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January 21, 2013

Bento Bako Weekly: Danza

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Danza
Author: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Volume: One-shot, $12.99
Vintage: 2007 by Kodansha Ltd., December 2012 by Kodansha Comics
Genre: Short stories, slice-of-life

Danza is a delightful collection of short stories from manga creator Natsume Ono. A danza is a type of Puerto Rican waltz, though given Ono’s proclivity toward Italian settings, I’ll assume it just means “dance” in general. Which is a perfect title, as each of the six stories in the collection center on a pair – father and son, friends, work partners, brothers. “Rubber Boots” is the story of a father and son separated by an unpleasant divorce. After about ten years of not seeing each other, son Ivo begins to visit his father to help with the grape harvest for his wine. Things are awkward the first year, and not much better the second, but Ivo slowly comes to understand and respect the sort of man his father is. “Memories of the Lake” is a bit unusual for Ono, as it dips into science-fiction, of all things, with some time traveling. Ralph is just a child living with his widower father when a man claiming to be from the future comes to visit him. He also claims to be Ralph’s son, and he has come to make his father’s dying wish come true – a day of fishing with his father. Which sounds quite sweet, but is actually fairly heartbreaking given Ralph’s relationship with his father and soon to occur events. “Diorama” picks things up with humor and charm, telling the story of a traditional Japanese man who is visited by his daughter and her incredibly tall American husband. Father and son-in-law are having trouble connecting, as the father is quite stubborn and traditional, and the son-in-law is awkwardly trying his best to fit into a Japanese family and connect with his wife’s father. “The Gelateria and the Carabinieri” is the shortest and most amusing of the bunch, about a carabinieri officer who is stationed across the street from Rome’s most popular gelateria, and must watch the crowds roam the streets with their delicious gelato in the hot weather. “Smoke” takes things in a melancholy turn, as two mutual friends get into a fist-flying argument over the false presentation of one’s public identity. Aldo disdains Pietro for the easy smile he’s always wearing and the capable attitude he always presents, because Aldo knows that underneath all that is a person struggling with his position and who he is expected to be. The final story, “Partners” is a tale about two New York detectives, one a regular (but a transfer), and the other a rookie. When Val hears a rumor about his partner Keith, he frets over its validity and what it means to distrust his new mentor, and ends up learning what kind of person he is, as well as the sort of person his partner is.

I’m just happy to get my hands on more Natsume Ono, I don’t care what it is. I would like all of the Natsume Ono, please. And I do mean all of it, including the titles published under her secondary name Basso. Let’s get on that, publishers (and while you’re at it, how about publishing all of Fumi Yoshinaga’s works, too). I really can’t get enough of Ono, or her wonderfully unique art style, which admittedly was a bit off putting at first (back when I read La Quinta Camera, I believe), but I now find very charming and perfectly suited for these types of stories (as opposed to the more realistic but still stylized presentation she uses for her multi-volume series like Gente and House of Five Leaves). Enormous, soul-filled eyes; wide, bright smiles; sketchy; and simplistic. Everything that allows Ono to tell a heart-warming story with fully emotive characters, and not a lot of busy nonsense to detract from what the characters are experiencing. Just a lot of heart, and a remarkable amount of growth within the characters for such short tales. Kodansha added some translation notes at the back which, while not entirely necessary, do prove a bit useful, particularly for those new to Ono (and apparently Japanese culture, since they felt the need to explain conveyor belt sushi). Overall, a pleasing collection, and a must have for Ono’s fans, at the very least.




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