By Seimu Yoshizaki
208 pages, black and white
Published by Viz
As you probably by now, in Japan, there are comics about everything. Cooking, tennis, life in the office, true stories of being homeless, you name it, there’s a manga for you. That’s part of the point of Kingyo Used Books, but I couldn’t help but be a little amused that with this manga, there’s a comic about the joy of comics. It’s simultaneously funny and really fantastic, isn’t it? I will warn you right now, though. Reading Kingyo Used Books might cause you to buy more comics, Japanese or otherwise.
The conceit of Kingyo Used Books is a simple one; customers come to the titular used manga store, where for whatever reason the joy of reading manga is either introduced or brought back into the lives of these people. Sometimes it’s about people who started to fall away from the practice, like the young man on the eve of a high school reunion who stops by to try and sell all the manga in his apartment because it’s turning into a bit of a clutter. Other times, it’s a little more roundabout, like an archer who has lost focus in his sport but ends up discovering how gag manga can cure just about all ills. (All right, a slight exaggeration on my part.) The only formula, per se, is that sooner or later someone’s going to enter the used book store and manga will be involved.
Seimu Yoshizaki straddles a line when it comes to a supporting cast for Kingyo Used Books. She understands that the main focus can’t be on the people at the bookstore, because it’s not really about them. At the same time, though, you do need some sort of regulars to help bring the narrative forward, and be recognizable enough that you know their basic character. She introduces three characters to serve as the anchors: Natsuki, the woman who runs the front counter and is the most rational employee; Shiba, the manga-obsessive who freaks out if people say bad things about comics; and Seitaro, their grandfather and the owner of the store. I can’t imagine anyone actually reading Kingyo Used Books because of a deep burning interest in any of the characters. (If anything, there’s a cousin named Billy who shows up later that is actually a slight turn-off because of his unhealthy obsession over a detective-themed comic.) Natsuki’s the only normal one of the bunch, but she’s there mostly to welcome people into the store and occasionally guide people forward in their dreams. It’s not the story of the employees, though; they’re little more than window-dressing.
Yoshizaki is a good artist when it comes to people; she draws people with their hearts figuratively on their sleeves, faces lighting up and collapsing if they’re happy or sad. She’s got the wistful, longing expressions down pat, and I like that her characters have a wide range of ages as they wander in and out of the title; it’s a nice reminder about the strength that manga can have for more than just teenaged boys. Aside from the bookstore itself, though, you should be warned that backgrounds are sparse and more often than not nonexistent. While it does provide a nice focus on the characters, it’s something that will definitely stand out on a re-read.
At the end of Kingyo Used Books Vol. 1 there’s a page on each chapter’s featured manga, talking about its history and significance. I will warn you that it might break your heart to discover that Sarusuberi, a biographical comic about Hokusai, is not currently in print in English. It’s a neat addition and somewhat necessary, especially for a non-Japanese audience, because the books are the co-stars of the comic. Kingyo Used Books is a love song to the joy of reading, and it’s a theme that could be just as easily transplanted into a non-comic story about prose books. Yoshizaki’s stories might not have the most interesting regular characters, but they do make me want to run out and buy lots more comics and keep them around forever. Perhaps not the best comic to read if you’re trying to shrink down your possessions, but then again, I suspect that Yoshizaki would be pleased if her comic made people hang onto their own collections. This is a sweet series that’s worth checking out. You can read select chapters online for free at the SIGIKKI website—definitely go take a look.