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Mariko Parade

The hardest reviews to write are not the ones about comics that are so horrible that it is simply work just to get through the reading of them. Those reviews provide me with a spectacular chance at cathartic bashing and sarcastic joke making. And I love the little buggers for providing the opportunity to complain.

The really hard reviews are the ones about comics that I think are almost beyond my abilities to critique. I’ve never been comfortable reviewing stuff from Moore or Ellis or Eisner, etc. I do these reviews because I want people to read the books, but I know that there are things that I am just plain not worthy of, so I try to mention everything I like about the book, and always forget to mention at least a hundred storytelling devices or plot points that I meant to include, in hopes of painting a true picture of what makes said comic great. I almost hate these reviews because it is rare that I think I’ve ever done a really good comic justice with my review. I always forget something.

I’m at that point once again, where I am faced with a book that is intelligent, beautiful, and unique in the way it is presented, which just happens to be the sequel to a book I’m sure I didn’t give enough praise to: that graphic novel being Yukiko’s Spinach.

In Yukiko’s Spinach, French mangaka (manga artist) Frederic Boilet told the semi-autobiographical story of his love for a Japanese woman named Yukiko and their subsequent falling out of love, though perhaps not in the case of Boilet. His unique combination of photography, computer graphics, and regular pencil work helped concoct one of the most affecting graphic novels I’ve ever read, and Mariko Parade follows suit.

In Mariko Parade, four years have passed since the publication of Yukiko, and Boilet and Mariko, the model who posed for the artwork in Boilet’s first “manga nouvelle” collection, go on a small vacation to the island of Enoshima to shoot some more pictures of Mariko and enjoy some time to themselves. In the four years since, Mariko has been Boilet’s only model and only love and the story that follows them on the island of Enoshima is nothing out of the ordinary.

The biggest change from Yukiko is that Boilet has brought on Kan Takahama, a Japanese manga artist, to illustrate the time spent on Enoshima while Boilet weaves several short stories comprised of his own artistic techniques into the Takahama’s Enoshima narrative. The result is spectacular fusion of two artists and their styles that help create an amazing tale of…well, melancholy would be the best word for it.

I’m reminded of Lost In Translation every time I pick up something from Boilet. It wasn’t a movie I particularly liked, but I did understand it and I think it got the point across that there are some very distinct differences between the American and Japanese cultures. While Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson focused more on the pop-cultural and social differences, Boilet manages to point out some of the more delicate differences as it refers to the Japanese and love.

“Don’t ask me why but the Japanese…are inclined toward that which is fleeting or sad. They say it’s in their nature.” The contrast that Mariko and Frederic represent is a glaring one: Boilet being French is so very indicative of the happiness that arises during love, while Mariko seems so very much a part of the sadness involved in relationships, and the knowledge that relationships can sometimes end. The way they play off one another is subtle and a narrative battle between these two aspects of love is fought beneath the surface of this small story about a vacation in Japan, and neither side really wins.

Again, I’m staggered by the poise of the stories from Boilet, and indeed from Ms. Takahama, as her artistic renderings greatly compliment Boilet’s slow storytelling style. There’s not a line of wasted dialogue, which is odd because there are times in the script when Frederic and Mariko talk about nothing overly important, perhaps Boilet’s very European obsession with soccer. But even these times when the dialogue seems meaningless, the subtext provides meaning. References to “torn muscles” and distraught players easily keep our attention on the overall tone of distress that permeates the book.

Takahama’s artwork is everything I want manga to be and more. Instead of speed lines and bug-eyed fourteen year-old girls, the art put forth by Takahama is full of texture and depth. Unlike many mangaka, she puts backgrounds into her work, but these aren’t the super detailed backgrounds of books like Akira, but impressionistic backgrounds where the reader can easily make out the pencil strokes that Takahama used, and maybe the weight of lead she used, providing the texture discussed earlier. And she shades her work! There’s no inking on her artwork; she gives the straight pencil work as her finished product, and then Boilet seemingly helps to add in grey tones and deepens the shadows in part. What really impresses is the easy flow to and from Takahama’s illustration and Boilet’s photography. While each style is obviously different, they compliment each other extremely well.

I have forgotten to mention many things, among them the honesty of this graphic novel. The story is so simple. It’s just a slice of life from a vacation with and artist and his model, who speak in certain terms and talk the way people in love might talk. There is something so incredibly genuine about the work that comes out of this manga nouvelle movement. It’s so honest in its execution that I am never able to really describe my reaction accurately. The truth about love, about the character’s relationship feels very real and that type of realism is hard to come by in comics. Usually that “realism” in comics simply means something dark or edgy or pessimistic, but Mariko is both sweet and sour. The love of the characters comes through just as easily as the subtext of pain in the book. This kind of storytelling reminds me more of Harvey Pekar than anything else. It’s just honest.

I’ve droned on enough for now, forgetting to mention everything I wanted to, but I think I’ve given enough in way of praise to maybe make you drop the cash on this deserving book from Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Only $17.99 will get you this gem of sequential art, which is nothing to pay for something that is this beautiful. Hard review, but a great comic.

Mariko Parade

Robert Sparling

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