This review is not unlike my recent one for Time Killers. It's a collection of early short works from a noted creator, although in this case the creator is noted only by manga reviews willing to plumb the depths of Bookwalker.
PRESENT FOR ME (Present For Me - Ishiguro Masakazu Tenpenshu), by Masakazu Ishiguro. First published in 2000-2004 and first published in North America in 2015.
In this collection, we see a group of psychic kids try to survive on a desert island, a robot tries to guide a girl to his home in the distant future, an unemployed man finds new purpose as a lasso-wielding superhero, a group of film students hash out ideas for a film about the end of the world, a young man gets an unpleasantly magical new roommate, a biker tries to get a new helmet from a tinkerer, and a teen hero tries to find purpose in his life after his villain retires from evildoing.
I adored Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, even if at times it feels like I'm the only person who does so. He's got a unique perspective and a knack for comedy that few can match. This collection demonstrates that he possessed these skills from the start. In these pages, he demonstrates not only his expert comic timing, but also a level of creativity seldom seen in these sorts of collection and even a bit of sincerity.
Present For Me won me over right from the start with "Forward, Psychic Teen Squad!" It opens with the explosion of a lab that is played for perfect deadpan humor. The rest of the story manages to tread the line between earnestly exploring its premise and undercutting it with sharp, character-driven humor that reminded me a lot of Lucifer & The Biscuit Hammer. I got a similar feeling from "Hero" as well, mostly because of its focus on superheroes, but it plays things a little more straightforward emotionally. There are a few others that come close to matching it ("Taizou's Helmet" in particular comes closest ), but none can quite match it for quality humor. The only one that doesn't work as comedy is "Barbara," a take on magical girlfriend stories that mostly suffers from aimlessness.
The rest of the book treads the line between comedy and pathos, while the title story is probably the most serious thing I've ever seen come from Ishiguro's pen. The only character that speaks in it is the robot, yet he manages to build a friendship between it and the mysterious girl entirely through body language and the robot's own wry sense of humor. The twist at the end should have been cheesy, yet it works because the build-up to it is so understated that you don't realize the twist is happening. It's also the only twist not played for comedy; while others like "Countdown" use theirs as a dark punchline, here it's quietly sad yet hopeful. It's certainly given me hope. After half a month of mostly mediocre short stories, this was the most pleasant surprise I've had yet.
Ishiguro's art is much like his humor: understated, yet more clever than it lets on. He doesn't lean as hard on physical comedy as a lot of other mangaka do, instead letting the characters' faces and timing carry the burden of the actual jokes. Still, this collection has a lot more than humor going for it visually. He gets to show off a little here with some nicely drawn backgrounds and even a few action set pieces. The visual highlight is easily the title story between its spartan backgrounds and the girl's beautifully subtle movements.
I will never understand why more people aren't reading Ishiguro's works. Present For Me proves that he's always been an eminently talented mangaka. It's funny, heartwarming, and there's nary a dud to be found within its pages. It may be digital-only, but it should be in everyone's manga library.
This book is published digitally via Bookwalker. It is currently in print.