In a few ways, popular manga series can be compared to novels. Some go on for dozens of volumes and spend chapters illustrating the growth and development of its cast. Manga, at least in America, is not often associated with the quick, curt narration that comes with short stories. Even stories told in quick bursts, like Azumanga Daioh, chain together and form a larger story narrating the lives of its characters.
Mitsukazu Mihara's IC in a Sunflower is a collection of seven true short stories within a regular sized manga. The stories share themes of dystopian society and the fragile nature of the human mind in general, but the writing and the characters are unique to each one. Despite having a limited amount of pages to work with, Mihara (who is famous for choosing a short story format with her mangas, including RIP: Requiem in Phonybrian, also published by Tokyopop) packs emotion and substance into the stories with her character's actions and expressions; she uses a minimum of words, and as a result there are few instances where the reader feels like he's caught in a writer's mad struggle to pack fifty pounds of story into a ten pound bag.
One story, titled "Alive," is about a boy, Tou, who lives in a grim future where clones' organs are harvested for the wealthy elite. It's not an uncommon theme for science fiction writers, but instead of using the short to get on a soapbox about morals, Mihara instead focuses on the powerful relationship between Tou, the clones and "normal" humans. The manga's opening story, "Keep Those Condoms Away From Our Kids," contains less character interaction but hooks the reader by speculating the reasons and consequences behind the falling birthrate in first world countries, a threat that's currently very real in Japan.
Other stories include a girl who revives a compulsive biting habit at an unfortunate moment, a "mermaid" who's lost her voice and purposefully brings to mind a twist on the classic Little Mermaid fairy tale, and the story of a devoted daughter who looks after her father until the end. The manga's centrepiece, "The Sunflower Quality of an Integrated Circuit," is about a lonely rich old man who befriends his robot maid, Vanilla.
IC in a Sunflower can easily be read in one sitting, which speaks well for Mihara's talent as a short story writer. There is never any real instance of downtime or filler, which is common in more voluminous mangas. Reaching the end of each story only encourages you to press on and see how Mihara's next tale will enthrall you, and, frankly, screw with your mind.