So I continue my recent trend of manga reviews with yet another recommendation, this time Inio Asano’s What a Wonderful World!. Asano is also the author of solanin, which I reviewed just a bit earlier this week.
While with solanin I can nail down pretty precisely the why of why I liked it and recommend it, What a Wonderful World! is harder for me to tackle. I really enjoyed it, but its anthologic nature makes it more difficult to discuss in general and in particular in like versus dislike. It’s just one of those titles where perhaps the best way to put it is that it wasn’t a sugar-coated affair; some of (most of) the people were in bad situations or less-than-desirable ones but there was no magic fix that came along. Life just… happened, much like our own lives do, and there weren’t necessarily beginnings or ends to the individual stories. Maybe a particular period of a person’s life did, or a particular aspect of the situation at hand did, but it all the strings didn’t get neatly tied off and tucked away.
So, this may end up being a matter of personal taste. I like stories which are more reflective of the fact that lives do not, by and large, have definitive start points and end points (other than birth and death, obviously) for things, and that even with end points or start points a lot is often left up in the air. I don’t like stories that answer every question. The stories of WaWW! are, in the truest sense of the term, slice-of-life. You see a segment of a person’s life, and a very small one at that.
As for the exact content itself, it’s an anthology of stories connected by the slightest of threads – for example, in one transition, the last page of one story shows people walking on a street and a truck going by. The first page of the next story shows the same shot, but from a different angle; the characters are across the street from the people in the last story. Other connections are the friend of a main character in one of the stories, or a classmate, or a co-worker, etc.
WaWW! strikes a less optimistic chord than did solanin, although I suppose that, too, will depend on personal beliefs. I can’t really say any more on that line, since to do so would be to spoil some of the stories late in the collection. I will say that the second volume is less optimistic than the first, though.
While I enjoyed all of the stories, there were two that stuck with me after I finished reading (I re-read them both recently after having first read them last December). One was about a middle school-aged girl who is bullied by her classmates, and is exhorted by a crow to give up and kill herself. Another was about a few young men who have been trying to pass entrance exams for college, and this really out there guy that they hang out with.
The resolution of the girl and crow story is fantastic. I would tentatively call it a modern fairy tale – and I mean ‘fairy tale’ like they did in the pre-Disney sense. The main character has a problem (she’s bullied, her confidence is low), she engages in a challenge, she overcomes it, and there are fantastical elements involved. Yes, I just used variations of fantastic twice in one paragraph. No, I do not care, because there is no other way to describe either; I didn’t want to use ‘awesome’ for the descriptor of the resolution.
As for the college entrances guys… on paper that doesn’t look like much at all, admittedly. But the content is beautiful. I absolutely cannot say anything else, though, because it is the climax of the story which gives it its power, and I don’t want to give that away. Suffice to say that it is all about living your life how you want to and being happy with it, regardless of where that lands you, just that knowledge that you are being true to yourself to the letter.
Have I convinced you yet? At least piqued your curiosity? I sure hope so; this is one of those few anthologies where I enjoyed every single story to some extent. Even in anthologies in which there is only one author, there are usually at least a couple or clunkers or pieces that just don’t appeal to one. It’s just the nature of the beast.
If you’re looking for some more mature manga to read, definitely check out WaWW!. Even in the pieces which feature younger characters, the focus is nevertheless more serious and mature; no high school romcom hijinks to be found at all. Just the every day life.