Times of Botchan, the Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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  • Art Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A_
  • Age Rating: All
  • Released By: Fanfare
  • MSRP: 19.99
  • Pages: 142
  • ISBN: 84-96427-01-3
  • Size: A5
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Times of Botchan, the Vol. #01

By Eduardo M. Chavez     August 17, 2005
Release Date: July 01, 2005

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Sekikawa Natsuo / Taniguchi Jiro
Translated by:Shizuko Shimokawa & Elizabeth Tiernan
Adapted by:

What They Say
I used to have no particular interest in the Meiji period. But then, following a suggestion by an editor, I read a script by Sekikawa and found it pretty interesting, it was fascinating. When I read it, the story seemed like something totally new, I couldn't remember having ever seen anything like it before in manga. That's how this book got started. The Meiji period is very important for us, it's when the foundations of modern Japan, as we know it today, were laid. I wanted to convey the insights I had gotten from Sekikawa's writing and I wanted to give them a more distinct and lucid shape. So to express these subtle feelings, I had to find myself another way to draw.

Jiro Taniguchi

The Review
It is the end of the Meiji Period, and the public temperament is still as hot as it was during civil war. Some resist the advances of western influences fearing an end to Japanese culture. Then others embrace the ideas as they begin to see Japan as a nation on the verge of global power.

Natsume Soseki is working on a novel in this era. He has plenty to draw stories from, but where does he start and where does his story end?

Fanfare keeps a minimalist feeling for this title. Presented right to left in an A5, with dust flaps, Fanfare simply uses a funny little image of the main character Natsume Soseki sitting as the cover art. The opposite cover has a long message from the artist and an image of Soseki’s cat stretching. Nothing fancy for the logo, just Times of Botchan in a popular font.

The printing is excellent. Inks are very sharp and the tone is very clean. Since this is printed in a large A5 there are no alignment issues either. This title is printed on yellow paper that retains the ink very well, and does not bleed like the paper used by most North American publishers. The color is also very easy on the eyes and feels good to the touch.

At the end of the GN there is a word from renowned manga critic Natsume Fusanosuke (grandson of Natsume Soseki). He describes his grandfather a bit, discusses the era covered and comments on the history of the artists that worked on this title.

Taniguchi-sensei's art is quite distinctive. He tends to use a sense of realism to his designs. Personally, I find them a little on the chunky side, especially considering how thin the majority of Japanese are, but this is his style. From Hotel Harbour View to Samurai Legend his characters tend to have always had a good sense of proportion outside of their girth. Facial expressions are quite detailed. He uses these because the comedy is very subtle; so without it some of the humor could be lost. His costume designs are great. Taken out of historical fact and livened up a bit with his personal traits.
Backgrounds are lush and very detailed. Every panel is full of where and what. I wonder how much work is put into each panel because the detail can get pretty intricate. The layout is not very complex, however his use of perspective is very good. He uses the layout to set up the mood and tempo direction.

Very good translation overall. I did not notice any typos or grammatical errors. My only issues were with some colloquialisms, as they did not sound much like the English I am familiar with (maybe British??). What I really enjoyed about this translation is how the individual personalities seemed to come through in this translation. There are quite a few characters here and their backgrounds vary quite a bit. Therefore, I felt was able to get to know these characters a little better.

SFX are all translated and overlaid. I wasn't really impressed, but Taniguchi doesn't use them much anyway so they were obviously not memorable.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In every era there are millions of stories that are left untold. They sit in the backs of people's minds and wait to be shared with others, however their time never comes. These are the stories storytellers keep hidden until they make it big enough to take a chance. These are the stories that are so personal they may not conform to current trends. They do not lean on the concepts of popular media we see today. These stories are occasionally straddling the lines between fiction and biography. They are the stories of the everyday person and there are new chapters written to these stories every day.

Sekikawa and Taniguchi work together to create a tale of one of modern Japan's more influential storytellers, Natsume Soseki. Times of Botchan describes not just Natsume's life and how he came to create his novel Botchan, it chronicles Tokyo in that era.

Soseki is caught in this as well. He has lived in the west, England, and experienced the difference on how he was treated there and how westerners were treated in Japan. Here is a great writer having to work multiple jobs to earn a living wage, for him that is, and Englishmen come to Japan and earn even more with one job. They come here to help Japan become more like their homes, but that was not the case for Soseki in London. Instead he rarely stepped out of his apartment, and began to grow delusional from his isolation. But he also has to struggle with the truth that there are those who have come to his nation to learn the culture for what it has to provide to the world. Creating a balance of that in his writing is difficult, especially considering his negative experiences. However, as he gets new ideas for his story, it quickly becomes a tale of society as a whole as much as it is a story of himself through Botchan.

To those not familiar with the late stages of the Meiji period, made famous by titles likeRurouni Kenshin, this was a time of tremendous growth and development for the Japanese nation. This was also a time for much frustration for the Japanese public. Before the start of the Meiji, Japan who had essentially isolated itself from the western world. After it was forced to open its ports to trade. Fears of the nation falling prey to colonialism, began a time of transition and civil war. There was great resistance to change, but ultimately victory was on the side of change. This resulted in a great modernization of Japan and many of the influences came from the super-powers at the time - the Europeans - who were expanding their empire across the globe and were developing science at rates never seen before in history. The change created a new excited culture for many, however it also deepened resentment in those who were not yet ready for such quick change.

The end of the Meiji featured the Russo-Japanese War waged by Japan and Russia. The year long war was the first ever that had a developing Asian nation defeating a European nation. The Japanese public put much into this war, it would give them freedom, land (Manchuria and eventually Korea) and power in the region and put the nation on the political map. However, the nation continued to work on a European image, instead of its own identity. People resented that the US, interfered by creating a peace resolution, when Japan could have gained much more from the Russians. Essentially there was a feeling by the public in Japan that they were the losing power despite having defeated Russia in almost every major battle in this war over colonialism.

Soseki and the rest of the cast, whether on paper or in real life struggled with their individual perceptions of where Japan was heading during that time. Some would eventually move toward what lead to the advancements in Asia and their involvement in WWII. Then there are others who would create colleges around the nation, design western influenced architecture and push literature and art.

How often do you run into tales like this? Seriously tell me when have you read something like this in from Viz, ADV Manga or TOYKOPOP? Maybe it is not a fair question to ask, but there is a reason why this title won the Tezuka Osamu Award for Best Manga. Taniguchi and Sekikawa go back to an era that is very important in Japanese history and present the world of a writer. They could have gone after someone more influential or they could have decided to go in a completely different direction with fiction as their basis. But using some history, albeit in fictitious context, made for something just as entertaining and more enriching. Relating to this cast is easy. Their problems seem very real. Their neuroses, downfalls and their relationships feel to have more weight to me.

Maybe it’s because I know they their place in history and this only rekindles my curiosity as to what kind of personalities these people had. Are these fictitious caricatures (Soseki's drinking problems are false) or is what Sekikawa/Taniguchi created based on real accounts (based on Sekikawa's background for historical writing). Then there is the slice of life nature that is really impressing me. Main character Soseki is trying to write a novel here. No fights, no crime solving or no drawn out romances to discuss just the everyday lives of a few historical figures hanging out together. The pace is just leisurely moving along. Tension is brought on by the clashing of personalities. Drama is hardly even there either; it's as casual as it gets. So refreshing.

The Time of Botchan does not come from a different era, it is only 10 years old or so. But considering the kind of manga I tend to read nowadays, it feels like it comes from a different age and planet. It features a type of storytelling that is so personal - in its art and writing - that characters can feel they are in the story, listening to the stories these characters share with each other. It is relaxing and amusing like nothing I have seen in English translated manga.


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