Due to the dearth of anime that interests me, I have been spending more time on manga these days. During a recent frolic in the forest of books that is Kinokuniya, I bought the first volume of Natsu no Zenjitsu (夏の前日) on a whim, as I often do when I don’t want to feel like I wasted a trip there because the new releases I was actually looking for were not yet in stock. Though these impulse buys often, by their very nature, end up disappointing, this time it turned out to be a surprisingly good purchase.
Natsu no Zenjitsu is a sweet and somewhat melancholic story about Tetsuo Aoki, a 4th-year student at Hiyoshigaoka Arts University who works part-time at an art supply store, and Akira Aizawa, an older woman who works for a local art gallery. Imagine Honey and Clover with just Mayama and Rika, if you swapped their personalities and tweaked things a bit.
The great part about Natsu is really the art, which, unfortunately for those who cannot understand Japanese or do not want to purchase the book, has been completely ruined in the online scans by a raw cleaner’s overly-liberal use of Photoshop’s Brightness & Contrast tool. Scanslators love to make their scans have pure white background (because it gives the impression of a high quality scan), even if they really shouldn’t…
The original features beautiful cross-hatching done with delicate pen strokes and some very brilliant line art, with sparing use of prefab screen tones where cross-shading is not viable. The resulting presentation is simply a joy to look at, a whole different level from the flat tone-shaded visual style adopted by most weekly shounen titles. Simply beautiful. It’s a shame that the high contrast found in online scans wiped out most of the intricate details and turned everything that survived the genocide into blobs of dark abyss. This is why all the pictures in this post suck balls.
Natsu‘s author, Motoi Yoshida, also drew the original Koi Kaze, a fact that I only found out after I started writing this post, so you can get an idea of how the art really looks like from there. (Assuming you didn’t just download the scans for Koikaze too…)
Story-wise, Natsu is pure and simple. There’s basically no real problems to be solved in the story, just two characters falling in love (or not?) in an awkward and at times amusing manner. The brilliantness lies more in the subtle interactions between Tetsuo and Akira and the way the panels are composed to convey the weight of every meaningful glance and thoughtful pause. The pair’s idle flirtations take on a life of their own. Simply delightful.
Apparently, Natsu is actually a prequel to another manga by Yoshida, Mizu no Iro Gin no Tsuki (水の色 銀の月) and, according to a random manga blog I googled upon, you can actually find out what happens to the main characters in Natsu if you read that earlier work. I’ll probably wait for Natsu to finish first, which will probably take a while considering that it’s serialized in good! AFTERNOON, a bimonthly magazine. Then again, Mizu only took two books and Koi Kaze, his longest work, ended in five volumes.
So anyway, although it’s probably because I am biased towards the genre, I find the book to be bloody brilliant. Get it on Amazon JP if you can read Japanese. If not, you can still pretend that it’s a cheap art book and enjoy the pretty artwork.
A small postscript note: Although not classified as an adult manga by Japanese standards, Natsu contains tasteful nudity and sex scenes. Be warned.