What A Wonderful World! Vol. 1 (VIZ media)

wonderfulworld-header.jpgSlackerdom comes face-to-face with the real world in this collection of interconnected short stories from Inio Asano.




204 pgs., B & W; $12.99

(W & A: Inio Asano)

I remember enjoying What A Wonderful World!, the first of two volumes of short stories by Inio Asano, while I was reading it, but a few days have passed and I can’t remember a thing about it. Maybe that’s a failing with me or maybe the stories are just forgettable, but let the record show that I did like them when they were passing through my short-term memory. The temptation to liken this experience to the proverbial Chinese meal is almost overwhelming but I will do my best to resist.

Fortunately I have the volume at hand, and after brief perusal my initial experiences are coming back to me. The title is ironic since the subject matter is young adults and their often less-than successful encounters with the world, and I’m still slacker enough to appreciate the following quote from the first story: "You lead a self-indulgent, aimless existence. Well, nothing wrong with that." The flip side of slackerdom, as these characters come to learn, is that although freedom’s great (assuming you have enough money to live on), the stress of creating your identity without the convenient shorthand provided by occupying a traditional role (I’m a lawyer, I’m the mother of three boys, I teach at the university, etc.) can really wear you out.

Click for a larger image.What a Wonderful World! is a seinen manga (intended for men aged 18-30, give or take; this VIZ release is rated T+ for older teens and adults) but the appeal could be much broader, especially now that lots of people who thought they had jobs-for-life are finding out otherwise. I can testify that the world looks quite different when you don’t have a 9-to-5 and I can only imagine the shock which greets people who built their identity around the possession of such. And whatever the repercussions of being off the track in America are, I’m betting it’s orders of magnitude worse in Japan. There’s an undercurrent of despair in these stories which you don’t find as much in Western comics about indie kids like Love the Way You Love or Questionable Content, whose characters seem to understand at some level that they’re being overly dramatic and that things will work out in the end. No such luck for the characters in What a Wonderful World!—life is bleak and not a ray of hope intrudes on a world as uncaring as that of the darkest film noir.

There are nine stories (or "tracks" as the author calls them) in What a Wonderful World! and some of the characters appear, Robert Altman-like, in more than one story. All the stories are strange and most don’t lead to a tidy resolution, so perhaps that’s why I had such a hard time remembering them: even an undergrad psych student knows that it’s hard to retain information which doesn’t fit into a familiar category. (I guess categories is going to be the theme of this review!) The story I liked best is the second one, about a bullied girl who finds a way to ascend the school hierarchy (with the assistance of a talking raven–some of these stories are a bit out there) only to conclude that the whole endeavor is stupid. Talking animals who may or may not be real is a recurring theme, as is bullying and the conflict between taking up a prefabricated adult role versus holding out for a different kind of life. Every story has so much to think about that my conclusion upon a second reading is that What a Wonderful World! is deeper than I thought and definitely worth some sustained attention.

One reason I liked it so much even on a first reading is the art. It’s manga-inspired but realistic, and no respecter of either the frame or the 180 degree rule. The effect is like we’re looking down from Mt. Olympus on the characters so we can see everything at once, then focus in on a telling detail, and see their feelings as well as their thoughts. In fact, we can go inside their heads and experience the characters’ emotions for ourselves, then step back and see how they are acting them out. My final advice is to give What a Wonderful World! a chance and not judge it too hastily: your efforts to get beneath the surface of these stories will be amply repaid. | Sarah Boslaugh


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