My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve been hearing a lot about Shinkai’s work so I checked out both of the ones the library had. I knew I was probably going to be in trouble with this one because I am not a romance or contemporary reader. As such, take this review with a grain of salt because I didn’t like it. Honestly I don’t even think it works as a romance and at least the back blurb (in English) led me to believe it was, talking about the 90s and life moving at a slower sweeter pace etc. This was more a tale of the disaffected lovelorn that has no actual ending. It just trails off into an open ending nearly five hundred pages later.
It opens with Takaki Tohno meeting a new student Akari Shinohara. Her father was just transferred in. Their friend in grade school (I think they’re around 10-12 when they first meet) is very sweet. Tohno had transferred in the year before and still feels a bit on the outside. To Akari’s delight every time she checks out a book she sees his name on the check out register (for the young people reading this, back in the day there were papers in the books where you wrote your name and the librarian stamped it). Their shared love of books brings them together and they encouraged each other, such as his desire to be an astronaut or a rocket scientist. it skips around a bit to show the passage of time before finally Akari is transferred out when her father’s job changes.
They sweetly arrange to write each other and one whole chapter is of Tohno’s trials to meet her on a train in a blizzard. But, as young love often goes, especially when you add distance, in spite of promising to be together and write etc, the letters dry up and they move on.
Only Tohno really doesn’t move on. That promise to be with Akari shadows his entire life. We have a couple of chapters in high school through the eyes of Kanae, a young girl who loves him but he barely knows she’s there. She promises herself once she learns to surf she’ll tell him. You can guess how well that goes.
It fast forwards again and Tohno is now working a dead end job, his dreams on hold. He doesn’t even seem that into his girlfriend, Risa. It creeps around this subplot for a while before we get the idea that Tohno might give his dreams one more try and maybe find Akari (and we get a similar revisit with Kanae).
And then it’s just over. Maybe if I liked contemporary fiction more I wouldn’t have been so bored. It’s not a bad story and the art is very nice but I do not see the comparison people are making between Shinkai and Miyazaki. This has none of Miyazaki’s magic.
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The Garden of Words by Midori Motohashi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The Garden of Words had an interesting idea that really sort of fizzled out and then went somewhere uncomfortable. I picked this up after hearing a lot of good things about Shinkai but I have to say I don’t like contemporary fiction so this really wasn’t the manga for me. The tag line “Can a poem save your life?’ was intriguing. This story isn’t.
A young man likes to skip school when it rains (I don’t remember the names, that’s how uninteresting this was to me). He meets a woman drinking morning beers in the park. They talk some and she leaves him with a tanka poem to which he spends many weeks trying to come up with the right response. Over the next several weeks they meet in the park.
They help each other by just being a friend to each other. She encourages him to follow his dream (making women’s shoes) and he helps her heal from the anxiety/nervous breakdown she had after she was accused of something at her last job (but we don’t know what it was)
And now for what really ruined this for me (spoilers ahead) was this beers in the morning woman wasn’t guilty of what she was accused of….until she meets him. Now she starts that she’s only twelve years older than him and we learn she was a high school teacher accused of seducing a student and now she’s considering it with him. This manga wasn’t helped by the fact I read it while there was a nation-wide manhunt for a teacher who did just that. It’s not romantic. It’s an abuse of power by an adult over a teen in their control. To me it’s not even a trope, it’s a crime. So yeah, totally the wrong audience for this one. I need to go pull it off my netflix queue while I’m at it.
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