Manga Chapter of the Week: Natsu no Zenjitsu Chapter 16 (Being Touched)

Yoshida Motoi is an irregular manga artist who makes up for his bi-quarterly release pace with the best aesthetic concepts this side of Yusuke Murata and a detail-fixated, thorough art style.* It’s fitting, then, that the manga he’s currently drawing, Natsu no Zenjitsu, deals with art itself.

As the title suggests, this particular chapter focuses on the male lead’s sense of touch, and aims to convey how it factors into both his life and his paintings to the readers. Part of that goal is accomplished in conventional means via the script, but the chapter also provides a clinic of how to incorporate the sense of touch into seemingly flat pages of manga. Nor does it just run an art clinic; these depictions are intimately related to a growing and somewhat contradictory set of emotions in the manga’s male lead.

One good way to tap the sense of touch in manga, the one Motoi uses here, is to make panels devoted the objects being touched by the characters. The reason why this works is that people can get a vague idea of how something feels via how it looks by drawing on past experience, especially if they’re forced to think about the object in question. Focusing on an object also allows the author to make use of detailed textures, giving a better idea of say, how rough the surface of a lemon is by showing each little dent and pore on the skin. It helps that Motoi’s style is built around beautiful and excruciating detail to begin with, so the extra details in the “touch scenes” don’t feel particularly out of place.** Pictured are two of the more striking examples of this technique, but the 30-page chapter contains several more.

NnZ-16-1

Aoki touches a foot, a glass, a lemon, and a sunflower

This incorporation of touch doesn’t just serve the manga in an abstract artsy sense. It also develops the male lead, Aoki, who’s recently been fixated on touch while in the middle of his supposed magnum opus, a painting of sunflowers dedicated to his longtime girlfriend and patron (Akira) and inspired by a girl he’s never spoken to and is a bit too obsessed with (Hanami). The complexity of the situation there is downright obvious, and the manga drives that home in another way. Aoki has gone way beyond touching Akira, but she’s also touched him in a metaphorical sense, by bringing herself into the aloof Aoki’s social sphere. Meanwhile, Aoki’s never done more than look and listen to Hanami, and they really don’t have any sort of relationship. The fact that he can’t use his steady significant other in a painting built on those connections is a profound contradiction that adds a couple layers to their relationship.

To be perfectly honest, I love this manga to bits and pieces. The art style is great, the characters are both complex and likable, and the exploration of artistic themes is extremely dedicated. Another point of disclosure: I’ve owned the volume this chapter ran in for about a year now, and I’ve read it cover-to-cover upwards of 5 times. I know what happens and how it happens in the next two chapters of the series. And you an expect to see it featured in this column at least two more times unless one of several very improbable scenarios happens.***

*This statement will probably come back to bite me when I eventually publish the stinging critique of Kentaro Miura that’s constantly bubbling up inside me.

**I think Yoshida Motoi’s art style is, in an absolute vaccum, the best in manga, beating out Takehiko Inoue and Takako Shimura by a bit. Other art styles may be more suited to particular kinds of stories; the deliberate ugliness of Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s characters and the realistic designs suited to Naoki Urasawa’s hollywood slash Steven King style of storytelling both come to mind. Art style itself is something I judge by the criterion “what would I be most likely to buy an artbook of?”, a criterion that Motoi easily dominates.

***1. An Akumetsu (Akumetsu) vs. Junichirou Koizumi (Mudazumo Naki Kaikaku) crossover.

2. The main character of Bambino cooks a meal which successfully saves the life of the Italian prime minister from nationalistic terrorists using only his toes. (Not out of the question given how the final quarter of the manga went.)

3.Yusuke Murata draws a 1000-page chapter of any manga.

3. a) Eyeshield 22: Hiruma Yoichi wins the super bowl, 19-0.

4. Yuriko Nishiyama’s Dragon Voice is renewed with a chapter featuring an epic dance battle on the roof of Tokyo Tower.

5. Toriko discovers the god ingredient.

6. Somebody scanlates new chapters of The Embalmer. (This one is actually impossible.)

7. The two chapters are both released in the same week.

8. A 20th Century Boys spinoff dedicated entirely to Sadakiyo.

9. Inio Asano and Shohei Manabe team up to create a manga about sexual identity politics in Japan. Wait, what?

10. I read a manga I’ve never even heard of and instantly fall in love. Hey, it’s happened before.

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