love to classify and contrast things until there's absolutely no life left in them, (grin), would this be classified as Josei?

E
1st-Apr-2007 12:15 am (UTC)
Anonymous
>Two pointless questions--a few people have mentioned it attracted controversy >in Japan but no one said why

I'm not aware of any controversy linked with the release of this book. Now I could be wrong, but I think the controversy bit was a mistranslation of the blurb on the book's back cover. The original Japanese cover text describes "Town of Evening Calm..." as a _mondaisaku_ (問題作), lit. "a problem work." It's easy to see how this could lead to a misleading translation. The French edition released by Kana, for instance, translated this as "L'oeuvre polémique [d'un auteur engagé!]" (The polemical work [by a committed author!]).

The word _mondaisaku_ is used to describe a work that deals with an important topic and therefore attracts a lot of attention. A _mondaisaku_ is something people talk about. But this word does not imply controversy. I don't think the Japanese publisher (Futabasha) would have used it otherwise.

And anyway, it should be clear from reading this book that Kouno had no intention to point fingers at anyone.

>Also, because I love to classify and contrast things until there's >absolutely no life left in them, (grin), would this be classified as Josei?

No, "Town of Evening Calm..." is considered seinen.
16th-Jul-2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
" I am not aware of any opposition to any form of stem cell research. The principled resistance is to embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).
9th-Oct-2008 02:53 pm (UTC)
From the artsy seinen of Town of Evening Calm to the yuri sweetness of the Last Uniform it almost seemed impossible to settle on a few.
1st-Apr-2007 03:30 am (UTC)
This is a sweet story, but also a deeply sad story. To the Japanese mentality, this is not a contradiction.

I don't know why you make this sound something unique to Japanese people, especially since there is an English word to specifically describe this situation: "bittersweet".
22nd-Apr-2007 09:51 pm (UTC)
Shaenon, I just read this book (it was given to me as a birthday present) and it broke my heart! I'm still sad about it...
22nd-Feb-2008 12:07 am (UTC)
What a wealth of information! Your reviews are so thorough and thanks to you, my Magna horizons have expanded. I'm trying to learn how to speak japanese so that I can read my Magnas in Japanese and hopefully take a trip to Japan.
17th-Oct-2008 03:31 am (UTC)
Simply talk to someone from or take a trip to Japan, France, Spain or Germany or other "enlightened" countries.
22nd-Feb-2008 12:09 am (UTC)
What a wealth of information! Your reviews are so thorough and thanks to you, my Magna horizons have expanded. I'm trying to learn how to speak japanese so that I can read my Magna in Japanese.
11th-Apr-2008 02:29 am (UTC) - http://www.inpaz.com
Anonymous
Just
test
4th-Jun-2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
Little review about Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.



What impact did World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb have on the common people of Japan? Through the eyes of an average woman living in 1955, Japanese artist Fumiyo Kouno answers these questions. This award-winning manga appears in an English translation for the first time. Fumiyo Kouno's light, free style of drawing evokes a tender reflection of this difficult period in Hiroshima's postwar past. As the characters continue with everyday life, the shadow of the war and the atomic bombing linger ghostlike in the background. Kouno's beautiful storytelling touches the reader's heart but is never overly sentimental. A widely embraced best seller in Japan, where the work was also controversial, Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is the winner of several prestigious awards including Grand Prize at the 8th Japan Media Arts Festival (2004), New Life Award at the 9th Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prizes (2005). Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is made up of interconnected short stories; the first is a love story entitled Town of Evening Calm; followed by the two-part story Country of Cherry Blossoms.


You can buy Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms at manga comic


Regards
Andy Landers



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