A Girl on the Shore

A Girl on the ShoreCreator: Inio Asano
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220856
Released: January 2016
Original release: 2011-2013

Several of Inio Asano’s manga have been released in English in the past—Solanin, What A Wonderful World!, and Nijigahara Holograph—and I’ve read every one. While they all left a significant impression on me and can be difficult works, Nijigahara Holograph in particular floored me, further convincing me to seek out more of Asano’s manga. Vertical Comics published one of Asano’s more recent manga series A Girl on the Shore in early 2016. While the English-language edition of A Girl on the Shore is complete in a single omnibus, in Japan the series was originally released in two volumes which were published in 2011 and 2013. I didn’t actually know much about A Girl on the Shore before picking it up beyond the fact it was by Asano, but I rightfully anticipated that it would be a fairly challenging read in addition to being beautifully drawn.

Junior high can be a trying time for anyone as students become more aware of themselves and each other while hormones and the intense desire to belong complicate relationships and they make decisions that will greatly influence their futures. Koume has a crush on her upperclassman Misaki, but he turns out to be something of a playboy, taking advantage of her interest by receiving sexual favors with no intention of returning her feelings. In order to cope, Koume turns around and does the same thing to her classmate Keisuke who she had previously rejected after he confessed that he liked her. Keisuke and Koume both know that they’re manipulating and using each other, but that doesn’t stop their increasingly intimate relationship from evolving and their feelings from changing. Both of them are searching for some deeper connection and meaning in their lives. For a time, having sex together seems to satisfy that need, but in the end the physical relationship only obscures their underlying emotional crises.

A Girl on the Shore, page 147A Girl on the Shore contains numerous and frank depictions of teenage sex. However, the sexual content of the volume is integral to the story that Asano is telling and carries meaning beyond titillation. In fact, A Girl on the Shore provides a deliberately uncomfortable and voyeuristic reading experience, often showing events and personal encounters unfolding directly from the characters’ perspectives. Sex isn’t romanticized or idealized in the manga and carries with it significant repercussions. Koume and Keisuke’s relationship has consequences not only for them both, but for the others around them as well. Physically the two are intimate and daring, but there continues to be a separation between them and they remain emotionally distant. Their relationship is an incredibly important one and their feelings and needs become progressively intertwined, but they are never quite able to completely and truly connect with each other.

Asano’s works tend to be emotionally intense and A Girl on the Shore is no exception. The manga is filled with discontent and sadness that occasionally erupts in physical or psychological violence. A Girl on the Shore is coming-of-age story that can be brutally unsettling and hard-hitting. Koume finds herself drawn more and more towards Keisuke and the complicated power dynamics of their intimacy, seemingly oblivious of the toll that the relationship is taking on them both. Independent of that, Keisuke is also dealing with some heavy family matters and emotional issues of his own. Ultimately, one of the most prominent themes of A Girl on the Shore is loneliness and isolation even in the midst of a relationship. This is beautifully emphasized by Asano’s artwork in which detailed backgrounds, dramatic perspectives, layout and use of space form settings in which people seem set apart not only from others but the world around them as well. At times A Girl on the Shore can tend to be overwhelmingly bleak and tragic, but there is a deliberate narrative purpose and intent behind the pain and pessimism.

A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai

A Sky Longing for MemoriesCreator: Makoto Shinkai
Translator: Maya Rosewood
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220436
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2008

I was introduced to the work of Makoto Shinkai through his animated film 5 Centimeters per Second, which left a huge impression on me. The beautifully melancholic story about lost and unrequited love was simple enough, but the visuals were stunningly gorgeous. A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai is an artbook that was originally released in Japan in 2008, the year after 5 Centimeters per Second debuted. I was very pleased when Vertical Comics announced its intention to publish an English-language edition. That volume was ultimately released in 2015 with a translation by Maya Rosewood. Vertical hasn’t released very many artbooks, but A Sky Longing for Memories is a good fit for the publisher. Not only has Vertical published other nonfiction works about Japanese film, it has also released two Shinkai manga: 5 Centimeters per Second and The Garden of Words.

A Sky Longing for Memories primarily consists of stills and background artwork from four of Shinkai’s projects initially released between 2002 and 2007. Prominently featured are three of his animated films—5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and Voices of a Distant Star—as is the television commercial he created for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, “Say Something Important.” More than half of A Sky Longing for Memories is devoted to 5 Centimeters Per Second, the volume opening with some of Shinkai’s most visually refined and impressive work. The three sections that follow are dedicated to each of the earlier films and “Say Something Important.” Also included in the volume is a glossary—useful for readers who are unfamiliar with some of the technical terms used in the animation industry—as well as “Makoto Shikai’s Colors,” a section exploring the methods and techniques used by Shinkai, and “Testimonials of Makoto Shinkai’s World,” a collection of brief interviews with Shinkai and ten other members of Shinkai Works.

Although A Sky Longing for Memories can simply be appreciated and enjoyed as a collection of stunning artwork, the volume also provides insight into the creative processes and artistic direction required to achieve such impressive images. Many of the individual pieces are accompanied by brief descriptions of the decisions that were made in their overall design in addition to the specific considerations and techniques used in their creation. It’s unclear who actually wrote much of the text in A Sky Longing for Memories, but from the context it would seem to either be one (or several) of Shikai’s staff members or someone else who was close to the work being done. Either way, I was glad for the inclusion of the various descriptions and explanations; I don’t have a strong background in visual art or design and so found A Sky Longing for Memories to be illuminating and intellectually stimulating as well as beautiful to look at.

One of the key components of Shinkai’s style is his use of color. With this in mind, Vertical has taken great care to faithfully reproduce Shinkai’s artwork in A Sky Longing for Memories; the volume uses thick, glossy paper on which the colors in particular are beautifully presented. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous book of gorgeous illustrations. A Sky Longing for Memories reveals Shinkai not only as a talented artist but also as a skilled director. While he solely handled almost every aspect of Voices of a Distant Star except for the film’s music, by the time 5 Centimeters per Second was produced Shinkai was guiding and coordinating the work of an entire staff. Interestingly, most of the team members were traditionally trained artists from outside of the animation industry who had to learn digital techniques and illustration methods on the job. As can be seen from A Sky Longing for Memories, the result of their combined efforts is spectacular.