Manga Review: Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection

Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection is a collection of short stories by Naoki Urasawa.

Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection
Written by: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Shogakukan
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: October 20, 2020

Before starting this review, I have to admit that while I’ve heard of Naoki Urasawa over the years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never actually read any of his works previous to reading this short story collection. I’m glad to have the opportunity to read this volume and get some exposure to Urasawa’s writing.

The first story in this anthology is titled, “DAMIYAN!,” and it was originally published in Big Comic Spirits in 2016. A young man who is obsessed with online games and has spent a ton of money on them, has gotten fired from his job. He’s now in debt and approaches a gang about offering his services and getting paid. His companion is Damiyan, who had been teased over the years. Damiyan appears to have a supernatural ability to inflict misfortune and injury to others by staring at them. After the gang is convinced of Damiyan’s ability, they utilize him to accomplish their goals. When I first was reading this story, it felt like it was a little on the strange side, and a little “over the top.” However, I did appreciate the ending of this story, especially the lesson that one of the members of the gang learns. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that kind of a twist at the end. It was the ending that made reading this short story worth it.

The next story is “Throw Toward the Moon!,” which first appeared in Aera Comic in October 2006. At the beginning, a young boy comes across an old man lying against a tree. After the boy gives the man an apple, the man tells the boy that he will become a reporter and win a Pulitzer Prize. The kid doesn’t believe him, but we see that when he grows up, he’s working at a newspaper office. Unfortunately, it’s a third-rate paper and he’s in charge of the obituaries. He stumbles across an obituary submitted for the old man… but the obituary says he is still a week away from his death. He learns the old man is a psychic who supposedly helped with various investigations over the years. The main character decides to learn more about the old man and is intent on proving he’s a fraud. His investigation leads him to some clues the old man had told him at the time they met, and he stumbles onto something he didn’t expect. This story was kind of dense for the amount of pages that it’s told in, but I was riveted by the story and kept wanting to read it to find out what happens next. Of the stories included in Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection, this one was one of my favorites.

Next is “The Old Guys,” which was originally published in Jump X between May 2013 and July 2014. This is one of the music-themed stories included in this compilation, and it’s from the point of view of older men who grew up listening to acts like the Beatles and Bob Dylan back in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. As someone who has an appreciation for American music from that era, I liked this piece. I loved seeing how sentimental these old men get when they see Paul McCartney on the stage, and it makes me think I’ll probably be like that too when I’m that old and reminiscing about the music from my youth.

This is followed by “Henry and Charles,” which was originally published in Okina Pocket in 1995. While some of the stories in this volume has opening pages in color, this story is completely in color. It stars two mice named Henry and Charles. Henry is a braggart and claims to have done things that he really hasn’t done. His buddy, Charles, wants to get a piece of cake for his girlfriend, so he starts wandering out without being careful, even though there’s a cat sleeping on the floor. The whole story sees Henry trying to stop Charles and saving him from disaster on several occasions in order to keep the cat from waking up. As Urasawa mentions in the author’s note at the end of the volume, he grew up with an appreciation for American cartoons like Looney Tunes, and that he was going for that kind of a vibe with this story. I think he accomplished his goal in that regard, and I think it works well for the story that he’s telling.

“It’s a Beautiful Day” is a short story that recounts the event that happened to a Japanese musician named Kenji Endo. He passed away in 2017, and this story appeared in Monthly! Spirits in November 2018. In the author’s note, Urasawa says he knew Endo personally and had intended to draw a manga about this event for Endo before he had died. Unfortunately, he was in the middle of a serialization and didn’t have the time. Endo passed before he could draw this one, so he ended up writing and drawing this short as a tribute to Endo. Urasawa commented that he actually did all of the work on this story himself, which he hadn’t done in a long time. From the story itself, to what Urasawa mentioned in the author’s note, it’s clear that Urasawa cared about Endo and telling this story.

“Musica Nostra” a four-page piece about guitar players. Urasawa talks about the faces that male guitar players make when playing their instrument, as well as how painful it can be. He then talks about female guitarists that he saw on YouTube and compares the women to the men. It’s interesting to note that when it comes to the art, it looks like more effort went into drawing the female guitarists than the male ones.

This is followed by a five-part “L.A. Music Travelogue,” which details Urasawa’s adventure of going to the Desert Trip rock festival. First, it was interesting to learn that Urasawa himself is a musician. Second, it was kind of neat to see some of the notable people he interacted with: a musician named Mike Viola and Jack Oliver, the former president of Apple Records (the Beatles’ record label). In the part where Jack is talking to Urasawa about his time at Apple Records, I loved the detail that went into the drawing of the younger Paul McCartney. It looks so much like the younger Paul. I just thought these five travelouges were just neat. They ran in Grand Jump between 2015 and 2017.

Next is “Kaiju Kingdom,” which was originally published in Big Comic in 2013. This story taps into Urasawa’s love of the kaiju he grew up watching. It focuses on a kaiju otaku from France, who comes to Tokyo for the tourist attractions related to kaiju. In this alternate universe, kaiju have actually attacked Tokyo, and the city has made it a prime part of its tourism. This kaiju otaku gets more than he bargained for when he stumbles upon a couple of members from the Science Ministry’s special giant organisms research team. One of them is a woman, who is the older sister of a kid the otaku met when he first got to Japan. After learning that the female scientist lost her parents in a kaiju attack, it makes him realize he never though about the human cost of the kaiju attacks. In the end, the otaku plays an important role in a kaiju attack. I have to admit, I didn’t expect this kind of an ending for the story. I appreciate how Urasawa was able to do something unexpected with a couple of the stories included in this anthology.

The final story included in this compilation is “Solo Mission,” which was submitted for a publication in France. Because it was done for a Western market, this one reads from left to right instead of from right to left. This is another story that was done completely in color, and it focuses on a man who is a superhero. We see the strain this puts between him and his wife, though, when he’s summoned to take on a dangerous mission at a planet that’s referred to as “the demonic death-death hell planet.” It’s rather short, and it simply focuses on the rift between the superhero and his wife. It’s not bad for what it is, but it was my least favorite story in this compilation.

Overall, though, I was very pleased with Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection. If this is a good representation of Urasawa’s storytelling and art style, it looks like I’ve been missing out. If someone like me, who isn’t familiar with Urasawa’s work is impressed by this volume, then I think readers who are fans of Urasawa will enjoy reading this short story compilation.

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