Thursday, December 28, 2017

REVIEW: Not Simple (manga) by Natsume Ono, translation by Joe Yamazaki

I'm not sure what genre Not Simple counts as. The best I can come up with is "family drama." It's licensed by VIZ.

Warning: this review contains slight spoilers. The manga itself features quite a bit of child abuse, and I mention some of the specifics below.

Review:

I’m not sure how to summarize this story, since so much of it counts as spoilers. I suppose I’ll start at the beginning. A young woman named Irene wants to run away with her boyfriend but is afraid that her dad will find them and literally kill her boyfriend. She then comes up with an idea that immediately qualifies her as a horrible person: pick up a random homeless guy, convince her dad’s goons that he’s her boyfriend, and run off with her boyfriend while the goons beat the homeless guy half to death. It seems like a great (horrible) plan, until she learns that her random homeless guy, Ian, is actually same same guy who convinced a family member of hers not to run off three years ago.

Unfortunately, a misunderstanding results in Ian lying on the ground, dying from a gut wound. Ian’s friend, Jim, tells Irene that he plans to turn Ian’s life into a book that will be coming out in about a year. The rest of the manga is Ian’s life up to this point: growing up with an alcoholic mother and cold and dismissive father, trying to keep his promise to his sister so that he can see her again, and then walking across the US searching for his sister after she disappears.

I read Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso several years ago. I wasn’t a huge fan of it the first time around, but it grew on me after a reread. I’ve always wanted to try another one of her works, and this one-shot seemed like a good place to start. I vaguely remembered it getting some buzz when it first came out.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be almost unrelentingly depressing. Ian was written as being very innocent and pure, no matter what sorts of horrible things happened to him. All he wanted was to be with the one person he loved and who loved him back, his sister. When this turned out to be impossible, he sought out other people who’d been good and kind to him...and the universe stomped on him yet again until finally even he couldn’t take it anymore. The horribleness of it all bled into his friend Jim, if the rumors about his fate after the publication of his book were true.

There’s a massive amount of child abuse in this story: neglect, emotional abuse, child prostitution, and incest. It sometimes came up in such an offhand manner that I found myself wondering if the things I had thought just happened really had. Ian kept taking absolutely horrific things in stride.

I can’t even say this ended on a bittersweet note. Yes, it stopped at a slightly happier time in Ian’s life, but readers had already been told that that was all going to fall apart in the next 3-5 years. I wanted a do-over, with Jim telling Ian “that stuff that happened to you wasn’t okay, and I know it can’t be undone, but we can try to make some good memories from here on out.” Instead, I feel like the mom and her “you should never have been born” speech won out. And wow, her words still make me angry. She spent years heaping punishment on people she should have been trying to help and protect.

In the end, this manga just pissed me off and left a bad taste in my mouth. Not Simple bent over backwards to hurt its characters - the bit with Ian's sister's boyfriend was both cruel and difficult to believe. I also wasn't a fan of this on an artistic level. Although I know some people love Ono's unusual style, it doesn't work for me. I’m at least glad that I got this via the library and didn’t pay for it.

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