Short Program vol. 2
Chad Clayton rates it:
Author/Artist: Mitsuru Adachi
In some respects, it’s harder to tell a really good comic short story than it is to drag on for several volumes. You don’t have the luxury of indefinite space. You can’t spend chapter after chapter getting to the good part. There’s no room for excessive exposition or explanation. You can’t just bring in a new character, prop, or plot twist and pretend that the story is still going somewhere interesting. In other words, you can’t rely on the Toriyama-Takahashi Action Epic Formula to carry you through the project. You have to start and finish a complete, meaningful story in the span of a few pages. Given the economy of space in the comic medium, this is far easier discussed than accomplished. Fortunately, Mitsuru Adachi, best known for his baseball manga series Touch, is more than up to the task.
Short Program is a collection of standalone manga stories that are mostly unrelated, save for a few two-parters. There’s stories as diverse as “Aim At the Ace,” a two-part baseball comedy that owes more to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex than the sports manga archetype, and “4 on the Richter Scale,” a dialogue-free short about how boy meets girl in a most unlikely manner. The sheer number of ingenious visual tropes and clever plot twists alone would make this a joy to read, but don’t get the impression that this is a dry exercise in narrative form and technique. The stories in Short Program range anywhere from raucous and lighthearted to quiet and touching, but each of them have a quiet, gentle power about them that can be wonderful to experience. The high point of this volume comes in the story “Spring Passes,” a poignant story about friendship, love, and unexpected happenings. Out of all the manga I’ve ever read, it is second only to Moto Hagio’s “Hanshin” in terms of emotional punch packed into a single, standalone manga chapter.
Short Program is one of those titles that’s admirable not only for what it does, but for what it avoids doing. A linchpin of many recent manga is that they resort to melodramatic yawping, simpering indulgence, or obvious shock tactics to make up for their lack of clever ideas or skillful storytelling. Adachi doesn’t resort to such cheap writing tricks, because he doesn’t have to. While his stories are simple told in a straightforward, plain style, he uses the tools of the comic medium, like scenery, image composition, and pacing to establish his moods. Also impressive is his use of silence throughout the stories. Many of these tales say the most when no one is speaking at all, which is a refreshing change from many creators’ tendencies to overstate the obvious. While Adachi does draw lumpy, oddly proportioned characters, he skillfully demonstrates that it takes more than skill at drawing bug-eyed girls to make a good manga.
In terms of American manga releases, Short Program is fairly unique. There aren’t very many titles similar enough to it to tease out any meaningful comparisons. The closest thing I’ve seen recently was the anime series Human Crossing. It was a gloomy, dull series that saw daily life as little more than a canvas for shallow, patronizing didacticism and Hallmark-channel sentimentality. It was so obsessed with putting on morality-tale airs that it ultimately missed the point of everyday living: the small triumphs, the commonplace pathos, the joie de vivre – the sense of living and being alive. By contrast, morality is neither absent nor overstated in Short Program, which is joyful and full of life, and the knowledge that life is not something that can be summed up with stiff platitudes or fortune-cookie wisdom. It’s not here to halfheartedly tell you how to live life, but to celebrate life – the good, the bad, and the silly. It’s a shame that this manga doesn’t get talked up more than it does, because precious few manga are capable of handling such simple material with this degree of confidence and grace.
Added: Monday, March 13, 2006
Related Link: Viz