13 Feb / Henshin by Ken Niimura, edited by Yumetaro Toyoda, translated by Ivy Yukiko Ishihara Oldford
If you’re already a manga/anime aficionado, feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph. If this is the first time you’re hearing the titular word, henshin, then stay with me for a few lines. In Japanese – 変身 – the characters literally mean “change” and “body,” respectively, and together make up the noun for ‘transformation.’ You might not recognize the related phrase “henshin pose,” but you’ve most likely seen versions thereof: it’s that sometimes awkward, sometimes comical, sometimes both, moment just before a superhero is about to transform from normal to extraordinary. The now ‘so-last-generation’ Kamen Rider television series (recently making a comeback) is one of the most (the most?) iconic sources of henshin pose-rs.
Okay, so, back to Ken Niimura’s 13 stories in his idiosyncratic, startling collection, available for the first time in English translation. Winner of the International Manga Award, and an Eisner nominee, Niimura moves easily between quirky humor and jarring distress. The first and last stories serve as ideal bookends showcasing his chameleon-like skills: he opens with a chilling, shocking narrative that morphs by the final pages into something fuzzy, playful, and eager to face the future. Niimura effortlessly mixes the unexpected: here it’s delighted whimsy with execution-style violence, as he captures the story from arrival to departure of a school-age girl who comes to spend a year with her uncle and aunt.
In between, Niimura inserts short shorts about a comic artist named Ken who longs for a kitty, a salaryman who misses his last train of the evening, twin bullies who get quite the lesson from a boy they might least expect to be capable of such feats, watermelon that never gets eaten, the misunderstood misuse of tools, and the never-revealed pivotal moment of a life-changing baseball game.
Without being faster than a speeding bullet (for sure on that one!), nor more powerful than a locomotive (except maybe for some noxious gas emissions), nor able to leap tall buildings in a single bound (well, maybe that elusive kitty), Niimura’s characters change themselves every which way, from the anticipated to the unforeseen to the ‘wait, whaaaaaa…?!’-transformations. In Niimura’s offbeat new world, phones ring, boys fart, writers write (and rewrite, and rewrite some more), people hang, and mistreated immigrants can easily become mad monsters. Intrigued? Hop right in … just don’t fall through the cracks!
Readers: Young Adult, Adult