WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD! (Subarashii Sekai), by Inio Asano. First published in 2003, and first published in North America in 2009.
In this anthology of stories, various disaffected young Japanese people have their lives connected by circumstance and the past. Some go through outrageous circumstances, like being held hostage by a criminal or tormented by a spectral crow. Others are simply suffering through identity crises, trying to figure out whether to pursue their youthful dreams or accept the steadier, less glamorous realities of adulthood.
This is a tricky series to summarize, since it's not built around a single plotline but instead an anthology of chapters loosely tied to one another. Many are interesting on their own, but it can be a hell of a tone shift when going from a businessman who wants to relive his punk rock past to a schoolgirl who is followed by a talking crow/shinigami who constantly urges her towards suicide.
Since this is an anthology, there isn't a lot of time for character building for anyone in particular outside of their respective chapters. In spite of that, many of them are quite relatable. As a young adult myself, I can relate with their struggle to resolve their childhood dreams with their adult realities. The manga never judges them for their choices, and it doesn't give any hints if their decisions will work out in the long term. After all, how often do any of us know how our major life decisions will work out?
It's not an aimless work, though, as it weaves the stories together through interpersonal connections. Some are close, like being the ex of a previous character, and other are distant, where characters will pass one another in the street. The stories are well-paced as well, never rushing nor lingering longer than needed. Honestly, when you consider the focus on disaffected young people, the (mostly) realistic setting, and the casual tone, this feels more like an independent American comic, and as such accessible to fans of both Japanese and American graphic novels.
You know, the cover for this seems awfully familiar. There's something about the visual design that reminds me of something...
Oh yeah. That would be it. I wonder if this was how the original Japanese cover looked of this was a conscious choice on the part of Viz. I strongly suspect the latter.
As far as the actual manga art is concerned, the character designs are a bit strange looking, with their oddly round heads and flat faces. There is a lot of variety in the designs and they're realistic in their attractiveness - nobody is hideously ugly, but neither are they conventionally (by manga standards) attractive. They also possess nice little touches of detail, things like freckles or day-old stubble. I also like that Asano didn't use screentones for shading, but instead hatching, which gives it a nice, hand-drawn touch. The panels are handsomely composed, with plenty of interesting, cinematic angles and with just enough detail - not too sparse, not too busy. The backgrounds are appropriately mundane, but nicely rendered.
What a Wonderful World! is not a conventional looking manga, but it's skillfully drawn with some real touches of artistry and it suits the mostly mundane world of the stories to a T.
This is presented in the larger format usually seen for Viz Signature works. The cover does have built-in flaps, which seems like an odd touch for a book that doesn't possess a slipcover.
What a Wonderful World! celebrates the mundane and the fantastical, the bizarre and the inspirational, and overall it's a bit strange but refreshingly different by doing so.
This series was published by Viz. Both volumes were published, and both are currently in print.
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