The best graphic novel of 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.

11 Responses to The best graphic novel of 2007

  1. Dirk Deppey says:

    Actually, it was published in 2006.

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    I thought it shipped in March of this year.

  3. [...] Meanwhile, Precocious Curmudgeon’s David Welsh looks at the biggest stories of 2007 and rounds up critical praise for his pick for best graphic novel of 2007, Town of Evening Calm, Country of [...]

  4. Man, I really need to read this. I’ve been meaning to ever since I first read about it, but I can never find it anywhere. Except one time, when I was in a independent bookstore in Chicago for a Rutu Modan signing. I meant to get it, but then I forgot because I was distracted by the big event. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

  5. Dirk Deppey says:

    I may be mistaken. The indicia reads “November 2006,” but Diamond released it on March 14, while Amazon lists the book as having become available on February 28 (there’s also a non-functional Amazon page for the book listing it as “2006,” leading me to believe that it was intended to be released in 2006 but got delayed).

    Damn. This means that I now have to revise my own best-of list, doesn’t it?

  6. davidpwelsh says:

    Back to the drawing board, Deppey.

    But seriously, I was going with Amazon and Diamond, but that doesn’t mean they’re the last word in when something was available.

  7. Chloe says:

    I don’t know when Last Gasp has the date set as, but partner in crime jaPress has it listed “Available from Last Gasp on January 2007.” I’d say it’s safe to assume “sometime in early 2007?”

  8. Huff says:

    Gah, my fifteen minutes of fame! But I had no idea that there were that many reviews of it floating around. At this point the main problem preventing new readers from checking it out is actually finding copies of the thing in stores. Well, we can always hope that the film adaptation will get released here and be successful enough to warrant another printing.

    And on the release date thing, I could be wrong but I heard it was available through the Last Gasp website in late ’06.

  9. [...] Back at Precocious Curmudgeon, David Welsh picks Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms as his favourite graphic novel of…. Created by Fumiyo Kouno and published by Last Gasp, the book technically came out in the waning [...]

  10. [...] what is without a doubt the best-book-of-2007-that-no-one-read; even if David Welsh couldn’t convince you to shell out for copy of “Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms,” I’ll [...]

  11. Gregg says:

    So I finally picked this up at my LCS yesterday. I have yet to finish it (2/3rds through) but I feel compelled to run around to all the review sites I frequent and thank them for reviewing this so that it would eventually get through my thick skull and I’d buy it. It is one of the best things I’ve read in quite some time.

    Thanks.

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