Title: Hana-chan and the Shape of the World
Author: Ryotaro Ueda
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Publisher: Yen Press
Now and then, a manga release manages to stand out from the cookie-cutter mold as something out of the golden era, back when Osamu Tezuka both pioneered and revolutionized the manga art form we know today.
Little known is that modern manga and anime can trace their origins to classic Disney cartoons, with the trademark sparkly anime eyes coming straight out of, believe it or not, Bambi. So if you’re going to be an elitist nerd about your anime next time, just know that rents due to Bambi and even Micky Mouse.
Mainstream manga can feel like a very static and derivative art, but when you pick up some of the classics like Astro Boy, you immediately grasp the rich attention to detail in those pages. When Tezuka first started writing manga, he would approach it as animation, so each of the manga panels would come together as an animation storyboard almost. Manga artist and author Ryotaro Ueda is cut from the same cloth, as Hana-chan and the Shape of the World is brilliant both in its storytelling and in its artistic presentation. This is the kind of manga worthy of book awards.
This is a sizeable read, a self-contained volume filled with imaginative art that feels genuinely alive and in motion. This is definitely a manga that deserves a spotlight on your bookshelf and one of those books that can draw both manga and non-manga fans alike. Manga needs to branch out of its niche fandom. Such books like Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World reinforce the relevance of manga as a form of literature rather than cookie-cutter entertainment with tied-in merchandise.
In this manga, the titular protagonist Hana-Chan herself interacts with a humble little countryside that is both simple and grounded and yet insanely fantastical when it wants to be. It almost has the grandeur of something like Spirited Away and yet is whimsical enough to resemble something like My Neighbor Totoro. Hana-Chan navigates a series of short adventures, everything from typhoons to incinerating mecha as seen early on, and yet despite jumping between different thematic devices, from slice-of-life to fantasy to sci-fi, it consistently maintains a whimsical surrealist tone throughout.
Bringing the memorable tales to life is the art style, and it’s safe to say that nothing resembles the character designs and artwork of Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World, at least in the mainstream manga. Much like the legends of yesteryear, author Ryotaro Ueda has forged a signature style. The character designs are almost like abstract renditions of Doraemon characters. The fluidity of the artwork gives the panels a sense of motion, where the attention to detail in the outline strokes creates a pace that is both vivid and engaging. It needs to be read to be believed.
With so many mangas serialized and published weekly, Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World breaks the monotonous mold and creates something that no one thought manga was capable of doing. It dares to transcend stereotypes and conventions and is better off for it. The abstract and surreal symbolism adds a layer of richness to the whimsical nature of the stories contained. While there is no grandeur destiny at play here, sometimes it’s enough to see a world come alive through the lens of an imaginative child.
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