The best graphic novel of 2007

December 30, 2007

In a comment, Huff expressed the opinion that the publication of Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms was one of the manga events of 2007. Huff goes on to regret the fact that not nearly enough people have read it, and I have to agree. While I can’t say definitively that it was the best graphic novel published in English in 2007 (as I haven’t read all of them and don’t have any intention to try), I can say without hesitation that it was the best graphic novel published in English in 2007 that I read.

The book has gotten under my skin, and I’ve read it repeatedly since its publication in March. And while I really do try and avoid being one of those nags that pops a vein when I find out that people haven’t read this or that book, this one is so good that it’s sparked my generally suppressed comics activist tendencies. So, in the hopes of persuading more people to read Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, here are some examples of what people have said about it. (If you’ve read and written about it, please feel free to send me the link or post it in the comments, and I’ll update this entry.)

New York Magazine’s Dan Kois names it one of the best comics of 2007.

Jason Thompson discusses the book in Otaku USA:

“As plot summaries, Kouno’s tales sound melodramatically sad: a struggling young woman lives with her mother in the shantytowns of 1955 Hiroshima; a young girl in modern-day Tokyo learns more about her family’s past. But Town of Evening Calm is not a predictable lesson about prejudice, or a weepy melodrama; the plot feels real. The romances between the characters are charming, fitting nicely with the sweet artwork. The scenes of daily life—sitting on a grassy riverbank, sewing, children playing—are welcoming. The antiwar message is unspoken, and comes naturally from the desire not to see the characters die. Only occasionally does it become explicit, as when a dying victim of radiation sickness asks bitterly, ‘I wonder what the people who built the bomb are thinking … ‘Hooray, got another one’?’”

Nick Mullins reviews the book at nijomu blog:

“This is a quiet little book that I can see easily slipping beneath most people’s radar. And that’d be a pity, because Kouno has given us such a wonderful reading experience. She is a master craftsperson with a keen eye on the strength and fragility of the human heart. Her kind of artistic honesty will always be needed, but seems especially poignant for people in the U.S. these days.”

Shaenon K. Garrity features the book in an installment of her Overlooked Manga Festival:

“Manga fans may be a little taken aback by Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms. In stark contrast to the fast-paced, plot-driven approach of most mainstream manga–and, for that matter, a lot of alternative manga–it’s slow, casual, subtle, and largely plotless. Kouno invites you to spend some time with her characters and their city, and then she steps aside. But what a visit.”

Katherine Dacey-Tsuei gives it an A+ at Manga Recon:

“Kouno’s refusal to impose an obvious dramatic structure on either story, her deft manipulation of time, and her emphasis on small, everyday moments, inoculate Town of Evening Calm against sentimentality and mawkishness. The artwork is clean and simple, with enough background detail to bring the streets of Hiroshima to vivid life. Kouno’s character designs have a slightly rough, clumsy quality to them; the adults’ large heads and large feet seem to belong to bigger bodies. Yet these awkward proportions don’t detract from the beauty of the work; if anything, the illustrations make Kouno’s characters seem more vulnerable, more imperfect, more fragile—in short, more human and more believable. And that honest vulnerability, in turn, makes it possible for readers from all walks of life to enter sympathetically into Kouno’s haunting yet life-affirming story.”

Dacey-Tsuei subsequently includes it in her list of favorite manga from 2007, also at Manga Recon.

I beg readers to buy it in a Flipped column:

“So, you should buy this book, because it’s good in every way that matters. Reading it will give you genuine pleasure, and that pleasure will only be enhanced by the worthiness of the subject matter and Kouno’s intelligence and sensitivity in dramatizing it.”

Jog recommends it in his inimitable fashion at his blog:

“In the end, this is a deeply affirmative book, one eager to seat the reader on its final image of a train barreling toward the future, unsatisfied with merely soaking in the miserable facts of life and collecting awards for it – this book wants to address the here and now as well, and confront issues of society through its beguiling style.”

Christopher Butcher sings its praises:

“This right here? This is one of those important manga that you hear about every once in a while. Two short stories about the after-effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, years after the blast. I’ve already had the good fortune to read this and it’s absolutely incredible.”

The book is nominated for inclusion in the Young Adult Library Services Association’s list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens.


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