Be With You Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, April 21, 2008
Release Date: Thursday, February 28, 2008
Writer/Artist:Takuji Ichikawa / Sai Kawashima / Yoko Iino
Translated by:Terry Gallagher
Adapted by:Terry Gallagher
What They Say
When Takumi's wife suddenly returns from the grave, he can't believe his eyes. As he starts digging deeper and deeper into the mystery of her sudden reappearance, he discovers a secret that is somehow linked to the past...and the future. Is it possible to experience first love for a second time? Without question, the answer is yes!
Be With You isn't bad, so much as fatally uninteresting.
The cover artwork draws from the basic Shojo Beat formula: a Shojo Beat banner and title logo on the top, creator credits on the bottom, and a drawing of the major players in-between. In this case, we get a watercolor-style picture of Takumi standing with his family, drawn in the style of a children's picture book. The back cover is likewise presented in the regular Shojo Beat template, giving prominent placement to a story summary that seems preoccupied with how well the Be With You franchise has performed in Japan.
As the front cover notes, Be With You is a one-shot entity; interestingly, there are no chapter breaks in the manga at all, so that the whole thing is presented from beginning to end as one seamless chunk of story. The print quality is bog-standard for mass-market paperback manga, and replicates Kawashima's artwork without any complaints. The only extras are two-sentence bio of artist Sai Kawashima (no love for the other two creators, apparently) and a four-page excerpt from the original Be With You novel.
The picture book motif of the front cover art carries over more-or-less intact to the artwork inside, as it's drawn in a very whimsical style with lots of background effects, exaggerated/reduced facial expressions, and excessively cute character artwork (especially in Yuji's case). Unfortunately, this stylistic decision really isn't appropriate for the kind of story that Ichikawa and Iino are trying to tell. There's nothing inherently wrong with these kinds of artistic choices -- they'd feel right in place in a light comedy-drama - but the manga's generally melodramatic and serious tone really clashes with Kawashima's drawing style during most of the story.
To be fair, Kawashima pops in and out of a more-serious style when the plot suddenly takes sharp dramatic twists, and Ichikawa and Iino weave in light-hearted family moments where the cutesy look makes a lot more sense. Where the problem comes from is the dramatic middle ground that Be With You straddles most of the time, where it's neither overtly serious nor comedic. Even during the story's lighter moments, the writing makes it clear that Mio's reappearance is as fragile as it is inexplicable, and that the whole thing will inevitably end in tragedy; at the same time, we're being bombarded with artwork that doesn't seem to get the message.
I have some smaller issues with Kawashima's stiff character designs and the ever-present inconsistencies in the artwork (watch as everyone's necks change size and shape from panel to panel!), but these are much less prominent problems.
The English translation reads OK, without any hiccups or typos in the script. Viz sticks with their vanilla comic book font for the dialogue, but uses a number of different fonts for the inline SFX and sign translations (presumably to emulate the corresponding Japanese lettering).
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Since the death of his wife Mio a year ago, Takumi and his young son Yuji have managed to deal to their loss remarkably well. Part of the reason that Yuji has coped so well is the picture book that Mio left behind, explaining to her son that she had simply gone to the planet Archive and would return during the next rainy season. When Yuji's next birthday arrives and the rain season finally hits, he dashes off to the forest with Takumi in tow, filled with expectations of his mother's fairytale promise coming true. Even though Takumi is initially skeptical about Mio's unlikely prophecy, he's mildly surprised when he finds his dead wife sitting on the stone steps in the woods, just as promised.
The slight joy that Takumi shows at his wife's incredible return is tempered by the knowledge that Mio must return to Archive after the end of the six-week-long rainy season, and the discovery that she has completely lost her memories. With these painful facts in mind, Takumi decides to awkwardly tip-toe around the subject for as long as possible while trying to re-establish the connection the two felt when they first met in junior high school. Reassuring Mio that her memory loss is just due to an extended hospital stay, Takumi takes nearly any cue from their daily life as an excuse to fill her in on another part of their life story prior to Mio's (ahem) "illness". The present-day part of the story works Yuji in too, but he's mainly around to give Mio and the reader something cute to fawn over, and occasionally to butt his way into Takumi's awkward attempts to start over with his resurrected wife.
Releases like Be With You are some of the hardest for me to review: it's not nearly bad enough that I can provide a whole list of things it does wrong, but it's still disappointingly bland for reasons that are hard to nail down. If I had to point to one major flaw, it's that Be With You's story is surprisingly unoriginal. If you cut the first few pages and the epilogue out, there's hardly any reason for the supernatural element to be there at all: at most, it's an excuse to give Takumi a reason to retell the story of his courtship with Mio. Sure, the big reveal at the end of the manga is clever -- but the whole subplot of Mio's disappearance is basically a gimmick if you take that away.
That leaves the love story at the center of the plot, which is just outright dull and not really worth slogging through to get to the payoff at the end. Again, this isn't a situation where Ichikawa and company really did anything wrong, so much as an absence of them doing anything right. Call me a cynic, but throughout the whole story I never really felt a good reason to care about what happened to Takumi, Mio, and Yuji as a family unit. As hard as the script tries to be overtly emotionally manipulative, the most it can manage to do is be manipulative about dull characters that I have no real emotional investment in. What really drove this problem home for me was the novel excerpt printed in the back of volume: this short portion of the original story paints a more complex portrait of Takumi, one of a husband who's overjoyed by his wife's return but deeply torn by the fact that this clearly shouldn't be possible. In contrast, his manga counterpart takes the news of his wife's inexplicable resurrection as if she had simply returned from a walk around the neighborhood. If even Takumi can't be motivated to give a hoot about what's happened to Mio, then why should I?
The flipside of my indifference to Be With You is that I don't really dislike it enough to actively recommend against people picking it up; I doubt anyone's going to walk away from this manga with a passionate hate for it. But given that there's a market full of much more interesting titles out there -- not to mention Viz's release of the original novel -- there's no good reason to sink $8.99 and a couple of hours into something this mediocre.
Mania Grade: C-
Art Rating: C
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Be With You