Manga-ka: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: November 2011
Synopsis: “A treasure of 14 charming stories about family, friends, couples and unexpected bonds. Written by Natsume Ono over ten years, here is the long-awaited collection of her early work, including numerous illustrations and previously unpublished stories!”
Every now and then you find a manga-ka who you fall in love with. You stumble upon a work of theirs that just speaks to you, that is different from anything else you’ve seen. You seek out other of their works, from the big hits to the obscure early ones. As you continue to read and see the both the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, you realize that they might be a great artist but they are fallible and capable of creating crap as well as fine works. Some of your initial infatuation starts to wear off, and you begin to fall out of love.
For me, two years ago, House of Five Leaves was the new and exciting work that turned me onto Natsume Ono. I loved her art, her storytelling and her characters. But, as I read more of her work, I started to see her bibliography was a mixed bag. Some of it I found really cute and charming, like La Quinta Camera, while books like Not Simple left my eyes rolling in their sockets over how melodramatic it was. Tesoro is nowhere as near as angsty as Not Simple, but it still ranks as a middling Natsume Ono work.
There are fourteen short stories in this collection, and when I say short I mean it: none are longer than fifteen pages and some are as short as four. They are all quaint slice of life stories, quick peeks at various people living their lives. In one an older couple go for a walk in order to prove to their neighbours that they do in fact spend time together. In another a father tries to make Christmas special for his son but ends up making a huge mistake instead. In the next story a young man is released from prison and gets a surprise when he sees who is waiting for him on the outside. It’s pretty simple stuff. The most dramatic story involves a young woman who becomes convinced that a local politician is her real father, but even that story is pretty low-key.
Even with the mundane subject matter Natsume Ono’s quirky sensibilities still shine through. In one chapter a young child asks his father to make a bento lunch that resembles the boy’s dead mother. It’s a strange story, but the end manages to be both strange and heart-warming. It’s not a combination that Ono is always able to pull off, but when she does, she does it in a way that’s unique to her.
The stories collected here were published in a variety of publications over a ten year period, and that’s reflected in the art. It’s not so much that you can see Ono’s progression over time, just that she uses a slightly different style for each story. Some stories are done in a more sketchy, thin-lined style while others use thicker lines and more screen tone. Her character designs don’t fluctuate as much; nearly every story features bobble-headed characters with big eyes and minimal detail.
One thing I really enjoy about Ono is that she writes about the things she likes: old men, Italy, and dysfunctional characters. You get the sense that she doesn’t really care if you like these things or not. If you do, that’s great, but she’s mainly drawing for herself. Because of that there’s a joy in her work that you don’t always see in mainstream manga, but it can also make her work inaccessible at time. Tesoro teeters on that edge between enjoyable and self-indulgent. It partly comes down to the mood you are in. When I first read the book I wasn’t all that impressed, but upon re-reading I found myself enjoying it more. In the end, I think I can only really recommend Tesoro to people who are fans of Natsume Ono and are curious to see what her early work is like.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures