Last time I read Dungeons & Dragons Volume 1: Shadowplague, which was a fun-filled, action-packed romp about a team of heroes who were more family than friends. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to read another story about family. However, the odds of finding a good action story with strong family elements is hard to do, so I just opted for a good personal story. I found that in Nonnonba, written and illustrated by Shigeru Mizuko.
Nonnonba is the autobiographical story of Mizuko’s childhood in 1931 rural Japan as recounted through a series of connected vignettes. It is during this time that Mizuko discovers his love of drawing and yokai, which are Japanese fairies, goblins, and other mythical monsters. It is also during this time that he learns about growing up, some of the harsh realities of the world, and even a little bit about love.
Mizuko’s storytelling abilities are incredible. He recaptures his sense of wonderment and excitement that only a 10-year-old can possess. He also manages to include insights that only an adult would see in a subtle way that doesn’t overpower the story. He presents the events as he recalls them and does so without judgment.
Mizuko is also a master of characterization. From the first page you are sucked into young Mizuko’s world and you can’t help but root for him. At the same time, you can’t help but fall in love with the side characters, both good and bad. Somehow, Mizuko has managed to make all of the characters likeable and who you can easily identify in your own life.
Overall, Mizuko presents the story as it is. There are several moments in which he could have given into the storybook ending and glossed over some of the more difficult moments in life, but he doesn’t: life is hard and there are many lessons to be learned, and many of those lessons are presented in this book.
Mizuko’s art is stunning because it combines all the best elements of manga in one package. The art is both cartoony and incredible detailed at the same time. The characters tend to be the typical exaggerated body parts, big eyed, cartoony manga style. The backgrounds are detailed but not highly precise. But every now and then, there are panels that may as well be photographs: they are so precise and so accurate. And when Mizuko combines his two styles in one panel it’s a thing of incredible beauty just because of the juxtaposition of the styles.
Nonnonba is one of those books that perfectly captures a moment in time. It’s the story of a young boy in a time and place that you can’t fully understand, yet his experiences are so universal and so true to life that you can’t help but relate to them. This is a book that’s funny, moving, and different from anything else you’ve read lately. If you want a book that you will be unable to put down, then this is the book for you.
- David Lee