I was browsing the comics section of the local library for something interesting to read when I stumbled upon this, the first book in the Tōnoharu series of graphic novels by Lars Martinson. I don’t think I had ever heard about the title before, so it was a lucky find. Why, you might ask? Firstly, because the story is set in Japan, which is appealing to me because I spent almost a full year as an exchange student in Kyoto. Secondly, because I found Martinson’s style very interesting, thinking it would be fun to analyze.
This book is split into a prologue and a Part One. The prologue actually takes up about one fifth of the 105 pages of story, and it introduces a guy who I can only imagine is the man behind the book, Lars Martinson. He’s an assistant English teacher working at a junior high school in the rural town of Tōnoharu in Japan. The prologue introduces a little bit of his situation, how he’s the single westerner in the area, how he’s doing in the workplace and the general ups and downs of living in Japan. Before him stands an important choice; does he want to stay and work for another year, or has he had enough of Japan?
In the Prologue, we also catch a glimpse of the main character in the book, Daniel Wells, who is explained to be the predecessor of the guy I assume is Mr. Martinson. Daniel Wells (shown in the third panel on the sample page to the right) is a worried-looking, quiet kind of guy, and he’s just landed a job as an English teacher in Japan. In Part one, we find out that he has little idea about how to deal with his new job, and he tries to seek help from a fresh acquaintance; a girl named Constance living in a nearby town, also an AET. Daniel does his best to get to know her better. He is clearly feeling lonely, and his pursuit of her attention becomes a main topic. There are also a strange group of wealthy Europeans living in an old Buddhist temple in Tōnoharu. It is said that they’re an unwelcome bunch, but it also happens that they’re the only foreigners other than Daniel living in that rural town.
This graphic novel is an entertaining and very quick read. Furthermore, it made me want to read the next book, just to find out what will become of the lonesome protagonist. The pace of the storytelling is steadfast and on the slow side, which can be very relaxing, with only a few deviations from the most observed 2×2 panel layout per page. Art-wise, it’s expertly drawn with a lot of thought and detail going into
backgrounds environments. The characters are drawn simplified with very simple body language, including such subtle changes like shifting the direction of a character’s eyes ever so slightly, or going from a tiny smile to a tiny frown. When you first notice these subtleties, the character emotions seems to convey even stronger.
I would highly recommend picking up this graphic novel. It’ll surprise you with its clear, yet complex art style. The environments Lars Martinson draws are simply impressive. The story also gives an insight into how being a foreigner in a strange land can be both confusing and challenging, not to mention lonely.