Skip to content

The manga of Natsume Ono

If you’ve taken a look at YALSA’s list of Great Graphic Novels of 2010—and if you haven’t, what’s stopping you?—you may have noticed not one but two works by an author named Natsume Ono. Both Not Simple and the first volume of her series House of Five Leaves are on YALSA’s list, and deservedly so: they’re both really, really good.

Not Simple is exactly like the title says: it’s a rich, complex story with engrossing characters that’ll keep you reading and rereading. It’s about a boy named Ian and his search for his sister, and the people he meets on his way, and the tragedies he keeps encountering. Unfortunately, the book’s twists and turns are so well-done, so perfectly gut-wrenching, that I can’t really say anything more. It is by no means an easy book to read; it’s depressing and heartless and you’re not going to feel very good when it’s done. But it’s an excellent work, both gripping in story and meandering in pace.

The one thing that is simple about Ono’s work is her art: made up of thin ink lines with very little shading or texture, it’s both sparse and engrossing. It’s similarly used to great effect in the other books of hers on the list, the first volume of her ongoing series House of Five Leaves.

On the face of it, Five Leaves is a simpler story: a shy samurai (who knew there could be such a thing?) named Akitsu Masanosuke gets accidentally pulled into a group of kidnappers and extortionists known as the “Five Leaves.” They kidnap the children of rich families, then ransom them back to their parents. Watching Akitsu interact with the rest of the group, especially the charismatic and outgoing Yaichi, is a lot of fun, and even in this first volume there’s hints at a much longer and engrossing story.

The series is eight volumes long—or, at least, there’s eight volumes out in Japan; the second volume came out in America in last December—and there’s also an anime adaptation that just finished up, which you can watch both free and legally on Hulu. I’ve only seen the first episode, but I can tell you that it does a great job of capturing Ono’s unique art style.

If you’re interested in getting more of Ono’s works, her book Ristorante Paradiso and its spinoff Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso are also available in the United States, and later this year Viz will be releasing Ono’s debut comic La Quinta Camera here in the States. And for you lucky ducks who will be attending the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) in May, Ono will be making her North American debut appearance at the show. Make sure to keep an eye on Natsume Ono—she’s an up-and-coming manga star with a lot of great works still ahead of her.

– Ted Anderson, first in line for his library’s copy of House of Five Leaves vol. 2