Be With You

April 4, 2010 dreamkaleidoscope
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Happy Easter! I’ve finally finished moving my old reviews over, so now I can start posting my newer reviews. Since today is the day to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it seems rather apppopriate to review Be With You, a one-shot manga about a woman seemingly coming back to life.

TITLE: Be With You
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Takuji Ichikawa, Yoko Iino, and Sai Kawashima
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Be With You novel, Be With You movie, Over The Rainbow, All My Darling Daughters, romance, mystery, supernatural

Be With You has been on my wish list for years, but though the summary intrigued me, I always passed it up due to the terrible cover art. Seriously, it’s ugly — no mincing words about it. However, when I learned that actress Jennifer Garner was set to star in an American remake of the Japanese movie based on the original novel by Takuji Ichikawa (which also inspired this manga), I finally decided to check it out. (By the way, for those wondering about the Garner movie, according to Wikipedia, it was supposed to be released last year, but I haven’t heard anything else about it. I assume it was delayed due to her last pregnancy, but your guess is as good as mine.)

The story is about a young librarian named Takumi Aio and his seven-year-old son Yuji. The year before, Takumi’s beloved wife Mio tragically died on their son’s birthday. Yuji, however, is under the impression that his mother will return to them when the rainy season begins, thanks to a picture book Mio drew for him that said she would. Grieving Takumi doesn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.

On Yuji’s seventh birthday, the rainy season begins, and as the book predicted, a woman who looks exactly like Mio comes into their lives. She has no idea who she is, though, and is suffering from amnesia. Without telling her that she died the year before, Takuji and Yuji take “Mio” in and try to help her recover her lost memories of them by telling her stories of her former life.

Strangely enough, this is the second manga title I’ve read this month involving an amnesiac character, but I’m happy to report that this story is far more interesting than Over the Rainbow, the other woman-with-amnesia story I read. It helps that this is a complete narrative, unlike OtR, which consisted of basically five loosely related short stories centering around a trio of main characters. I’ve never read the novel or seen the movie, so I can’t comment on the fidelity of the adaptation, but it doesn’t seem like anything needed to understand the story was left out. It works on its own without prior knowledge of the other canons.

It does feel a tad bit rushed, though, in places. Takumi, for example, accepts that the woman is Mio far faster than I would expect him to. Barely a thought is given to the fact that she might, in fact, not be Mio. I would expect a father to be a little more hesitant in allowing some confused amnesiac woman to stay with them, no matter how much she looks like his dead wife, but he and Yuji almost immediately decide to treat the woman as if she is Mio without really questioning how it could be possible.

That really the weakness in the story. I can understand Yuji not caring about the “how” — he’s just a kid, happy to have his mother back — but the dead coming back to life is not presented as a common occurance in this world. Most adults would be a little bit more freaked out about something like that happening. Even when Takumi tells his doctor about Mio’s reappearance, the doctor doesn’t seem the least bit surprised. (There’s a reason for that, but it still doesn’t seem like a realistic reaction from a scientist.) It’s just strikes me as strange.

(This could be a piece of adaptation decay. At the back of the volume is an exerpt from the novel of the scene where Takumi and Yuji first find the woman in the woods. Things happen slightly differently than they do in the manga version, with Takumi actually considering the possibility that she might be a ghost, a doppelganger, a clone, or a twin sister of Mio’s he never knew about, and there’s actually a reason given why he can so easily accept that she is Mio and not somebody else who simply looks like Mio.)

Other than that, though, the story is really sweet as Takumi tells Mio stories about how they fell in the love, and in the process, falls in love with her all over again. Though he easily accepts that she is Mio, things are realistically awkward between them — and between her and Yuji — at first since she doesn’t remember even the simplest things, like what he likes to eat for lunch or that Yuji is allergic to strawberries. It’s charming to see them gradually become closer as Mio starts acting more like the Mio they knew before, and sad when Mio realizes that she can’t stay with them forever.

I won’t spoil the answer to the mystery of Mio’s reappearance, which is revealed at the end of the story, but I will say the explanation kind of felt like it came out of nowhere and was a bit of a letdown. There aren’t really any hints or clues given to the reader that would help them solve the case on their own before the answer is revealed to them. In that regard, as a mystery, it fails, but I did enjoy it as a romance.

One thing that really impressed me in this one-shot is just how well-developed the characters are, despite the short length of the story. Nobody feels like a stereotype. Takumi is an introvert, but he isn’t particularly shy or withdrawn. Yuji has his moments of acting like a cute, sometimes troublesome child, but other times, he seems more like the father than Takumi does. (He even calls Takumi “Takkun” instead of “Dad”, for reasons that are never explained.) Mio’s amnesia is much better portrayed than Key’s was in Over the Rainbow, and her mother’s grief and anger when she thinks Takumi has moved on with another woman — Mio decides not to see her to avoid upsetting her — come across as realistic and sympathetic.

And the artwork? It’s definitely better than I was expecting, based on that horrible piece of cover art. It’s nicely drawn, but I’m not a fan of how Kawashima draws characters’ eyes. I don’t know quite how to describe them… I guess I would say they look almost fuzzy — definitely not a word most people would want associated with eyes. I got used to it by the end of the story, but I still don’t care for the style. It’s also rather strange that Mio has black hair on the cover, but in the actual story, she’s drawn with light hair. I suspect that Kawashima was too lazy to ink characters with long hair. Only Takumi (who actually has brown hair on the cover) and a few other male characters are given dark hair. The women are all drawn with light hair, save for a couple who have their hair color shaded in by screentone.

I debated for a while whether I should give this story a 6 or a 7. I really liked the romantic aspects of the story, but the mystery side fell rather flat and disappointed me, so I settled for a 6. Fans of romance who don’t care for mysteries could probably bump it up to a 7. I wouldn’t consider this a must-read, or even something I would recommend to the average manga fan, but it’s a nice enough one-shot, and I’ll probably check out that Jennifer Garner movie if it ever gets released.

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