Ben Tanaka, 30, a movie theatre manager, is currently living with his girlfriend, Miko. Their relationship is not the best, but inertia is keeping them going for now. Miko announces that she’s moving to New York for an internship, and that the two of them should maybe take a break during that time. Ben’s friend Alice, a perpetual grad-student lesbian, eventually decides to head to New York as well, after the San Francisco area starts to wear on her.
This 2007 graphic novel comes from author Adrian Tomine, who is apparently known more for short stories than longer fiction. This means little to me, since I had never heard of this person until now and have read nothing else written by them. [I had to stop here and look the author up, because the androgynous name made me uncertain of his gender. It's a guy.] The subject matter is not really my cup of tea; I can’t say I’m a fan of whiny slackers, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. If this hadn’t been a graphic novel, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to read this in the first place.
The graphics of the graphic novel are not really that groundbreaking. The artist has chosen to stick strictly to panels and keep all of the art within each panel. The size shifted between a 1/6th size box and a 1/9th size box. Your average Calvin & Hobbes strip showed more dynamic art and experimentation with the form than you’re going to find here. There were, at least, no giant deformed hands showing up in the panels, and everyone was pretty much proportional.
I found the characters themselves as lackluster as the graphic depiction of them. Ben, the main character, always behaved and looked as if he was sleepwalking, no matter what the situation he found himself in. Everyone else generally sported a tired and slumped air as well. An aura of boredom with life just oozed from every situation and conversation.
There’s very little plot to support these situations and conversations, unfortunately, as we become spectators in a short period of the life of Ben. He drifts from home to work to hanging out with Alice and back again without really making any connection at all with the reader, either to engage their sympathy or to rile them or anything. He is as blah as his existance, and the only real emotion he can create is impatience with his passivity.
There were a couple of positive points amidst all this mediocrity, however. I like the author’s choice to include several conversations in non-English (one in Korean and a few bits in Japanese). I’m not crazy about the fact that translations don’t seem to be readily available, because though I was able to ferret out more or less what was going on in the Japanese, the Korean was beyond me, and I’d like to know what was said. Another choice I liked was the author’s tendency to skip through time without waiting for it to be a new page or creating a new chapter or even feeling the need to put up a little tag in the next panel stating “Later”, like so many others might have done. It was made clear through the conversation or the art that time had passed. There was also no forced exposition describing what we’d missed — everything was not spelled out, so the reader was left to draw their own conclusions about the resolution of several situations.
Overall, I didn’t find this graphic novel to be anything special. It was decidedly middle of the road in terms of the drawings and the plot. The artistic effort was adequate, but I don’t feel like it broke any new ground or dazzled me with its brilliance. The writing ditto. I find it ironic that the complaint of one of the characters — about bad movies being praised simply because they were created by an Asian American — may also apply to this graphic novel, because I don’t quite understand why it’s considered so great. The relationship issues explored here have been done before, if not with this particular cast of characters. I definitely would not call this a must read, but neither do I feel annoyed that I spent the time to read it.