August 3, 2020

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Stuck at Home? Go Visit Keiichi Arawi's City

City Volume 1
by Keiichi Arawi (translation by Jenny McKeon)
Published by Vertical

Midori Nagamu is your typical comedy manga character: she's in college, has no money, and tries to manipulate her friends into helping her out at every turn. The trouble for Midori is that she's not in the usual world for her trope. Instead, the City is full of quirky as hell characters, ranging from a landlady who won't let her weasel out on rent and is stronger than she looks to a slapstick cook who puts orders in the worst places to a policeman who's happier gazing at the sky than doing his job. In other words, she's just one more weirdo--and perhaps one of the more normal ones--in the word of Arawi's City.


I'd heard good things about this one but hadn't gotten a chance to read it until last year. I immediately fell in love with Midori and her world. From the opening sequence, where Midori scares herself out of a potential payday (after a nimble escape from the landlady), it's clear that readers are getting a broad farce romp with some of the strangest people imaginable. The comedy would work on its own, but because the people involved are so bizarre, it adds another level to the proceedings.


Take Midori's workplace. When she finally lands a job, the owner/chef is a bundle of nerves, worried he will upset a fancy customer. He immediately makes a mistake, then tries to fix it up with a fine bottle of wine--that when opened, corks the patron right in the center of his head. Meanwhile the original mistake is repeated for a second time, adding to the joke. It's perfect physical comedy, and Arawi does an amazing job of making the timing work on the page, building to the climax--and a funny visual for one character that's right out of a cartoon.

In another instance, rather than go for a wild joke, Midori becomes semi-serious, after exasperating her friend (who is obsessed with macro photography because it makes for funny visuals) for the millionth time. "I wanna do something fun," she declares the end of the chapter. It shows both why she's so irresponsible but also the tragedy of the fact that everything going on in her City is about as fun as possible. She lives in a cartoon world, but doesn't see it. Nether does anyone else, but they aren't striving for something different.

That dichotomy is part of what makes City so much fun to read. It's a world in which an old lady can take down a mob of people and a renter can actually get away with not paying rent. But to everyone in the City, it's just another day for them. What would be "fun" 24/7 for any of us is the mundane in their world. Midori's desire for more makes her a bit a tragic figure even though in real life she'd be the worst friend ever and probably in jail. In the City, the only criminal people think exist is the policeman!

Arawi's City benefits greatly from the creator's style. It's not easy to put comedic timing into a comic page. You have to know when to do splashes, close-ups, multi-panel gags, etc.--all with the aim of nailing the punchline and keeping the pace at a breakneck speed so the reader doesn't think too much and ruin the farce by thinking too hard on any one sequence. (If they do, they might write an entire paragraph about a single panel and a single line, then reference it again in the next paragraph.) Arawi is a master at variety here. Sometimes we get extreme "Kirby close-ups" while other scenes provide a  wider view of the city. Manga tricks like exaggerated faces are used only when it best fits the joke, giving them a bigger impact. In a few instances, all we see in a panel is a single object, which allows us to wonder why until the larger picture is literally revealed. If City was drawn in a more typical manner, with similar-sized panels, over-use of exaggeration, and the focus almost always on what I believe would be called medium perspective, it wouldn't work nearly so well.



Re-examining City for this review with Covid in the background is a little surreal. All these interactions are exactly what make communities strong, and 2020 has done a lot to stress that to the breaking point. You can't help but be a bit jealous that they can act freely. I think it's highlighted a bit more in this series than others because of the focus, which is the quirky people in Midori's world and how they mix and match through different adventures. I don't get the same longing after reading Batman or even a set of diary comics from years ago. There's something special about the people in the City. If you haven't had a chance to visit yet, now is the perfect time.