Manga-ka: Seimu Yoshizaki
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: April 2010
Synopsis: “If a manga volume exists, you can find it at Kingyo Used Books. But Kingyo is more than just a typical used bookstore—it’s a place where human relationships are treated as the most valuable stories of all. Natsuki, the store’s interim manager, and Shiba, the manga maniac who loves her, help both their regular patrons and random customers in a series of linked tales built around actual manga series ranging from the popular to the esoteric.”
Kingyo Used Books is a manga about people who love manga, written by someone who loves manga, aimed at manga lovers. So, if you don’t like manga, get out of town. This book won’t convert anyone to the medium, but for people already in the choir it’s a treat.
The book juggles stories of the customers, employees, and friends at Kingyo’s Used Books. Most of the chapters are standalone stories – they usually involve someone coming to Kingyo looking for a particular manga. The first story is about a businessman who comes to Kingyo looking to sell his manga collection, but a class reunion makes him realize how much it means to him. In another story, a middle-aged woman rediscovers the shoujo romance series she loved as a teenager, helping her make a new friend. The stories don’t sound that exciting, but for the most part they work. Some are more memorable than others, but they’re all sweet in their own way.
Though most of the chapters are episodic, there are also chapters that deal with the main cast rather than one-off characters. There’s Natsuki, the thankless de facto manager; Shiba, a manga fanatic and store employee, and the store manager who just recently got out of the hospital. They are also joined by Ayu, a ‘sedori’ (someone whose job involves tracking down rare manga and reselling them). The bookstore employees are nice, though in general I found them a little flat. It’s only volume one so there’s still plenty of time for the main cast to develop, but so far everyone seems to share one defining feature which is…wait for it…they LOVE manga.
There is one character that stands out among the main cast however. Billy is Natsuki’s cousin who was raised in America. He is obsessed with an old shonen adventure manga featuring a detective named Billy Pluck. Billy (whose real name is Ichiro) is determined to live like his adventurous, globe-trotting hero. He even dresses like Billy Pluck, wearing a plaid cap and trench coat, even in summer. Billy has come to Japan in order to meet the man behind his hero, the manga-ka who created Billy Pluck.
Billy’s outlandishness is both a strength and weakness. On one hand, it gives the series a bit of oomph that it was lacking before he steps onto the page, yet at the same time the rest of the series is so down-to-earth that Billy’s oddness sticks out like a sore thumb. Even among a cast of people who have dedicated their lives to comics, Billy’s devotion is too much for them. Still, the twist in Billy’s introductory chapter is probably the most emotional moment in the book, so that alone justifies his inclusion. It’s a great moment that blends actual manga history into the plot of the book, giving it just that much more of an impact.
The manga really does shine when it’s putting a spotlight on some obscure or forgotten manga series. The characters in Kingyo Used Books read everything from drama to gag manga, even a French comic book series. Even though we don’t get to ‘see’ any of this manga aside from a few images, we appreciate them through characters’ reactions. Still, it’s a little frustrating to be told about all these interesting series, hear this amazing art described, and not see any of it. It hurts doubly so for English language readers, since only one of the series (Dr.Slump) showcased in this volume has been released in English. There are descriptions of each series at the back of the book, but once again all it does is whet the reader’s appetite.
Still, you don’t have to have read the particular series in order to empathise with the characters. Most manga fans probably have a shojo romance that got them through high school, or a gag manga they read when they’re feeling low. As long as you have something like that as a starting point, the actual titles and particulars don’t matter.
The art embodies the open, friendly nature of the series. It’s detailed and the settings are always established clearly. The characters all have broad faces and big eyes (well, for manga they’re more like medium sized). While there’s variety in the overall characters designs, a lot of characters seem to share the same face. The layouts pace the stories well, but aren’t particularly flashy. They do what they were meant to do, which is tell the story.
Viz does a nice job with this release. As mentioned before, there are extensive notes in the back about all of the manga featured in this volume (the editor of the English edition occasionally chimes in to talk about what is and isn’t available in English). There was times when the dialogue felt a little awkward to my ear, but only rarely. For example, there’s very short a conversation between a greengrocer and a customer where the word ‘deal’ is said repeatedly. It just seems stiff and unnatural.
Whether you like Kingyo Used Books really depends on whether you like manga or not. If you like manga, you’ll like this manga. At the same time, it’s hard to picture anyone really loving this series. It doesn’t really inspire the same strong feelings as the manga championed in this book, and it’s hard to see it becoming a classic in its own right one day. But it’s still a fun series, and reading it is like having a conversation with a fellow manga fanatic.