Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Kingyo Used Books Vol. 1 by Seimu Yoshizaki

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Published: 20 April 2010 (English translation)

Publisher: Viz Media LLC

Category: Sequential Art/Fiction/Books About Books

"Every bookstore has a thousand stories to tell. Every bookstore has a thousand stories to tell. An art student finds inspiration. An archer hits a bull's-eye. A homemaker rediscovers romance. A teenager discovers his true self in the pages of a manga magazine. All this and more at Kingyo Used Books, a place that helps people find their dreams."

Rating: 4 Stars

This series hearkens back to my love of books that are set and/or centered around bookshops or libraries, etc. There's just something about them, those collections of books whether for fun, knowledge, or a mix of the two, that brings me happiness. I've had the four English volumes for Kingyo Used Books sitting on my shelves for ages now, since back in high school I started cultivating something of a manga collection. Starting today, and with Volume 1 of this series, I'm going to read my way through my back catalog and review them all, something I never did before because at the time I didn't know what Goodreads was.

Kingyo Used Books is separated into chapters, so I'll present my reviews of those stories first and an overview at the end.

The Components of Memory: the first story in this volume features Tazawa, a career man who wants to sell his collection of manga to the bookstore. It's implied that he wants to do this because he views manga as something read once and then only by children. Now that he's grown up, he doesn't have time for them anymore and the volumes have taken up too much room for too long. This reflections upon something that once made him happy made me sad because how often do we treasure things so wholeheartedly as children and young adults only to lose them as we get older and the pressures of society and real life tell us that they're irrelevant now? The societal nature of Japan has something to play in this story, I'm sure, as the pressure to do well and in business is much different than what we face in America, so bearing that in mind and with my American perspective, I understood it, but I also felt profoundly sad.

Tazawa, while boxing up his manga, finds an invitation among junk mail to an elementary school class reunion. Deciding to attend, he reunites with old friends and the topic of manga comes up when one of the old friends returns a volume he'd lent her long ago. The discussion over favorite series, over how these series impacted their real lives (one of the men was in the baseball club, even, and loved a series called  Akutare Kyojin [a weekly serialized baseball manga from 1976]), brings back the fond memories had of reading volume after volume. These "components of memory" inspire him to share Kingyo Used Books with his old friends and they adjourn to the store. The shopkeeper, Natsuki-san, doesn't seem surprised to see him and tells him that customers are always welcome, even noting that he has with him the current week's serialized manga, a little thing that notes his return to the illustrated world.

The joy that these people get from finding their old favorites on the shelves and being introduced to new favorites reminds me somewhat of what I love about manga. It's always going to be there, even if you take a few years detour before coming back. Maybe it is like that for a lot of what we loved. Those things will always be there for us, waiting.

Hokusai Manga: Misaki, the main character of this story, is a student at Hamagasaki Art School. She has the passion to be an artist, but due to self doubt, her skill has been lacking of late. It doesn't help that her friend, Murano, is the darling of the school. His work wins prizes and it always gets compliments. Hoping to help her, Murano lends Misaki a manga by and about Katsushika Hokusai, but it hits a little too close to home for Misaki.

Misaki is involved in an accident on her way home one day and is "rescued" by Natsuki-san, the shopkeeper of Kingyo Used Books, who takes her back to the store to patch her up. While sitting down to recover, Misaki is surrounded by the vast manga inventory and gets to thinking about all of the people who strove toward their passion, despite not being what Misaki thought of as perfect art, the category she put Murano in at school. This time to think, to meditate almost, gives Misaki the courage to not only return to school and her art, but to buy the manga Murano had lent her and complete a project based on imitating an established artist.

It is while on the way home, walking along the beach the borders the school, that Misaki encounters Murano and we learn what is, I think, the lesson of this story. Murano is found burning all of his award winning work and he explains that it's because he doesn't have the art like Misaki does, that doing this forever isn't worthwhile if you don't have the heart for it, which he admits he doesn't. He enjoys art, but only so much as it is temporary, which he shares when he and Misaki pick up sticks and draw a wave in the sand, only for it to be washed out moments after completion.

Being able to find and hold onto your passion must be incredibly difficult, especially when in a field where you're being compared to others all the time, but Misaki finding the courage to continue despite not being considered on the level of Murano, and Murano living his life enjoying temporary art depsite the opinion of others, is an incredible feat.

Far Away: This story, ostensibly about an archer having trouble letting go of the pressure to do well and just doing, was more of an introductory chapter that brought out Shiba, the reclusive worker of Kingyo Used Books that is a die hard manga fan, and Seitaro Kaburagi (aka the Boss), Natsuki's grandfather and the owner of the store. When Sawaguchi, the archer, stumbles upon Shiba and the Boss on the beach, they get to talking about how sad he appears, why they try to force him to read a gag manga, and then an offer of a practice space at Boss's store.

While he follows them back and ultimately doesn't take Boss up on the offer, we're able to see through Sawaguchi's eyes how important the Boss is to Kingyo. Having recently been released to the hospital following, presumably, a lengthy illness, he wants nothing more than to enjoy manga and help others, including Sawaguchi himself. Other customers appear at the store, pleased to welcome the Boss back, and while Shiba reveals that you can find almost any manga at Kingyo, Sawaguchi makes the observation that the real heart of the place is the Boss. Not only is he a repository of knowledge, but he's a kind soul that welcomes in any person he meets and gets the what they need, whether advice or a book.

The Boy Detective Arrives: This was the first story in this collection that really struck me as sad. The titular boy detective refers to Ichiro, a cousin of Natsuki, who calls himself Billy after the main character of a treasured childhood manga. Like the main character of the manga, Ichiro grew up in the US despite being born in Japan, and found himself at odds with the culture. After being gifted the first volume of the Billy Puck manga, however, he found a purpose for his life and went on to become a detective, just like the boy in the manga.

Ichiro, now calling himself Billy after his idol, returns to Japan to meet not only his penpal (Shiba, Natsuki's coworker) but also the author of the Billy Puck manga. It's a true tragedy for him to discover, after speaking to Natsuki, that the man actually passed away long ago. It reminded me that someday, the authors of my favorite works will pass and how sad it will be to learn that there will never be new works to enjoy. Shiba knows the power of manga, though, and dresses as one of the famous villains from the manga in a LARPing attempt to cheer Ichiro/Billy up. There are other customers in the store that, inspired by the passionate demonstration of love for the Billy Puck manga, that immediately want to purchase and read the series.

What I take from this is that, even after the creators of our favorite books are gone, as long as we cherish their works and pass them along to new readers, they won't ever really be gone from this world.

A Country Without Manga: This vignette was my least favorite of the bunch because it didn't feel as powerful as the others; it didn't convey a message as strongly as any of the previous stories. In this one, we are introduced to a bit more of Natsuki's family (her father) and we come to understand that Shiba has feelings for her, though whether they can outweigh those of his love for manga has yet to be determined.

Through the interaction between Shiba and Natsuki's father, we learn the differences between father and son (this man is the Boss's son and does not like manga, with one exception). Will this familial difference come up in a future volume? Will it lead to a future story? It was unclear at the end and left A Country Without Manga feeling like a mere stepping stone, unlike the other vignettes that felt like they had purpose.

Fujiomi-kun: a story about a harried mother, this one resonated with me because as a mum to a six year old, I understood the feeling of trying to take care of a family and not always being able to attend to myself. The mother in this story is so busy trying to figure out her growing girl and, in the midst of planning a festival at her daughter's school, is called home to pick up some stored things. Among them is a manga that reminds her of some simpler times, joy before the busyness of adult life occurred, and it's this manga that actually enables her to finally make friends with another mother at the school festival. While she lends the book and it then gets lost in the shuffle of the festival, the experience of reconnecting and remembering proved that the happiness we have in childhood can be had again and is there for us in hard times, if we can only remember them.

The Sedori Business: A character that's flitted through our periphery before, Ayu is a sedori, a person who buys books cheaply from one used bookstore and resells them to other used bookstores for higher prices. The beginning of her story shows her coming up against a sexist bookseller, who she stands up to, even if she doubts her pride in some of the following panels. Her courage, however, does come back when a friend who owns a lending library reveals that they intend to retire due to a heart condition. Facing the loss of a childhood retreat, Ayu supports her friend despite that, especially when the woman gives her the books, telling her to sell them.

This shocks Ayu and makes her hesitant, particularly when the older woman enters the hospital following an accident. Rushing to the lending library to save the book from a leaking roof, Ayu and another sedori discover they were safely packed away, waiting for her to pick them up. Thinking about how many people loved the manga and how much Ayu loves them, however, her friend and fellow sedori Okadome encourages her to find someone that can carry on the legacy that her old friend began. A collection of manga that brings joy to so many, remaining for more generations to enjoy rather than being sold off for mere profit.

The messages of nostalgia, pride, and the importance of passing something along were strong in this story. I appreciated Ayu being brought back after a brief introduction earlier in the collection as a passing character and finding out more about her. I'd have liked to see her take over the lending library, but the fact that she was able to save the legacy of the place is enough for now, I think.

Extras: There are a few extras at the end of Volume One, one of which is Billy and Grandpa's Travel Log, a brief adventure of these two characters that was cute, but not particularly substantial. Following that were a few pages of in-depth information on the manga mentioned within Volume One. That, while not particularly exciting, would be very useful to anyone that wants to investigate some of the older titles and possibly procure them for their own collection.


The art was a good match for the realistic story telling. It never felt like it was straying into a different genre.

The stories, for the most part, has a clear message and I liked that. I thought that there wasn't enough of a connection to the main bookstore Kingyo, though. While the first stories took place in them and helped introduce us to some of the characters that work there, and there were appearances in further stories, I had hoped that we'd see more in-depth tales of Natsuki, her grandfather, and her co-worker. Maybe in later volumes this will happen? For now, though, I did like the customers that passed through and wonder what sort of people we'll encounter next time around.

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