Manga in America, for all its successes over the past decade or two, has never been an easy sell. Aside from the easiest and most obvious markets for their products aside — anime fans, comic book readers, kids — it hasn’t been easy for publishers to cross over into the larger, more mainstream audiences that could potentially enjoy the medium. Whether or not they even should is another issue, but you can’t deny that readers of science fiction and romance books (to name only two notable groups) would find much to love if they could only get past their personal hang-ups over comics in general. To push back against these stereotypes, the general strategy has long been to promote manga for its mature qualities, including its adult themes and complex storytelling, all elements that would definitely appeal to a hip and intelligent reader like you. In other words, these are not your grandfather’s comics and you’re definitely not reading them for the laughs like he did. Manga is serious business, right? Not kids stuff!
I’ll venture to guess that they’re long past this sort of conversation in Japan, where manga is mainstream and a regular staple for readers both young and old (or so I’ve been lead to believe over the years, but that’s a different topic for another day). The characters in Kingyo Used Books sure do love their manga, and don’t have any trouble enjoying it for its simple pleasures… not to mention its inspiring, life-changing powers. These reasons are explored through several serendipitous tales centered around the titular bookstore and its staff and customers. This is a lighthearted read that occasionally indulges in the sort of hefty sentimentality that’s probably bound to divide readers, although I doubt that most of the sort that would gag at typical scenes like this will likely bother picking up the book in the first place:
I enjoyed Kingyo Used Books as a welcome break from reading the violent and grim Eden. It’s a relaxing and pleasant read, and for Western readers, it’s an enlightening journey into Japanese otakudom as it’s rarely portrayed in manga or anime. We’re used to experiencing both mediums as being uniquely, urgently new: their very style (to say nothing about their stories) embodies a certain youthful spirit, and their continued rise seems to point the way forward into a digital, synergistic future without borders. Few readers today ever pause to ponder what manga was like before the Internet, much less where it was 30 or 40 years ago. This dusty history is revisited throughout Kingyo, primarily by characters reconnecting with their pasts through nostalgic memories of their favorite manga, or through the continued devotion of lifetime fans who never stopped reading in the first place. Titles from the past, both classic and obscure, play a major role in each of the seven chapters, but you don’t need to be very familiar with them to understand their meaning. There’s plenty of notations throughout to keep readers informed, as well as a nice collection of notes at the end of the volume that should satisfy readers hungry for more.
If you’re looking for realistic, slice-of-life drama, Kingyo‘s pathos might come on a little too strong at times. However, I found the characters likable enough to look past the more implausible plot elements. And if you have the same cataloger/curator/collector mindset as I do, you’ll no doubt be pulled in by the subject matter.
The message of Kingyo is simple: in personal (or interpersonal!) ways, manga can be something more than mere entertainment, especially when the right reader finds the right title at just the right time in their life. Is this an American-style apology for manga, a plea for older readers to finally take it seriously (or, in this case, to come back and take it seriously again)? I don’t know how readers in Japan change their habits as they grow up, but in times like these, I’m sure that people everywhere are looking to find escape, revisit their youthful pursuits, or embrace the simpler pleasures of life. If you’re looking for a quick fix, picking up some manga might do the trick, and a book like Kingyo Used Books could be a great place to start with. Or to even start all over.