The Natsume Ono Thing

Posted by on December 15th, 2009 at 10:39 AM

I’m a big old weeaboo, so when my husband and I were in Japan this spring I had to visit the big new Mandarake manga/anime/toy/porn store in the famously geeky Akihibara district.  It was while we were browsing the shelves of manga that Andrew picked up a copy of Natsume Ono’s not simple and said, “This is the kind of manga they never publish in America.”

“Viz is doing it,” I said.

For whatever reason, American manga publishers are putting out more great, daring, adult-friendly titles now, with the industry in recession, than they did when they were riding high on Fruits Basket/Naruto money.  For readers looking for the next big thing in smart manga and already hip to Fumi Yoshinaga, Natsume Ono is one of two names to watch (the other is Inio Asano).  Viz has three of Ono’s titles on the docket: not simple (on shelves now), House of Five Leaves (currently serialized on Viz’s SigIkki website), and the upcoming Ristorante Paradiso.  If there’s any justice in the manga world, and you can bet your ass there isn’t, that’ll be enough to establish her as an artist to follow.

So far I’ve only read not simple and the opening chapters of House of Five Leaves, and I’m most struck by Ono’s flexibility as an artist.  Each of her books is distinct from the others in subject matter and visual style, although she can’t disguise her preoccupation with lonely drifters or her characters’ trademark huge, dark, haunted eyes.  not simple is a one-volume graphic novel about an Australian runner who tells his wrenching life story, dominated by an ongoing search for his troubled, frequently incarcerated older sister, to a jaded sports reporter who takes a shine to him.  The characters, and the sketchy, blockily cartoonified style in which they’re rendered, would not look out of place in an American indie comic.  House of Five Leaves is an ongoing series about a skinny unemployed ronin who falls into the employment of an outlaw gang; the art is loose and understated but drawn with the eye for historical detail necessary for samurai manga.  Ristorante Paradiso, a romance set in a small restaurant in Rome, has a sexy look reminiscent of yaoi artists like Fumi Yoshinaga or est em.  (It’s also notable for catering to a very specific fetish for the ladies: all the male leads are older gentlemen who wear glasses.)

Ono started as a webcartoonist and quickly climbed the ladder of alt-manga acclaim, becoming a fixture in the mainstream-artsy magazine Ikki.  The recent development of Ristorante Paradiso into a TV anime series marks her ascent into the big time.  It’s almost unsettling how quickly some of the Ikki artists develop their chops; not simple, first published in 2004, was only Ono’s second graphic novel, and it’s good–scary good.  House of Five Leaves, her longest manga to date (six volumes and counting), is on the slow side, but a rewarding read.  I’m looking forward to Ristorante Paradiso and, hopefully, the sequel Gente. For now, at least, this is the kind of manga they publish in America.  Who knew?

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One Response to “The Natsume Ono Thing”

  1. […] of her comics in the coming year. This is partly because I’m feeling validated by the fact that Shaenon Garrity shares my enthusiasm, and by the fact that Viz just sent out a press release about Ono’s upcoming not simple, which […]