Monday, November 2, 2009

Manga Review: What a Wonderful World 1 & 2

Viz Media’s latest manga release, What a Wonderful World definitely makes its mark and will leave an impression upon you. The two volume series by Inio Asano is a collection of vignettes that are loosely connected to each other in some size, shape, or form. While each tale is decidedly different than the next, there’s one common them running through them: Life sucks, but no matter how down you are you need to look at the positives in order to get ahead.

What a Wonderful World is not necessarily a feel good kind of manga. The characters in each of the series’ nineteen stories are going through some very rough times. Generally speaking there’s some kind of resolution for the better here, but each tale is laced with metaphors and until you make your way to the conclusion the stories will undoubtedly have a profound effect on you.

In the first volume, the opening tale, “Quick Like a Bunny”, is about a girl named Toga who dropped out of college to be part of a band. She lives a listless existence and is haunted by the mistakes she made that brought her to this point. Rather than own up to them, she hides in her room and doesn’t have anything to do with the people she once called friends. A fateful meeting reintroduces her to an old acquaintance and when her apartment goes down in a blaze she’s left with no other alternative than to pursue her dream of being a rock star.

As Toga’s story ends the next story picks up as a familiar face walks by a girl on the street who is transfixed by a black crow she deems to be a shinigami. In this tale the girl is ostracized by the rest of her class and is picked on each and every day. It takes it to the point where the girl doesn’t see much point in living any longer, but eventually the crow goads her into doing something reckless. She puts everything on the line and risks her life to achieve what she never thought possible. This story in particular showcases just how cruel kids can be, though I felt the next one was markedly better.

At the end of the previous tale the lead character has a delivery truck zoom by her. That segues into the next tale about a criminal on the run who takes a young girl hostage. Realizing his time is drawing near he imparts whatever knowledge he can onto the girl and gets her to work for him. This one had some nice undertones and the characters developed in some impressive ways considering there were only 30 pages devoted to it.

I really think that’s one of the things I found most striking about What a Wonderful World. Each tale truly sticks with you, and that’s largely due to the fact that Asano shows he’s an expert at his craft. There’s a certain slice of life feeling here, and though flowing from one story to the next can be rather disjointing at times, you really get the sense that each story is part of a larger picture. By the time you put down the second volume you’ll feel uplifted, despite how down and depressing many of these tales are. It’s almost formulaic how Asano gives you the worst of a situation and follows along as things get better. It feels realistic though, and that’s a large part of this manga’s charm.

What a Wonderful World is presented in English and the translation truly feels flawless. Each line has meaning and the script that was transformed from the original Japanese really carries all the weight it was intended to. Likewise the artwork by Asano stands out. This is my first time experiencing the works of Asano, though several of his other projects are already on the market such as solanin, Hikari no Machi, and Uchuu kara Konnichiwa. I am definitely interested in checking out these other releases now, though I believe solanin is the only one translated and presently available through VIZ.

The bottom line is if you love manga and are looking for something that marches to the beat of a different drummer then you should definitely check out What a Wonderful World. It leaves a lasting impression and each of the self-contained stories is a joy to revisit long after you put the book down. Add this one to your collection and you won’t be disappointed.

Maki Rating:

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