RED SNOW review on Manga Recon

“Red Snow” / Pop Culture Shock / Ken Haley / November 2, 2009

Drawn and Quarterly continues to expand their collection of gegika titles with Susumu Katsumata’s Red Snow. This book is a collection of short stories depicting life in rural Japan with an interesting blend of folklore, reality and Katsumata’s own observations from his younger years. The result is a fascinating collection of work unlike anything I’ve come across before.

Each story is self-contained; they run the gamut
from tales that are solidly realistic in nature, to stories dealing with kappa, curses and other such supernatural elements. At times I found it difficult to nail down just what each tale was about or depicting. Things like the bizarre tale of a kappa fighting to defend an apparently abused wife, or the strange relationship between a young boy and the daughter of an innkeeper feel a bit more straightforward in terms of themes and messages. But then there are stories of lonely village women kidnapping a monk and passing him around over a period of several months, and a tale of a young woman who’s apparently in love with a tree spirit, and just what they’re trying get at seemed a bit more nebulous and vague. Regardless, I still felt they were entertaining and interesting reads and found the casual manner with which Katsumata seamlessly weaves tanuki and kappa into slice-of-life stories fascinating to behold.

Katsumata’s artwork is like nothing I’ve come across in my manga reading before now. Vastly different from the current shonen fare, and from even classic seinen series of yore, the visuals look old but fit the setting of the tales perfectly. It gives the stories an aged feel appropriate to the settings and era in which they take place. While the visuals are different, the pacing definitely reminded of Tezuka’s Black Jack and the few Ishinmori books that I’ve read. The paneling is very grid-like: there are few splash pages, oddly shaped panels and the like. His use of toning is wonderfully done and I found myself flipping through to make sure that he actually used them. It’s just integrated so perfectly that it doesn’t jump out at all unlike some of the manga of today which lathers it on.

Red Snow is certainly an interesting read and I definitely suggest seeking it out, if only to get a taste of the gekiga genre, which isn’t exactly huge in the US market. This was my first look at the D&Q gekiga releases and I’m glad I had a chance to check it out as it’s just so different from almost every other manga I’ve read, both visually and with regards to its content. Very interesting and I’m tempted to seek out more of their releases.
Red Snow will be available in November 2009.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

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