Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist

Utsubora: The Story of a NovelistCreator: Asumiko Nakamura
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781935654766
Released: June 2013
Original release: 2010-2012

Although several of Asumiko Nakamura’s manga have been licensed for digital release, Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist is currently her only work that has been translated into English and made available in print. I truly hope it isn’t the last to be seen from her; although I was already familiar with Nakamura’s distinctive art style, Utsubora was my introduction to her manga and I loved it, and with each rereading love it even more. With the arrival of the Female Goth Mangaka Carnival, I was inspired to take another, deeper look at the manga. In Japan, Utsubora was a short, two-volume series published between 2010 and 2012. The English-language edition of the manga was released in 2014 by Vertical and collects the entire series in a single volume. Due to its mature themes and its erotic content, Utsubora is one of Vertical’s relatively few manga specifically intended for an audience of adults who are at least eighteen years of age.

Although Shun Mizorogi is still considered to be a successful and respected author, it has been quite some time since he has written anything of note. As a result, he has become withdrawn and is tormented by his lack of ability. Finally, his most recent work Utsubora shows great promise. A return to his roots as an author, Mizorogi has given his fans and critics what they have been waiting for. But when a young woman plummets from the top of a building to her death, the apparent suicide somehow connect to Mizorogi, the authorship of Utsubora begins to be called into question. Both Mizorogi’s close friend and fellow author Yatabe and his newly appointed editor Tsuji suspect something. Even Mizorogi’s niece Koyomi, who lives with and adores him, is able to recognize that her uncle has been behaving out of the ordinary. Utsubora and a young woman named Sakura Miki are the only remaining connections Mizorogi has to the death of Aki Fujino, and they are consuming him.

Utsubora is a dark and twisting tale. Nakamura’s distinctive artwork is exceptionally effective in adding to the manga’s moody, erotically charged, and slightly disconcerting atmosphere. The lines of her illustrations are very thin, creating at the same time a sense of sharpness and focus as well as a feeling of softness as they cut and curve across the page. Nakamura’s art in Utsubora is undeniably sensual and arresting. The eyes of her characters are particularly expressive and draw attention to themselves. The artwork of Utsubora, much like the manga’s story, can simultaneously be vaguely ominous and oddly beautiful. It’s really quite stunning and Nakamura is incredibly skilled. Through her artwork and through the body language of her characters, she is able to convey their uncertainties and their desires, their inner turmoil as well as their outward actions. Overall, Utsubora is an intense and even compelling work.

The plot of Utsubora is complex, the relationships and connections between the characters forming a tangled knot that is drawn tighter and tighter. The manga can be confusing and there is quite a bit of ambiguity that is never completely resolved. The only person who really understands everything that is going on is Sakura, and she is deliberately manipulating the situation, mixing together both truths and lies in order to influence those around her. She can’t control everything, though, and some matters in Utsubora are only tangentially related to what she is trying to accomplish. Although sometimes obscured by layers formed by the other characters’ personal struggles and pasts, the core of Utsubora is the despair surrounding Aki, Sakura, and Mizorogi. Granted, most of the characters are reaching their breaking points and are in danger of losing themselves completely; Aki’s death was simply the catalyst that triggered a dramatic sequence of events from which very few will emerge unscathed.

My Week in Manga: July 1-July 7, 2013

My News and Reviews

Well, I made it back from the American Library Association conference in Chicago and then promptly left to visit my family in Chicago for a few days. I was busy for most of June and the first part of July traveling from one place to another, so I’m looking forward to staying put for a little while. Even though I was all over the place last week, I did post a few things here at Experiments in Manga. First up was the announcement of the Dystopian Duo Winner. The post also includes a select list of dystopian manga that has been licensed in English. Next up was the Bookshelf Overload for June. And finally, I reviewed Sankarea: Undying Love, Volume 1 by Mitsuru Hattori, which is a weird romantic comedy and a rather unusual take on zombies. Coming next week is July’s Manga Moveable Feast which will feature the works of Yun Kouga. Melinda has posted the call for participation with more information over at Manga Bookshelf. For my contribution to the Feast, I plan on reviewing the first omnibus volume in Viz Media’s new release of Loveless.

Because I’ve been traveling I’m sure that I’ve missed all sorts of news, but I did manage to catch a few things. Sparkler Monthly, the digital multimedia magazine from Chromatic Press, has launched its website. Tokyopop and Rightstuf will be releasing the fourth and fifth volumes of Hidekaz Himaruya’s Hetalia manga this year. Digital Manga is teaming up with Tezuka Pro to publish all of Osamu Tezuka’s manga in English, focusing on digital releases with the possibility of some print releases. Vertical announced its licensing of Moyoco Anno’s autobiographical manga Insufficient Direction, which focuses on the mangaka’s relationship with her husband Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame.) Earlier this year I hosted the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast, so I’m particularly excited for this license. Also, Viz made quite a few announcements, including the fact that it will be bringing Rumiko Takahashi’s manga Ranma 1/2 back into print in an unflipped, omnibus edition. I already own the entire series and probably won’t be double-dipping, but it’s exciting nonetheless. If I’ve missed any other recent manga news that you think I shouldn’t overlook, please do let me know!

Quick Takes

Junjo Romantica, Volume 7-12 by Shungiku Nakamura. In Japan, Junjo Romantica is currently an ongoing series. However, only the first twelve volumes were released in English. My opinion of the series hasn’t really changed much since the first six volumes. My favorite couple/story by far is still Egoist. Unfortunately, they don’t make as many appearances as I would like in these volumes. I’ve grown weary of the Romantica pairing—despite the progression in the plot, the characters barely see any development and I frequently feel that I’m reading the same material over and over. I do find Junjo Romantica amusing from time to time, but I’m not nearly as enamored with the series as many other people seem to be.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Volumes 3-4 by Naoko Takeuchi. These two volumes of Sailor Moon close one story arc (The Dark Kingdom Arc) and begin another (The Black Moon Arc). Takeuchi tends to move things along pretty quickly. As a result, it can occasionally be a little difficult to follow the story. Often, things just happen because they need to happen and they aren’t always fully explained. Sometimes, the story elements don’t even make much sense. But even so, I do find Sailor Moon to be an enjoyable manga. I particularly like that it’s the young women in the series who are so powerful and that while they’re strong they’re not perfect. I’ve seen the story of the prince saving the princess so many times that it’s wonderfully refreshing to see their positions switched.

Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist by Asumiko Nakamura. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Utsubora, but the manga is marvelous. Both the artwork and the story are just a little disconcerting and unsettling. Utsubora is layered, dark, arresting, and sensual. I loved it. The manga begins with a young woman plummeting from a building to her death. Only two people are in her cell phone’s contact list: the famed author Shun Mizorogi and a woman claiming to be her twin sister. From there the story twists and turns, the apparent suicide somehow connected to Mizorogi’s most recent work. I sincerely hope that Utsubora does well; I would love to see more of Nakamura’s manga available in English.

Paradise Kiss directed by Osamu Kobayashi. The Paradise Kiss anime is a fairly straightforward and trimmed adaptation of Ai Yazawa’s original manga. Some of the story’s depth is missing and some of the details have been glossed over, but all of the most important aspects of the plot and character development are successfully included within twelve episodes. Although I do prefer the manga and found it to be more emotionally persuasive, overall the anime is really quite excellent. Unfortunately, the Region 1 DVDs are currently out of print and a little difficult to track down, but they’re definitely worth keeping an eye out for. The animation in Paradise Kiss is consistently great and the character designs are lovely—the eyes in particular are captivating.