Yoshizaki’s series of slice-of-life tales centers around a bookstore and the slightly odd cast of characters who drift in and out of it. There is Natsuki, the young woman who works the front desk; her grandfather, the store’s owner; Natsuki’s bickering parents; Shiba, the oddball, manga obsessed young man who lazily courts Natsuki; Ayu and Okadome, a couple who earn a living buying and reselling used books; Sasaki, a housewife and mother who wonders if her life is missing something; Ichiro, a young man crazy about an old mystery manga series; and many more. Each of these characters love reading, love books, and love comics. They share that love with the customers and through them, with us. We are shown — reminded, perhaps? — that reading can take us to magical places, can lift us from the depths, can move us like no other medium. The unique blend of words and pictures that is comics can get to readers in a way that straight prose sometimes cannot and Yoshizaki celebrates and honors that blend, inviting us to celebrate as well.
Though there are hints that something more mystical or magical might be happening in the depths of Kingyo, the stories stay fairly down to earth. Volume one is an excellent introduction to the characters, to the setting, and to Yoshizaki’s style, and though things bog down slightly in volume two, by volumes three and four, Yoshizaki begins to tie the characters together and give her readers more insight into their lives, both past and present. This effectively keeps readers engaged in the story despite not knowing many of the manga mentioned throughout Kingyo. Most of those referenced titles are from the 50s and 60s and it is clear that Yoshizaki loves older manga – and the used bookstores that keep them circulating – as much as her characters do. The manga mentioned are real titles and further information about them is given in encyclopedia style entries in the back of the book. For the most part, you don’t have to be familiar with the different series to understand why the characters have been moved by the titles. Occasionally a story simply doesn’t work because it is hard for Western readers to appreciate the characters’ motivations without having read the manga being celebrated, but generally readers won’t be lost, thanks to that supplemental material.
Yoshizaki varies all of the tales enough and ties them together nicely, so that readers don’t feel like each chapter is just a “yay, reading!” public service announcement. There is heart and soul in these tales, but also sorrow and humor. Yoshizaki is clear that what is being celebrated is “comics,” no matter what regional name is attached to them. One story in volume one revolves around a French comic that a character discovers while working abroad. His joy at finding a new style of “manga” in a foreign land makes it clear that comics are comics, whatever they might be called.
For those readers who like a more realistic style of art, Yoshizaki’s style will instantly appeal. Characters look the age they are and they look like ordinary, everyday people. But Yoshizaki doesn’t allow the art to overshadow the story. Realism is not favored at the expense of drawing in a clear manner, so backgrounds are sometimes left off, allowing readers to focus on the characters. Terms are defined within the text and side notes are sometimes added to help identify certain works being discussed. There is little violence and no nudity or sexual situations, but the comic is definitely written for an adult audience, one that is mature enough to understand the emotions driving the characters. The appeal of Kingyo Used Books is definitely a limited one, but this title will strike a chord with comics fans who like to think about what they read and, more importantly, why they read – especially those who appreciate the history of the art they love.
NOTE: Parts of this review were previously published in a now-defunct blog, Fujoshi Librarian.