Friday, August 18, 2017

The Big Dog

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

The Big Dog (Ookii Inu), by Sukeracko (2017), Grade: B+
There's almost no information on Sukeracko (spelled Sukerakko on Manga Updates) in English, and his/her main prior title is just Bon no Kuni. There's a little more information on their website, such as Sukeracko being an illustrator/manga artist living in Kyoto, but that's about it.

Ookii Inu is a collection of short stories that mostly ran in Itan magazine in 2014, but there are a couple older ones from 2013 from other publications. The artwork is very simple, with clean thin lines and cartoony characters. The stories are very gentle, and embrace the off-beat. The dialog is in casual Japanese with simple kanji, and is fairly easy to read. I do admit that I kind of skimmed over two of the chapters towards the end because they didn't really catch my attention. The rest of the book is good, though.

(Takada offers a fish sausage to the big dog, then wonders if it is lonely at night.)

Ookii Inu (The Big Dog)
Takada is a friendly salaryman that has learned how to speak to dogs. One day, his friend decides to go to India for a few months to study yoga, and he asks Takada to house sit for him. In reality, the guy only makes it to Okinawa, where he spends several months scuba diving and getting drunk. The guy lived in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same, and the only landmark is a big dog that lives nearby. A really BIG dog. Takada befriends the dog, brings it some small snacks, and decides to name it "Pero" for the sound it makes when snatching food out of the air. Takada gets talked into visiting his friend in Okinawa for a few days, and when he comes back, he wants to tell the dog about the new name, but it's nowhere to be seen anymore.

(Takara's grandfather prepares to go traveling with the other 6 Lucky Gods.)

Shichifukujin Tabe (The 7 Lucky Gods Go Traveling)
Takara (Treasure) is a young woman that broke up with her boyfriend, and the only person that consoled her was her grandfather. Now, her grandmother has died and Takara's grandfather announces that it's finally time for him to reunite with the other 6 of the 7 Japanese Lucky Gods and go on a trip again. He claims that they had ridden around on their boat for a long time together, but eventually split up and went their own ways. He asks Takara to help him get set up on the internet to track them down. Takara humors the old man, but pretty soon, it's clear that he's not crazy. One of the gods is a motorcycle fanatic, the other hangs out on Facebook all the time, and the two oldest gods just stay in their apartment and watch TV. When they're finally all reunited, they invite Takara to go with them, and her fear is that she's going to be taken to Heaven and the afterlife.

(Mikami is finally allowed to celebrate Christmas at home with her mother.)

Kurisumasu Mikami (Christmas Mikami)
Mikami is an office worker still living with her mother. It's now Christmas Eve, and Mikami runs out of the office to go buy Christmas cakes and presents to deliver to other people, like she's done every year after getting her current job. This time, she gets paired up with a guy working part time for the cake shop, Santa (literally "3 Fields"), who is dressed up as Santa. Mikami resents the disruption to her routine, but Santa stays out of her way and lets her buy up all the cakes and deliver them to her chosen recipients. Eventually, Santa gets Mikami to explain herself, and the woman says that when she was a child, she'd always wanted to celebrate Christmas, have a tree, exchange presents and eat Christmas cake, like all the other kids did, but her mother had never heard of Christmas and had no interest in these things. So, when Mikami got old enough, she started celebrating Christmas her own way in spite of her mother. Santa gets Mikami to act her feelings out loud, then tells her to say the same words to her mother. At the end of the night, Mikami goes home, tells her mother she wants to celebrate Christmas this year with a tree and Christmas foods. The older woman grudgingly agrees to the tree, and supplements her regular sushi with some Christmas chicken. Mikami thanks Santa, and promises next year that there will be presents. Meanwhile, Santa ends the season at home, eating Christmas cake alone in front of the TV.

(Sakura gets to see real tree blossoms for the first time.)

Ume * Momo * Sakura (Plum, Peach, Cherry)
Ume, Momo and Sakura are 3 brothers that have grown up together in the future. But, the Earth is dying, and humankind has found another planet to move to - Toui-sei (lit. "Distant Planet"). Ume and Momo decide to move to Toui, but Sakura refuses to leave their father behind. The old man has a few trees growing in the backyard of the house, where his wife was buried after she died. He's going to stay there for the rest of his life, with the memory of his wife, and he tells Sakura to move to Toui, too. Sakura refuses, and spends his days working at a parcel delivery service that ships packages to Toui (3 years one-way). Unfortunately, the ground is dying, as are the trees in the backyard, and people keep leaving Earth, so days will go by with no customers at the shop. One day, about 6 years after Ume and Momo left, Sakura is at the shop with his boss, when a huge typhoon hits land with hurricane-force winds. Sakura runs out of the shop and heads for home. He finds his father in the backyard, trying to protect the trees, and has to drag the old man into the safety of the house. A few minutes later, the trees come crashing down. A couple of days after that, Sakura himself gets a package from Touei - it's a glass case filled with cuttings from a cherry tree. His father sees this, and finally agrees that he will go with Sakura to Toui, with the approval of his wife's spirit.

(Asai decides to get drunk at home, only to have Ton pass out on their front steps.)

Kare no Tomodachi (His Friend)
This is one of the chapters I skipped over. A woman, Asai, is friends with a guy named Ton. The story revolves around her constantly reframing what the word "friend" means and who it refers to.

(The big eat-off comes to a peak.)

Hourai-kun (Mr. Hourai)
This is the other one I skipped. An older woman works in a soup kitchen, and ends up in a cooking contest against a kitsune (fox) named Hourai (Hourai only likes eating fried tofu skins). He tries to mess with the old woman during the contest, until his daughter snaps at him (she hates having to eat the same thing - fried tofu skins - all the time).

(Poro offers his hat to Pero.)

Chiisaii Inu (The Small Dog)
We're back with Takada from the first chapter. This time, the main character is Poro, a tiny chihuahua owned by the guy that had gone to Okinawa. We see the world through Poro's eyes, and his main concerns are eating, going outside for walkies, getting intimidated by a doberman, and talking with Takada in dog speak. One day, they head down to the beach and run into Pero (Pero didn't really disappear, he just wanted to go for a walk. He did come back some weeks later). Initially, Poro suffers from overwhelming shyness and embarrassment over having to wear a cute little hat. He overcompensates and impulsively bites Pero on the paw. After returning home, he crawls into a corner and hopes to die. But, his owner coaxes him out of the house, and they go with Takada to the beach. But, Pero is just waking up from a nap and, while still half-asleep, mistakes Poro for a snack and eats him. Poro comes to, thinking that the inside of a stomach is comfortably warm, then realizes that he's riding on top of Pero's head, well above the tops of all the nearby houses. Poro likes being able to look down on the doberman, and he apologizes for biting Pero. They become friends.

Summary: As mentioned above, these are gentle, off-beat stories with happy endings. The artwork is simple, but the characterizations are good. Recommended.

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