not simple – Review

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A void, a soft gust of wind, a sole lone flower with naught but to wither away. not simple is akin to a gleeless memoriam, a sorrowful take on one life that unfortunately could not be saved.

With the spine of a story gently brittling away, not simple takes you on a journey, a chronicle detailing the life of a young man named Ian. This tale is a dejected one—every event compounded onto Ian’s misfortunes. Each moment, each flash onto not simple‘s stage is wistful, placing heart and soul into the stiffened dialogue at play. The bastard child of his sister and his father; an abusive alcoholic for a “mother”; and his father, a callous businessman who couldn’t possibly care. Even child prostitution is but a casual topic for Ian. This irreparable lifestyle fundamentally warps his beliefs—a shadow that continuously haunts his search for happiness. But, there’s a shimmering hope. Every scene you see Ian clinging to his innocence, clutching something so sweet that others can only look at him and cry out in solace.

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not simple‘s plot is short and fleeting, but the passion behind its tale takes readers on an affectional journey. The miles each character sojourns across become a metaphor for their fleeting nature, constantly on the move and in search for that which would keep them happy. Moreover, each character becomes intrinsically wrapped with family, a motif (and overall theme) which becomes clearer upon every page. This message is a simple one, suitable to the length of the story. However, what is extraordinary is not simple‘s ability to render it so exceptionally—to realize unhappiness so tangibly.

Each character is so dolefully a result of their environment. A once enflamed romance is now all withered away; both mother and father see others and do not give so much as a glance towards their fallout children. The loving sister as well is in prison for dire needs to take care of Ian. Each experience within this life is a wicker, passing so ephemerally from Ian’s grasp. The work also adds an alternative perspective. The reporter named Jim becomes ever so fascinated by Ian’s life, so much that he aims to write a memoir of him. Every one of Jim’s actions is just the same as Ian’s—sorrowful, analytical, and expressionless. Always wearing slate black in style, Jim’s presence stays ever so distinctive, placing readers into his shoes as much as one would consider Ian alone.

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What dances so mournfully into this atmosphere is Natsume Ono’s impassioned hand. The paneling is wonderfully imaginative, with speech bubbles constantly defying panel lines, and diagonals slashed across non-conventional layouts. The vertical diagonals place the focal point less on the storytelling in so much as on the characters themselves. This flocks attention toward each character’s lanky poses and vapid inscrutable faces. Shadows as well take a heavy effect onto dispersing this melancholy so acutely; Ono regularly crafts opposites in tonal shading. This fastens the minimalist artwork with a subtler depth beyond what most works attempt to express using even more tools.

Natsume Ono’s iconic character designs take its place here again, always the same with cylindrical eyes and clean charcoal outlines. The minimalism in Ono’s artistry persists as a fascinating juncture. Panels often span expressions and slow rigid movement, lacking dialogue page after page. This gives many of the characters a subtle rueful expression, surveying the atmosphere with pensive thoughts and unspoken aversion. It’s bleak in taste, like crying out for help in a forest with no one to hear.

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Just an hour or two is all it takes to complete not simple. This is a beautiful story, like a melancholy that can only (and fervently) clasp its passion. not simple subdues readers and places them in utter despair, offering a slight shimmer of light with a humble message at its end. Page for page, this journey is certainly not one to miss.

Score: Excellent (8/10)
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9 comments

  1. This is my first try at a “poetic” review. I was recently inspired by lpfManiak’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou review, and after religiously studying mahoganycow’s writings, I felt I just had to take a gander. I must say I’m fond of the result. With an emotional story like not simple, it really depends on how well one can articulate the surfaced feelings that the story takes hold of, which determines his or her evaluation of the work. I think I’ve done a decent service to it, but certainly some sentences could be redone. Personally, I think the reading flow feels a little choppy at times, but I’ve reread the writing so many times that I’m unaware of what a “first read” is like anymore. Anyways, definitely looking forward to trying another one of these. Ono is a manga goddess.

  2. Ooh, Nilf reviewed a thing! I think the poetic approach turned out nicely, and although I haven’t read NOT SIMPLE (fuck lowercase!), I get the impression that it’s appropriate for the tone of the manga. Very tempted to purchase this and make it my Ono maiden voyage. It sounds like something I’d like.

    Again, lovely read.

    1. Thanks! You should finish Saraiya Goyou too. Slow pacing, heavy character drama, travel, and family seem to stick out most when I read an Ono work. Manglobe did a great job animating crude outlines with a semblance of looking like realistic people, heh. I have a hard time deciding whether I enjoyed NOT SIMPLE (yeah man, fuck lowercase) or Saraiya Goyou more. They’re both really really fun stuff. I would never have expected to enjoy reading about a hobo walk around the country as I did here (because fuck On the Road).

  3. mahoganycow · · Reply

    Interesting. I like this review, and I don’t think I even need to say that, in general, you’re quite articulate. That being said, would you be at all offended if I critiqued your prose just a little bit? You seem interested in this style of writing, so I’d be glad to offer my thoughts, for whatever they’re worth. I haven’t read the manga in question, so I would mostly just be nitpicking your stylistic decisions and word choice.

    1. Definitely go ahead. Above all, improving my writing is one of the main reasons why I write so much on our delicious Chinese cartoons. Don’t hold back!

      1. mahoganycow · ·

        Okay. I was ninety-nine percent sure you’d say that, but in the past I’ve had people express displeasure for my attitude when I line-by-line their writing with no warning, and I can’t rightly blame them. It’s easy (and all too human) to fall in love with your own creation, and many can’t distinguish genuine constructive criticism from a personal attack or an ego trip. I’m sure you’ve seen the same. So nowadays I ask first, and slap a “just my opinion” disclaimer on everything.

        A comment on a blog isn’t the best place to post a lengthy critique, so I’m going to keep the formatting here relatively simple—I’ll quote a small piece of your review, sometimes a fraction of a sentence, say something about it, then quote the next and do the same. It’ll be a tad piecemeal. Sorry.

        “A void, a soft gust of wind, a sole lone flower with naught but to wither away.”

        Beware of redundancy when you start piling on descriptions and adjectives. I understand the effect that you’re reaching for, but in this context “sole” and “lone” mean more or less the same thing. Neither enhances the other, and having both of them doesn’t improve the quality of the image. Their usage here also slightly disrupts the rhythm of this sentence (the previous nouns have one adjective each attributed to them), and also prevents the sentence from sounding as emphatic as it could. Also not sure about “with naught but to wither away.” I think (I could be wrong) that what you’re trying to convey is a sense of inevitability, of being trapped—slowly but surely, the flower will rot, that’s its only lot in life. That being the case, you could probably replace “with naught but” with a single more colorful word (“destined,” “doomed,” “fated”) and be better off. Or, all else failing, never disregard the simple approach: “a lone flower left to slowly wither away” would do the job just fine.

        The image itself is also a bit unclear to me. To be more specific, I don’t know if you’re talking about a gravestone with a flower on it, or an empty field with just one flower in it, swaying in the breeze. Either one makes a pretty good amount of sense in this context. Obviously the flower is metaphorically associated with the main character, that much is clear. “Gleeless memoriam” and “could not be saved” in the next line complement the “gravestone” image, but it’s still not any certainty, and they appear after the fact. True, there’s something to be said for not spelling everything out, but make sure that the image you’re giving us is concrete enough that we can visualize what you intend for us to visualize. You know what you meant, but assume that I do not. Always be clear. That aside, your choice of words is good; “void” appropriately suggests both an empty space and a sense of loss, “gust of wind” is cool because I gather that the main characters bounce from place to place a lot and that fits just fine.

        “a sorrowful take on one life that unfortunately could not be saved.”

        I think the use of “sorrowful” neatly negates the need for the comment that the loss is “unfortunate.” Consider what came before and what will come after. For what it’s worth, I probably would’ve put “ultimately” here, if anything.

        “This tale is a dejected one”

        “Dejected” sounds a bit out of place here. The tale might possess qualities which cause the audience to feel dejected, but I don’t think it makes much sense (even figuratively) to say that the tale itself is dejected.

        “This irreparable lifestyle fundamentally warps his beliefs—a shadow that continuously haunts his search for happiness.”

        Formally speaking, I know jack about how grammar works, but I think you need a little more infrastructure preceding the em dash here for it to work as intended. Something like “This is an irreparable lifestyle that fundamentally warps his beliefs—a shadow that continuously haunts his search for happiness.” Symmetry. Like how you do it in paragraph three. Also, use those suckers sparingly, because they indicate a pretty large pause mid-sentence and they can throw the flow of a whole paragraph off-kilter pretty easily. To your credit, you seem to mostly use them towards the end of a paragraph, which mitigates the potential for that kind of damage. Consider commas or other punctuation in places where you want to join two thoughts, but don’t want to have that big of an interjection.

        “Every scene you see Ian clinging to his innocence”

        Should be either “in every seen you see Ian” or “Every scene sees Ian.”

        “suitable to the length of the story”

        Either “suited to the length of the story” or “suitable for the length of the story.”

        “A once enflamed romance is now all withered away”

        Ok, there’s nothing terminally wrong with this at all; fire can cause things to “wither,” so to speak. That word is more readily associated with dying plant life, though, so something that offers a slightly more consistent and immediately recognizable image could be of use. For (a shitty) example: “A once-enflamed romance is now dark ash.” That line sucks something fierce, but I’m sure you see what I’m getting at; if you can get the same thought across while cleanly maintaining a single motif or image (in this case, fire) in all aspects of the thought, do it.

        “The loving sister as well is in prison for dire needs to take care of Ian.”

        No matter how many times I read this, I can’t quite get it to make sense in my head. Most of what I have to say is little more than a nitpick about how you phrased something, but this sentence is really disjointed, to the point where I can just barely guess at what you’re trying to say. The sister is in prison because she did something illegal in an attempt to fulfill Ian’s needs?

        “Shadows as well take a heavy effect onto dispersing this melancholy so acutely”

        Could be a lot more direct. “Shadows acutely disperse this melancholy” would do just fine. Describe things as if you’re standing right next to them; you’ll probably find it sounds a little less forced, and your sentences will probably flow better with minimal effort on your part.

        “Natsume Ono’s iconic character designs take its place here again”

        Plurality problem. “Designs” plural, “its” singular.

        “This gives many of the characters a subtle rueful expression, surveying the atmosphere with pensive thoughts and unspoken aversion. It’s bleak in taste, like crying out for help in a forest with no one to hear.”

        What’s “like crying out for help in a forest with no one to hear?” The bleakness of taste, or the rueful expressions? The way this is structured makes it unclear. Oh, and again, a simpler and more direct sentence can work wonders. “Like crying out for help in a forest with no one to hear” vs. “Like unheard cries in a forest.”

        Okay, that’s as much as I can nitpick your lines. Some general things, though:

        I might be off base, and feel free to slap me if I’m wrong, but you seem a little restrained here, like you want to dive into the work in question but also maintain a certain degree of professional distance. If that’s not the case, disregard this entire paragraph. If that is the case, I understand the feeling, but honestly, forget that junk and just jump right in. Describe everything as emphatically, passionately, and imaginatively as you feel like, and the result will be a little more natural. It is a review, it can’t be one giant stream of purdy images, but you can edit it to suit your standards after a nice freewriting brainstorm.

        Mind the repetition of certain words and phrases within a close proximity to one another. Sometimes repetition can be used to good rhetorical and poetic effect; do that sparingly and ask yourself if it’s actually warranted. In general, you want each sentence to be a unique animal. “so ” / “ever so ” and “fleeting” get reused, the former several times and the latter only once. This review is relatively short, and it sticks out a little bit. In fairness, I look for that like a hawk, though, I doubt you’d ever really catch crap for it.

        You expressed a concern that the flow might be choppy, but also noted that it’s tough to tell after you’ve read it so many times. Yeah, that happens. A good method is to read it aloud. Old poetry trick. Speak at a natural pace, enunciate clearly but not too emphatically, and note all punctuation/pauses and adjust speech appropriately. Anything that feels awkward to say or sounds awkward to hear said is probably awkward.

        My nitpicking is just that: Nitpicking. This is a good review. It seems vastly different from your normal style, and overall you’ve definitely got the right idea, it’s just a question of practicing and refining it until you’re comfortable. Oh, and keep having fun, that helps.

      2. mahoganycow · ·

        Oh, and damn it all, but I actually forgot one thing in that rambling mess of a post I just made. A lot of the images in this review evoke the thought of nature, but I get the impression (again, I’ve not read it) that the manga is more about the emptiness of domesticity in a suburban/urban setting, feeling alone in a crowd, etc. If that’s the case, maybe pick images/metaphors that are a little bit closer to the spirit of the work’s content. You might find that it’s easier to do, and it can help you capture the atmosphere of the work a little better.

        Sorry for that post, by the way, it looked less ridiculously huge in Notepad than it did on this blog <.<"

  4. Holy (mahogany)cow! First of all, thanks for spending so much time to look at my gross jumble of words that only has a semblance of looking like real English. I truly appreciate the time you put forth on that.

    A void, a soft gust of wind, a sole lone flower with naught but to wither away.

    Beyond the nature metaphor, I was also going for a growth in the word/syllabic count as the reader takes in each item. Hence the noun, then the adjective+noun+ablative clause, and then even more loaded at last. “Sole” here was originally done in a previous draft to go off a wordplay with “soul”, but I ended up scratching the thought since humor doesn’t go well when aiming to evoke poignance. I liked the sound of a monosyllabic word before “lone” to keep that clause slightly more complex but not so much; I ended up keeping “sole” for the redundancy effect. I agree with your take on “with naught but”. I’m not really a fan of using artsy fartsy/archaic words like “naught” and “whilst”, but couldn’t find a better alternative. The “colorful” ones you suggest work better.

    It’s interesting you interpret the image as a gravestone or empty field with a flower. I was attempting to go for what would be pictured as a two to three second shot: literally masked darkness, then a slow breeze, and then a flower. Ironically enough, despite my bashing of Aku no Hana, that’s actually where my inspiration for the image is from (think of something like this but with a less emo flower, a breeze, slightly panned out, and a black background instead of purple; or even the first picture in the review as that “void”, and Ian taken for the flower). Thanks for the visualization tips; I was not even considering how precise I wanted to be with the image that way. I was more concentrated with reading flow at the time.

    a sorrowful take on one life that unfortunately could not be saved.

    With the attachment of one adjective/adverb on the previous subjects/verbs, I felt another should also be appropriated at the “that […] could” part to keep with continuity. I like “ultimately” more too.

    This irreparable lifestyle fundamentally warps his beliefs—a shadow that continuously haunts his search for happiness.

    I forget the nuances with em dashes, but I use it plainly as a catch-all for any subordinate clause. I infer the pause as being slightly longer than a comma but slightly shorter than a semicolon (and way shorter than a period). It’s a very informal (and possibly improper) way of using em dashes, but I feel its uses are eclectic enough for what I use it as. Is how I interpret the length of pause incorrect? (probably) Aside from parentheses for short side comments, em dashes are my favorite informal punctuation tool. Also, this has nothing to do with anything, but I find them more aesthetically pleasing than vertical dots or roughy curves. :]

    Every scene you see Ian clinging to his innocence

    I like “In every scene…” more too.

    “suitable…”

    Oh, right. Darn idioms.

    A once enflamed romance is now all withered away

    I see what you mean on the plant versus fire visualization there. For this sentence, I wanted a word that is in past tense, and that signifies the action of the flame dying, not just the dead fire. Sort of like a person blowing out a lit candle.

    The loving sister as well is in prison for dire needs to take care of Ian.

    You’re right. That sentence is terrible. Way way too ambiguous. The intent was “is in prison because she was a crimeful bitch in order to collect funds that can support Ian”.

    Shadows as well take a heavy effect onto dispersing this melancholy so acutely

    I’m curious why you say that. I’ve always imagined a more direct and active tense (well, technically this is active too) to sound even more forced. But I like your suggestion more for another reason you point out, that I’m too indirect a lot of times.

    Natsume Ono’s iconic character designs take its place here again

    Missed it, you’re right.

    This gives many of the characters a subtle rueful expression, surveying the atmosphere with pensive thoughts and unspoken aversion. It’s bleak in taste, like crying out for help in a forest with no one to hear.

    Hmm I think the antecedent with the “like crying…” clause is pretty clear, the implication being that it describes the bleakness in taste. I like the image of the act of crying itself, more so than just “unheard cries in a forest”. The imagery in these two sentences is all over the place though. When I read “bleak in taste”, I imagine actually trying to stick my tongue out to sample the bleakness. But then I immediately segway over to a nature simile.

    I see what you mean by the writing feeling restrained at times. My arsenal of poetry words is pig disgusting childish and often limited to nature motifs, so that naturally reflects on the images evoked in this writing. I also agree with your analysis that several phrases are used for repetition almost too often. I felt that way occasionally with how frequently I employ “so” and “ever so”, but wasn’t sure anymore. Rereading one’s writing can cause a lot of incorrect second guesses, so I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that. Thanks for that last tip about the reading it aloud. Overall, I feel I should work most on the imagery I try to evoke. Your guess that the work is more about the emptiness in an urban environment than emptiness in nature is spot on. I would have done that if I had a better vocabulary to work with. ;_; Again, thanks a bunch. If I knew you in real life, I’d be sure to feed you a bunch of cookies (!!).

    1. mahoganycow · · Reply

      I like em dashes, too. I’ve always read them as indicating a pause that is abrupt/clipped in tone, but fairly long, about the same length (or slightly shorter than) a period. But that’s just what I’ve picked up in hearsay, it’s not the kind of thing you learn in English class and it by no means indicates that I actually know what I’m talking about. Everything gets a little weird and relative when you start talking about how long pauses are, anyway. I guess I shouldn’t be advising others on that aspect when I really don’t have a clue myself.

      You’re right that the antecedent with the “like crying” clause is, grammatically, pretty clear. I guess my confusion mostly arose because I don’t really see how “crying out for help in a forest with no one to hear” is “bleak in taste,” per say. I think the act of crying out and not being heard actually better describes the cautiously rueful looks of the characters, as if they’re projecting uncertainty and apprehension that no one else can detect, and I speculated that that was what you were going for. Death by over-analysis on my part.

      Vocabulary can help, but mostly it’s about how you use what you have. A chain of simple words can form a really consistent and powerful image, it’s just about how you select and arrange them, and that ain’t always so easy. Mostly it’s just about familiarity and practice, and, in the context of a review, a nice understanding of the tone of what it is you’re reviewing.

      No problem, no cookies required, any time. I enjoy reading about cartoons, so it’s a win-win.

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