Manga-ka: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: July 2011
Synopsis: “An apartment in Italy. In four of the rooms live four single men with singular personalities. Into this peculiar ménage steps an exchange student, the new tenant of the fifth room. Brought together by chance, friends by choice, they pursue their dreams together as the days drift gently by.”
Over the past year I have become a big fan of Natsume Ono. House of Fives Leaves is currently one of my favourite manga and I’m happy to see more and more of Ono’s work being licensed. La Quina Camera is a solid little stand alone graphic novel which should appeal to fans and newcomers alike. It has a nice, uncomplicated atmosphere which makes it an easy read.
The manga revolves around an apartment in Italy where four middle-aged men live together as roommates. There’s down-to-Earth Massimo, Luca the happy-go-lucky busker, flamboyant Cele, and Al, a trucker who spends most of his time sleeping. The apartment has a fifth bedroom (aka ‘la quinta camera’) which the group rents out to students at the local language college. Some of the tenants come and leave without making a major impression on the four, while others end up becoming friends or even lovers.
Natsume Ono has a cartoony style for La Quina Camera. Everyone has a big head and round eyes. While there’s not much detail to the character designs, Ono still manages to make everyone stand out from each other by giving the characters unique expressions. It’s really amazing how she can create such a varied cast of characters with just a few differentiating touches. The designs might be simple, but one look tells you everything there is to know about a character.
It’s a good thing that the characters are so memorable, since as with any slice-of-life series the manga lives or dies by how likeable the cast is. In fact, my major complaint is that I wanted to spend more time with the characters. I want to see more of Cele’s outlandishness, or watch the relationship between Al and Charlotte (a Danish student studying in Italy) grow. Much like the tenants who stay for a short time in the fifth room, I wanted to stay longer.
While I enjoyed this manga and highly recommend it, I did have some issues with it. The chronology of the book is pretty linear for the first part, but later on after the main storyline is done there are a few extra chapters that just seem, well, extra and unnecessary to the plot. They are cute enough, but by dragging out the manga dampens the high note that the main storyline ended on.
Also, while I really like how Ono drew the characters, I wish she had injected the setting with the same level of character and enthusiasm. It’s clear that Ono is very knowledgeable about Italy and its culture, but from the way the manga is drawn it could take place just about anywhere in the world. If you’re going to set it in Italy, show me Italy! Also, the guys’ apartment is drawn in a pretty threadbare style. Considering how important the setting is, I would have liked there to have been more detail.
Still, even with these complaints I still really liked La Quina Camera. The characters feel and talk like real people, and its fun spending even just a little bit of time with them.
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Book bought from The Beguiling