March wrap up: Manga!

I had a bit of a reading slump in February, so I decided to try something new in March and read something I don’t usually read: manga!

It worked well at first, but I only bought digital copies, and I found that reading manga on screen was extremely tiring to the eyes. I often ended up with a headache if I read for too long, and as a result, I did not read as much as I wanted and went back to reading novels towards the end of the month.

Manga

死役所 by あずみきし

When people die, they go to the 市役所 where they go through administrative formalities in order to pursue their journey toward death, either going to heaven or to hell. No matter if people died in an accident, were killed or committed suicide, they all have their story to tell.

This is my favourite manga read this month. It is about death of course, but also about life, regrets, love, and the touching story of ordinary people. We only stay with each character for a couple of episodes, but their stories are extremely impactful, the kind of stories that you remember for a long time after closing the book. Some are heart-wrenching, some deal with difficult topics like suicide or the death of young children, but there is also hope and warmth there as well. Overall, the manga is incredibly emotional, and reflects our society very well.

クイズ! 正義の選択 by 杉野アキユキ

Imagine a TV quiz program with two candidates. Each candidate can choose a reward that will be granted if they win. The TV program chooses a sanction that the candidates has to pay if they loose. The quiz is so designed that only one person can win, and the other will lose, and both candidates have to reach an agreement on how they will answer…

I loved this manga so much! The idea behind the quiz is very good, and I find this kind of situation fascinating: what will people choose when they are faced with their interest on one side, and the interest of their loved one on the other side? how far do they trust each other? What is stronger, fear of retribution? greed? trust? or selfishness? This manga was really addictive to me, highly entertaining, each episode having its own surprising ending. Highly recommended if you like this genre!

テセウスの船 by Toshiya Higashimoto (東元俊哉)

Life has not been easy for Shin Tamura: growing up as the son of a mass murderer meant constant bullying and house moving. When Shin becomes a father himself, he decides to visit his father in prison but finds himself back in 1989, the year of the murders…

This story is extremely engrossing, it contains both an excellent crime mystery, a good setting, and characters that the reader will easily care about. Mixing a murder mystery with time travel makes for a really suspenseful story. Prevent incidents, change the past, find the murderer… our protagonist has a lot to do! This manga is not only a suspenseful mystery, it also shows how difficult life can be for family members of a convict. All the characters of the manga have a lot of depth, and there are some emotional moments there as well. Highly recommended!

モンキーピーク by Koji Shinasaka (志名坂高次) and 粂田晃宏

After suffering a serious draw back, a pharmaceutical company sends all its employee to go hiking at Mount Tanigawa, the deadliest mountain in Japan, to strengthen the team and mark a new beginning. The group is soon attacked by a giant monkey holding a machete…

I love horror stories, but it has been a while since I read one. I found this one very addictive, though I did not find it very scary. I was particularly unimpressed by the monkey, which is supposed to be the spooky character of the manga. What I loved the most is the survival aspect of the story: how to manage being lost, lacking water, suffering from the cold, etc. To me, Mont Tanigawa was more scary than the monkey. I also loved to see how the team evolved, how each character’s true nature is revealed in a situation of crisis, and how people start to turn against each other. Great manga, if you don’t mind a little bit of gore!

ブラックジャックによろしく by Shuho Sato (佐藤秀峰)

Eijiro is starting his training as an intern and learns the hard way that a hospital is not merely a place to save people’s life: it is also a place ruled by money, complex administrative procedures and even some unscrupulous doctors. Decisions made are not always for the patient’s best, and Eijiro will have to choose what kind of doctor he wants to be.

This manga was first published by Kodansha in 2002. In 2012, Shuho Sato broke his contract with Kodansha and digitally released his manga royalty-free, meaning that anyone can read, translate, adapt or use the series freely. As a result, you can easily find the manga online for free if you are interested in reading it.

I am really enjoying this manga so far (I haven’t finished it yet). It is easy to identify with the protagonist and we learn a lot about Japan medical system along the way, and some revelations are horrifying. The manga was published 20 years ago, so things may have changed, but apparently some haven’t.

I recently read a novel on a similar topic, 『泣くな研修医』 by Yujiro Nakayama (中山裕次郎) , and this novel was published in 2019. Both the manga and the novel have a similar episode about the reticence to use public money to provide life-prolonging treatment to patients that are going to die, especially elderly patients. This is something that is described in very similar ways both in the manga (2002) and in Yujiro Nakayama’s novel (2019). In both stories the protagonists are asked to let a patient die when providing treatment or performing an operation could give the patient more months or years to live. The reason given is money. To say it plainly, the hospital doesn’t want to waste public money on elderly patients near death.

In Yujiro Nakayama’s novel, our protagonist is told じゃあ、入院費と手術代、何十万円も税金で負担して治療する? This is echoing what Eijiro hears from his senior:

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This is just an example of the numerous shocking truths that Eijiro is confronted to during his internship.

Overall, I really enjoy this manga, even though I find the drawings sometimes a bit too dramatic.

There is a follow-up to the series called 新ブラックジャックによろしく (9 volumes) and published in 2010.

Novels

蜘蛛男 by Edogawa Rampo (江戸川乱歩)

This is the third book of the Kogoro Akechi series and I start getting used to Edogawa Rampo’s style. The story is excellent and I found that I could read it quite easily. As usual, the most difficult parts were actions scenes, but overall, I didn’t struggle too much.

I find that reading the books of the series always take me more time that other novels. If I read for the same amount of time, I will end up reading less pages when reading Akechi than a Keigo Higashino for example.

It certainly comes from the font being quite small in the edition I have, and because, overall, the books have longer blocks of text than contemporary crime fiction. There are long narrative or descriptive passages. Sometimes a character’s explanation will take several pages, whereas contemporary books tend to have more dialogues and shorter paragraphs. I even read books that had a line break after almost every sentence (!) which made the book extremely quick and easy to read. The Akechi series is the contrary, with blocks and blocks of text 😅

So while the book was only 350 pages long, it felt like reading a much longer book!

アキラとあきら by Jun Ikeido (池井戸潤)

And talking about long books, I have read my longest book in Japanese so far with アキラとあきら.

The novel is more than 700 pages long, and you can buy either the whole novel in one book or the split edition (two books of around 350 pages each).

I knew that this author writes business novels and I was afraid that reading about financial and economic topics in Japanese would be too ambitious (and maybe boring).

アキラとあきら certainly was the most difficult book I read this month, but it was not that difficult either, and most important thing: it was extremely engrossing (more about this in my book review!)

I know nothing about banks and company management, but I had no difficulty following the discussions and explanations in the book. Jun Ikeido managed to make everything accessible for people like who are complete newbies in this area, while still delivering a suspenseful, complex and engrossing story.

Some chapters were more difficult than others, but overall I always managed to follow the discussions. Of course, I had to look up words, but there is a lot of recurring vocabulary so things became easier very rapidly.

One thing that I found funny was to see a lot of words that I had learned for the JLPT N1, but that did not really made sense to me at the time. Learning economy-related vocabulary out of context for the JLPT was the most boring thing ever, but meeting these words again in context and seeing how they are used and what they really mean is rewarding and fun.

Overall, アキラとあきら is a fantastic novel that I heartily recommend.

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