Manga-ka: Takehiko Inoue
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “Tomomi Nomiya is a young tough whose life goes horribly awry after he gets in an accident and causes a young woman to lose the use of her legs. After months of tormented soul searching, he sets his mind to face the two greatest fears of his life, getting back on the road to get his driver’s license and visiting the girl whose life he has irreparably damaged. Drama, tragedy and fast breaks…on wheels.”
I read volume one of Real when it was first released. I enjoyed it a lot, but didn’t buy the following volumes. Like I said, I really did like it, but if I bought every series that I enjoyed I would never make another student loan payment. After reading volume five of the series, I now regret not keeping up with Real as it reminded me what a fun and moving manga it is.
What surprised me most about volume five was how easy it was to get into. Even though I haven’t read most of the previous volumes I could still figure out what was going and become reinvested in the characters.
Inoue makes the most of the comic medium to tell his story. One of the main characters is Hisanobu (or Nobu), a teenager who has recently lost the use of his legs. During a visit to his old high school, he realizes how much his world has changed when he sees how unaccommodating the building is for someone in a wheelchair. In one panel that takes up a whole page, Nobu sits in his wheelchair while a set of stairs stretches upward in front of him. On the same page we see Nobu’s thoughts (‘There’s no place for me here anymore’) but the text is redundant because of how clear the images are in expressing Nobu’s isolation.
While this volume has some pretty depressing moments, I liked that it was never melodramatic. The characters always reacted in believable ways. It’s a credit to the manga-ka that even minor characters have their own distinct personality. Some characters that would be pushed to the sidelines in other series (like Nobu’s mother) are instead fleshed out and relatable here.
The standout character for me though is Tomomi Nomiya. He brings most of the humour to the book and his quest to become friends with Natsumi (a girl who was in a motorcycle accident with him and lost the use of her legs) is one of my favourite plots in this book. Which is saying something, because there are a lot of plotlines packed into this volume: there’s Nomiya’s quest to straighten his life out, the inner workings of the wheelchair basketball team ‘The Tigers,’ and Nobu’s painful rehabilitation sessions. None of them feel rushed or crammed in, though I found the Tigers didn’t hold my interest as much as Nobu and Nomiya did. Also, if you’re reading this series for the wheelchair basketball, this volume might disappoint you as there are only a few scenes on the court. Personally, I’m not going to complain about a series that puts character development first.
Inoue’s art is realistic while still being expressive. Occasionally the manga-ka depicts the characters comically (largely Tomomi) but for the most part everyone’s expressions get across what they’re feeling without being exaggerated.
While I love the presentation Viz did with this volume (the colour pages are nice) I do have an issue with how the adaptation was handled. In the notes at the end of the book the editors say they chose not to translate street signs and background text to help preserve the integrity of Inoue’s artwork. I would have thought that, using that reasoning, they would have left the sound effects in Japanese too. Instead they are translated and there are the big blocky English sound effects that plague most Viz manga.
If there’s anything I didn’t like in this volume, it was that sometimes the narrative was a little disjointed, but that could just be explained by me not having read some of the earlier volumes. It’s an issue I plan to remedy very soon.