Viz – you do so well with these licenses of manga for adults; more please?
It is rather unfortunate that both the terms ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ are often the words selected as designators for entertainment that is pornographic or sexually-charged in nature. Makes it a bit difficult when one wishes to indicate that something, such as a manga, is meant for adults… but not necessarily because it has sexytimes in it. There’s really no proper shorthand for it. Ah well.
Most of my readers will know of Natsume Ono, the author of not simple, because of the anime adaptations of her multi-volume manga House of Five Leaves or Ristorante Pardiso. I must confess I’ve never read nor watched either, although I have wanted to check out House of Five Leaves for a while. Having read not simple, I only feel more inclined to; additionally, I plan to purchase some of her other one-volume efforts that have been released in English when I next do some manga purchasing. I quite like what I’ve read of her stuff so far.
Which, really, is to say that I liked not simple.
not simple is a story told mostly in… not quite flashback, as that often implies that someone is activedly thinking back to something, but we start after everything has occurred and from the life of a person who has only the most tenuous of connections to the story (and, it seems, connections to the Italian-American mob, which I mention solely since a number of Ono’s stories are set in Italy, so I find this added detail, well, at least worth mentioning). From there, we travel mostly back in time, although the story does skip forward and back within the past a bit, and we are introduced to the true protagonist, an Australian boy (and, later, man) named Ian, who hails from a highly dysfunctional family, and who ultimately winds up in America, searching for his mother. It is in America that Ian meets the journalist who will turn his story into a book, presumably intended to be the very volume from which you read.
Its difficult to discuss much more than that about the manga, as its very easy to provide spoilers for the events of the book, especially as it doesn’t move in a smooth chronologically-sorted fashion from point A to point B. There’s a lot of “heavy” stuff here – prostitution, AIDs, incest, child abuse, alcoholism, child rape, to name a few. For the most part, its handled well, although there were a few points at which I found myself a bit incredulous; how much bad stuff could really happen to one person, after all? But these moments are few, certainly few enough that they can be overlooked, few enough that it doesn’t harm the overall quality of the volume.
not simple is done in Natsume Ono’s rather recognizable style, which is to say, the art is quite spare, but its an early work of hers, and you’ll find even less flourish here than in House of Five Leaves. It works perfectly with the story, though, and is honestly easier on the reader than the overly-done approaches to art that have become common in manga (with shoujo and shounen being the worst offenders). For most manga readers, though, it may be a bit off-putting, particularly for those who enjoy manga in part because it is exotic simply by being foreign; not simple doesn’t “look” like manga. I don’t care about this, but, let’s not kid ourselves, for some, as I said, the attraction to manga is that it looks obviously ‘other’.
Anyway, to be perfectly honest, even if not simple wasn’t all that good, I’d welcome its publication in English for the mere fact that it’d be publishers releasing something for the twenty-plus crowd and not just the folks snapping up volumes of Vampire Knight and Bleach. Viz has more recently released Ono’s La Quinta Camera and Tesoro as well, seeming to indicate that they plan to continue to license such properties (too bad they’re the only major publisher seemingly interested in such an effort to date, though – although, at this point, who do we count as ‘major’ publishers? I suppose Yen qualifies, and Digital Manga Press? does Kodansha’s American wing count? it feels like the ground has shifted so much since I first became a fan of manga…). Although, then again, perhaps Ono has just proven enough of a seller to warrant more licensing of her work. But, hey, I can get behind that, too. Just cross your fingers Viz keeps us slightly older folk in mind when picking up titles; how about some more Inio Asano?
But, well, enough fo that. If you’re looking for a manga that’s not meant for fifteen year olds, I highly recommend not simple. And I also highly recommend we all write weeping letters to Viz to please remember that some of their fans are aging out of Naruto land and would be happy if we got tossed a few bones once in a while.
EDIT: Ugh, can’t believe I forgot to include this – I meant to comment upon the fact that the journalist in the story is gay. Not terribly shocking for an Ono work, yes, but what’s so nice about it is that the fact that he’s gay isn’t his sole trait as a character. How novel! Rather refreshing in a manga, and, yes, this is coming from a BL fan… although, let’s not be silly, everyone knows those guys in BL aren’t actually gay! It’s just, you know, its just…! Its you, so its okay!