Contemporary Realistic Fiction · Graphic Novel · Review · Young Adult

Not Simple by Natsume Ono | Graphic Novel Review

not simple by Natsume OnoTranslator: Joe Yamazaki

Publisher: VIZ Media

Pub. Date: 2006, 2010

Genres: Slice of Life, Drama, Seinen Manga

Pages: 320

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Not Simple, by Natsume Ono, reminds me of an experimental independent film that was sad but leaves me feeling unsure about what I just watched. Told in mostly reverse order, the manga tells the life of Ian and the mystery behind it. A writer named Jim has been learning about him and keeping track of him since before he achieved his goal.

We’re introduced to Ian at the end of this book’s timeline. At that point, he seems to be a mysterious homeless man who ran into trouble. Then we start seeing the sweet, quiet, awkward little child that he was and the sister he was looking for. He is a generally neglected and abused child who does most things in his life for his sister. The one detail I’ve gotten out of him as a person is that he liked running, but his expressions are telling. He is a complex character, but he seems mostly unchanged except for the happiness one woman gave him. Otherwise, his official parents and the people they left in charge of him did their best to ignore and use him. Jim is gay and estranged from his family. He interviews Ian about his life and takes care of Ian whenever Ian comes back to town. Rick and Ian encourage him to stay close with Jim family, though they seem to be his family. The girl from the beginning of the book kind of fades away, and I would have liked getting one more scene that added something about her.

Be prepared for seeing neglect and child abuse in this book. There is more, but I don’t want to give spoilers. There was a surprise that had me flipping back to specific scenes so that I could confirm the hints for that revelation.

The narrative structure takes some getting used to. It requires getting used to events mostly working backwards and getting answers to questions in scenes with new scenes that answer the question. It’s perfect for circling back to the beginning without reliving the beginning, and the epilogue made me cry.

Ono’s art style in this manga doesn’t stick to the styles associated with shoujo and shounen, as you can see on the cover. It looks more rough, simple and awkward as if to fit everything around Ian’s character. The characters have large, expressive eyes and squarish bodies and faces. It also makes it easier to recognize the familial connections and haggard appearances of some of the characters.

Natsume Ono’s manga is worth reading, but it would only appeal to a certain audience. One that can handle uncomfortable topics and unusual story structures.

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