As my twenties slowly drew to a close, I looked forward to turning 30 with no small amount of dread. But hey, at least I’m not 40! Shizuo Oguro is, and like so many men his age, he’s itching for a change in his life. His work unfulfilling, his life rather aimless, he finds himself looking for a new path that will give his life some direction and meaning. For many men in Shizuo’s position, such a midlife crisis is quickly solved by buying a sports car or finding religion. Not so for Shizuo, who quits his job and spends his days wandering the neighborhood and playing video games until inspiration finally strikes. His new goal in life? Becoming a manga artist! Never mind that Shizuo’s passion far outweighs his artistic abilities, or that he still has a teenage daughter to raise on his own (with a little help from his flabbergasted father, who also lives with Shizuo and can hardly believe his son’s seemingly delusional aspirations). Despite the odds against him and his new goal, Shizuo resolves to truly give it his all.
Resigned from his dull but secure desk job, Shizuo takes a job in fast food to support his family while pursuing his creative dreams. Working and hanging out with people nearly half his age — captions in many of these scenes list the various characters’ ages, highlighting his growing anxiety over his perceived (and real) lack of progress in his life compared to his younger peers — he tries to recapture the carefree spirit of his youth while simultaneously asserting the value of his age and experience. Whether it’s in his clumsy attempts to impress girls, or in his early drafts of cliche-ridden manga, Shizuo clings desperately to the belief that his age is an asset, and that his life experience, however dull it might have been, will give him the edge he needs to succeed.
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow is a deadpan but emotionally resonant slice of life comedy, with a premise that might feel familiar to anyone who’s read American Splendor or at least knows the tale of the late, great Harvey Pekar. But Pekar possessed an insightful appreciation of the mundane, an intelligent sense of cynicism, and a clear understanding of himself, all qualities that Shizuo lacks in spades. He also had help from numerous gifted artists willing to help bring his ideas to life. Shizuo’s artistic abilities — to put it in the most positive light possible — show potential, but are still a little too rough around the edges for publication. Will he ever find his muse and take his skills to the next level? Shizuo isn’t the brightest guy or the hardest worker (despite devoting all-nighters to his manga), and as a dad he’s nearly lost touch with his daughter Suzuko (who seems to relate to him more as a clumsy big brother than as a father). Despite his shortcomings, he’s a likable lead character, one you’ll want to root for through all the ups and downs of his quest for mangaka glory.
Allow me to vent for just a minute. I’m currently stuck in a dead-end job I despise, one where I wait on kids (er, usually 22 or 23 year-olds) fresh out of college who’ve just landed themselves a great job with a bright future. I’m still trying to start over and find a better career for myself, which has been a challenging and lengthy process, to say the least. I still go through periods of trying to “find myself,” despite being out of my teens and twenties, the time that society deems it most appropriate to try out new pursuits and identities in the way that I’d still like to do. While it makes no sense to constantly compare myself to others or regret my choices, I still catch myself doing it on a constant basis, regardless of the ill effects this has on my self-esteem (Psychology Today has a great article this month on this very phenomenon). Yet, I still want to believe that I have something worthwhile to offer to the world, an untapped potential that’s just waiting to be found, one that I’ll get around to discovering… one of these days. Maybe everyone feels like this sometimes? If you ever do, you’ll find plenty to relate to in I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow.
This is the sort of title that’s poised to crossover to open-minded fans Western graphic novels. The story has a universal appeal, and the art style is very loose, looking more at home next to newspaper or in Japanese 4-koma comics than it does with traditional manga. It’s easy to imagine this having a good deal of success in America and beyond, if only it were shelved next to some of these books at Borders instead of Inuyasha. But hopefully savvy readers will still seek it out. Like Kingyo Used Books, IGIMA…T is a kind of meta-manga that explores the relationship between manga, readers, and artists in Japan. While it’s just one author’s take on the subject, I think it’s another insightful look at the culture and its prevailing attitudes, which are commonly painted in the most broad strokes throughout American fandom. Obviously, it’s not exactly an action-packed title, but every chapter is consistently rewarding in its own quiet way. Highly recommended, especially if you’re looking for a story that’s a little off the beaten path.