As the world turns towards war and life becomes hard, life still goes on.
Title: In This Corner of the World (Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni)
Genre: Historical, Slice of Life, Drama,
Publisher: Futabasha (JP), Seven Seas (US)
Artist/Writer: Fumiyo Kouno
Serialized in: Weekly Manga Action
Translation: Adrienne Beck
Original Release Date: October 31, 2017
A review copy was provided by Seven Seas.
After spending years and years in production the animated film In This Corner of the World premiered in Japan last year and reached American shores this year to great acclaim.
With less fanfare, and a seemingly simpler production process, the original manga has also been brought over to the US and its release comes just weeks before the wide, home-video release for the movie here. As someone who enjoyed the film far more than I expected, I was eager to read the original manga and see what parts of the story were cut, what was added, and simply how the stories compared.
As it turns out, very little of this story about a young woman in 1930s and 40s Japan was cut out from the movie. Suzu Urano’s story begins when she is a little girl daydreaming her way to and from the market, in school, at her grandparents, and just everywhere really, all while doodling away. At 19 Suzu becomes a young bride and, now Suzu Hojo, moves from her family’s home in Eba to her fiancee Shusaku’s home in Kure (both located near the City of Hiroshima). While this is a practical marriage, Shusaku’s sister has married and moved out and his mother is too frail to manage all of the housework on her own so they need another person in their household, and not simply a maid. It’s not a loveless marriage and the highlight of the story is easily the growing relationship between Suzu and Shusaku. Suzu is clumsy and easy-going while Shusaku feels a little distant, even to his close family members. But the two of them continue to fall deeper and deeper into love even as tensions rise as World War II continues to grow in size and intensity.
The war is a near-constant backdrop to the story, which makes sense given the story’s setting, but the story itself is a bit of an oddity. Fictional stories set in WWII are a dime a dozen here in the US but you see very few of them that frame themselves like In This Corner of the World does. With frequent interludes, such as little comics about Suzu’s oni of an older brother or sketches of edible weeds the family can eat, the manga feels more like a memoir or even a diary comic than a work of fiction. On some level this feels a little disingenuous since there are still living survivors from WWII. I almost feel as if the story should have made it clearer that this was a work of fiction, that it should have distanced itself from reality in some way. The story is meticulously researched in both formats — the manga lists several pages of sources and the anime staff was excruciatingly detailed in their background research, so perhaps that is why the story feels so “real”. We see Suzu’s experiments to make the rice rations last longer, her attempts at re-fashioning old clothes into new ones, and many other semi-failures that make her feel much more real than a character usually would.
Suzu’s life is mostly a quiet one, if you ignore the falling bombs, and in some ways a very isolated one. She does interact with the other women in the neighborhood by performing neighborly and civic duties in this time of war, but it doesn’t seem like she creates any deep friendships with them. Part of this might be that Suzu is a bit of an oddity. It’s never commented upon but she seems to be almost the sole young woman in an aging community. I was pleasantly surprised to see that her one real connection outside of her family, the concubine Rin, has a slightly larger role in the manga since she is relegated to just one appearance in the movie. Suzu’s interactions with Rin, her genuine joy in their friendship but also uncertainty in herself as she learns about Rin’s connection to Suzu’s past, speaks volumes about Suzu’s character as a whole. She is a truly open and good person but multi-dimensional as well, something that comes out more and more as she and the rest of the Hojo’s struggle through an increasingly brutal war.
Ultimately I do think I preferred the movie adaptation slightly over the original In This Corner manga. Part of it is due to my bias of typically enjoying the first iteration of a story I see first but I also do truly feel as if the movie flowed a bit better. The many chapters that were in an odd storytelling style put me off and I felt like that unbalanced the tone of the story far more than the story’s rocking back and forth between humor and tragedy. I also found it a bit hard to tell characters apart early on in the manga without paying very close attention and this wasn’t a problem I had with the movie. I think the movie simply had a bit more consistency in regards to designs and seeing the story in full color was lovely (coloring that was certainly influenced by the manga’s colored covers and images).
While the movie will remain my favorite way to access this story, I do still highly recommend this manga. It’s a quiet story about life in World War II-era Japan and it’s not one filled with heroics or gallantry, just one about the struggles to keep living in your own small ways even as it seems like the world is closing in on you. That determination is one reason why one of Suzu’s actions towards the end, where she declares that as long as Japanese people are still alive they should keep fighting (after she hears the Emperor’s radio broadcast of surrender), that felt so off to me. I suppose it’s supposed to be a sign of just how crushed she had become by the war but it felt so at odds with the rest of her character. Suzu is a young woman who finds joy in her life and values it which is something that I think we can all empathize with.