Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Name of the Flower, vol. 3

The story: Chouko's parents died when she was a teenager and she was forced to move in with her distant relative, Kei, a reclusive novelist. While both of them hide darkness in their hearts, they grow to love one another.

In this volume, Kei has disappeared and Chouko is despondent, missing school and unable to eat or sleep. Eventually Akiyama, Kei's best friend and editor, checks in on her only to find her crippled by depression at the loss of Kei's presence in her life. He vows to find Kei and heads off to find an old mutual friend, Iori. While Iori knows Kei's whereabouts, Akiyama recalls the last time Kei disappeared like this. Will Akiyama be able to bring Kei back home, or will Chouko continue to suffer from her love of Kei?

Reaction: There was a lot of backstory in this volume; the many flashbacks explain not only Kei's depression, but also his history with Akiyama. A lot of emotions were packed into this volume, leaving me near tears at some points and smiling at others. In terms of knowing characters' motivations, I don't think I've read anything this satisfying in a long time.

Deep thoughts: In some ways, it seems that this story is about depression just as much as it is about love. Caused by a combination of chemical imbalance and external factors, nearly 16 percent of all Americans have been diagnosed with depression. This number, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, does not include people who never seek treatment. While depression is a "disease of the mind," those who suffer from depression are significantly more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma, among other conditions, illustrating the mind-body connection.

Artwork: This story is all about nuances and subtlety in emotion and Ken Saito illustrates each knowing look well. Backgrounds are sparse, both by design and intent, allowing the reader to fully focus on the story. Of course, flowers continue to provide a thematic element, but never create more than a simple serenity, nor do they overwhelm. Saito is masterful at visualizing the quiet desperation between Kei and Chouko that draws the reader into the darkness and, increasingly, the light of their relationship.

The verdict: Highly recommended. Quite simply, this manga touches the heart and there's a fascinating solace to be found in this story's pages. This is a quiet tale of love and redemption, and finding a reason to live. And if that doesn't touch your heart, nothing will. The Name of the Flower is available in the U.S. from CMX.

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