My library had volumes 1 & 2 of Kingyo Used Books by Seimu Yoshizaki, so I decided to give them a try. Wikipedia tells me this is a seinen (“young men’s”) manga, aimed at the 17 to 40s crowd, which surprises me. It another one of those odd slice-of-life manga, though, in this case, more broken up as it’s structured as a very loosely connected series of short stories that center around a used manga store.
The only reason I can think of that Kingyoya Koshoten is labeled for the older crowd is that it’s not exactly ripping with action and you have to be a “mature” reader (as in experienced in the art of reading), who is willing to jump to the next short story without any connective tissue. The structure of it confused me at first, since the only indication that you’ve gone on to another story is a new chapter title, which isn’t even as obvious as they often are in weekly collections (which is to say, no splash page)… and some of the stories’ conclusions left me wondering if they were really at an end–which, again, is confusing because there are reoccurring characters and story lines that run throughout all of the shorts.
That being said, there were an number of the shorts in each volume that I enjoyed. I also really liked the “notebook” pages at the end in which Yoshizaki gives us information and history about the manga she references in her stories.
In the first volume, probably my favorite chapter was “Chapter 4: The Boy Detective Arrives,” in which the reoccurring character of Ichiro Kaburagi aka “Billy” arrives. Ichiro has been living his life abroad, in America, and in order to survive with his Japanese honor and identity intact, latched on to an obscure manga character named Billy Puck (from a real life manga of the same name which was published in 1956.) He’s so into Billy Puck that he asks everyone to call him Billy, cosplays the character daily, and has studied detecting to the point of having an actual private investigator’s license from America. And he’s complete doofus. He thinks he knows everything there is to know about manga because he’s memorized this one title and he’s come back to Japan to meet his “father,” the mangaka, not realizing that the writer/artist died shortly after the manga was published. This chapter appealed to me because it hit my fan buttons. Anywhere else, Billy would be treated like he might be a little off his rocker, but the shoten’s denizens understand fandom and they understand how devastating it is to discover your beloved manga has ended/was cut short. I was really pleased when it became clear Billy would be a reoccurring character.
The other story/chapter I liked in the first volume was “Chapter 6: Fujiomi-kun.” This chapter is far more typical of the type of story in Kingyoya Koshoten, and it follows a very ho-hum housewife who is having trouble fitting into her new social circle. She doesn’t feel terribly connected to her husband or her daughter. All the things she’s expected to do, like run the household and participate in her daughter’s school programs, are okay, but she’s not making many friends who are like her. She’s not unhappy, just feeling lost at sea….until her mother calls and tell her that they’re remodeling the family home, basically from the ground up, and they’ve found a box of her old things. When she goes to pick up the box, she discovers her old shojo manga “The Chizumi and Fujiomi-kun” from the 1980s (again, a real life manga). When she ventures into the used bookstore to try to find other volumes, she runs into someone from the PTA and they strike up a friendship based on their mutual love of this shojo manga. By chance the daughter picks up the manga as well and when she asks her mom why she settled for boring old dad, when clearly mom had her sights on someone like the hero of the shojo, our heroine remembers what about her husband caused him to become her lover and friend. The end.
What always strikes me about these kinds of slice-of-life stories is the quiet, un-monumental resolutions. “Things are a little bit better” seems like a very common ending to stories like this, and you can kind of see how, as Kingyoya Koshoten really wants you to believe, people survive great hardships because manga taught them something about living.
In Volume 2, the stand-out story/chapter for me was “Chapter 13: The One Percent Man.” In that story, we are introduced to a super-tough thuggish dude who secretly loves “Chiisana Koi no Monogatari” (called ‘Chichi and Sally’ in the story), again an actual annual shojo manga, that’s super-sweet and innocent. Chichi and Sally is read widely by women and children (only 1% of men and boys read it), but this guy can not WAIT for the time in May when the new volume will come out. When he goes into the manga store, however, he finds he lacks the courage to ask after the title by name. One day, he overhears a milquetoast salaryman stutter out the question he’s been dying to ask himself, “When can we expect the new issue of Chichi and Sally?” Hearing this utter act of bravery, the macho thug finds himself doubting his manliness. Can he be a REAL MAN if he can’t even ask after something he loves? The answer is, “No.” You have to be who you are, live honestly, or you’re a weak-ass fool.
That sounds to me like the best coming out story EVER.
And… pretty much the entire theme of all the stories in Kingyoya Koshoten. There are different ways the mangaka tells this story, but basically what you need to know is that manga will solve the world’s problems if you can just open up your heart. Cheesy as that sounds, given the “quiet” resolutions, I thought that main theme worked pretty well. Also, I tend to really enjoy slice-of-life because I learn something about Japan and Japanese culture. According to this manga (I’ve not been able to confirm this, however,) there is a job in Japan called “sendori,” which is basically a person who hunts for collectable manga and resells them for a profit to buyers/collectors. I love stuff like that.
So, would I recommend it to you, gentle reader? Only if you tried What Did You Eat Yesterday?(Kinou nani Tabeta) and enjoyed it. The art is on par with that one–not exactly stellar and stand-out, but not off-puttingly bad. Plus, like that manga, Kingyoya Koshoten is not the sort of read I would recommend without caveat, because you really do need to be the sort of reader who either loves slice-of-life or loves manga so much that you will devour any manga about manga.