Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: Noble Farmer

Hiromu Arakawa has taken an interesting approach to this manga. Western fans may recognize Hiromu as the creator of Full Metal Alchemist and Silver Spoon.  Over the course of 3 years (2006 to 2009), she ran a short gag manga in Wings magazine, detailing her take on living on a dairy farm in Hokkaido, the government's plan for local produce self-sufficiency, and what it was like going to an agricultural high school.  According to this manga, her family did want her to follow in their footsteps, while Hiromu was torn between being a farmer and a manga artist.  The realization that ag university would take 6 years and the family only set aside tuition money for 4, helped cement the actual course she followed.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Hyakusei Kizoku (百姓貴族 ), or "Noble Farmer", 2009, 125 pages, 680 yen.
Hiromu commonly draws herself as a cow in her other manga, and in Noble Farmer she takes that to extremes, turning her entire family into cows.  Her editor is human, but some of her neighbors are other animals, primarily dogs.  Most of the chapters start out with a one-page introductory gag, and then expand on that for a few pages with spin-off gags.  Initially, the setting is a restaurant where she's giving her latest manuscript to her editor, and getting chewed out for drawing stuff that's too graphic for the delicate female readers of Wings.  Later, she takes her editor to her family's farm to demonstrate something that seems otherwise too unbelievable.

If you've ever lived on a farm, then you know most of what takes place here.  Think "Minnesota dairy farm" and you'll be pretty close.  The chapter on Japan's self-sufficiency program is pretty critical of the idea that the rest of the country can survive on what is grown mainly in Hokkaido (and to some extent Kyushu and Shikoku).  She tries to launch an independence movement to turn Hokkaido into its own country, but is ultimately foiled when her editor asks how many manga publishers are based in Sapporo.

In another chapter, Hiromu befuddles her editor by writing stories about the dairy farm growing dead deer and fish.  Turns out, though, that licensed hunters are allowed to shoot deer during season, and if the deer happens to fall within the farm grounds, the farmer and hunter are allowed to divvy it up.  As for the fish - Hokkaido rarely gets hit by typhoons, because they get redirected by the mountain range in northern Honshu.  But, some of the really strong storms will reach Hokkaido, causing major flooding of the rivers.  And when the rivers subside, the fish are left stranded on land.  It's illegal to fish in the river, but nothing says you can't harvest what's sitting on your own land.

Overall, the artwork is pretty crude, especially when compared to the similar Silver Spoon, but that's part of the idea.  By keeping the art simple, Hiromu conveys the down and dirty life of a farmer.  The gags are good, but the kanji used is relatively advanced and not that easy to read without a dictionary.  Recommended if you want to see people grossed out by cow patty jokes.

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