Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Emanon Volume 1 - a sci-fi manga set in the past (Manga Review)

Volume 1
Emanon vol. 1 - 7/10

I took a flyer on Emanon Volume 1 (By Shinji Kajio and Kenji Tsuruta, published by Dark Horse). I knew nothing about it. It wasn't what I was expecting, but it was pretty cool.

The manga is based on a series of sci-fi-ish short stories about a mysterious woman named Emanon originally written by Shinji Kaijo. This is science fiction in a way, but it could just as easily be mythology, or legend, or religion. Or none of the above.

What will be most challenging in reviewing this volume, is not giving away the central tenet of the story for those who have not read it. Reviewing this without talking about that is going to mean that I won't have much to say, but that's okay, because for those that do read it, you should probably go in blind. No spoilers!

The story takes place in the 1960s in post-war Japan on a ferry boat where a man in his early twenties meets a young woman of about 17 years of age. This is the story of their conversation in one day on that boat. When asked her name, she replies "Emanon" which is "No Name" backwards. That's about all I can tell you because what they say is important and the only thing that happens is their conversation.

There are bits of romance, bits of mythology, bits of science, bits of philosophy, and bits of every day life. It is a hard story to categorize. So why am I calling a story set in the 1960s on a ferry boat a science fiction story? That I can't exactly tell you either, other than to say that the characters reveal some deeper layers about their lives in this story and I am eager to see where it goes in subsequent volumes.

Unlike my normal reading habits, this story does have a distinctly male viewpoint. That isn't a criticism, just an observation. There are parts to Emanon's character that strike me as if she is a male fantasy, almost a manic dream pixie, but not aggressively so, and there is absolutely no service (although there is some nudity in the art). There is also a moment where the male character "mansplains" an old legend to her. I was about to be turned off right there. However, the author does given Emanon a great line when she stops him and essentially asks if he's going to let her talk or not. So, that's something anyway, but it still doesn't completely remove the male POV from this story. Again, not a criticism, just an observation.

The art was wonderful. It was detailed and had a style that reminded me of zine art or indie comics. It was nice line work that appears hand drawn with pen and ink rather than a computer. The art is meant to look realistic, and there were some backgrounds and details that looked almost as if they were traced over photographs (and not in a bad way). Overall there was deft touch to the art. No real screen tones, but instead stark whites and blacks and a mid-level gray for depth. The range of emotional expression that Tsuruta-sensei captures in Emanon's face is extraordinary.

So the art is fantastic, and almost enough on its own for me to recommend this manga. The story was different and interesting, but didn't quite live up to the art. However, that could change over the course of multiple volumes if we get deeper. This is an intriguing start to the series. I have never read the stories, so I have no idea what's coming or how close this was to the original short stories. With great art and some interesting narrative ideas, Emanon Volume 1 is a 7/10.


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