Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 21st 2006
A Perfect Day for Love Letters
Six short stories reveal how love letters can change one's life. A standoffish guy finds an old fax machine and starts writing to the only girl in class with a fax at home. A bored girl stuck in summer school sends a text message to an old friend who moved to America and learns some life lessons. A young man discovers the truth about his deceased brother after delivering a video message, while a schoolgirl who plans to leave Japan suddenly insists that she has to learn how to swim. Two cram school students try to keep in touch with an exchange notebook, and a perpetually-rejected high schooler finds a new outlook when another girl writes a confession to him. It seems that any day could be a perfect day for love letters.
They said that the telephone was going to destroy the fine art of letter-writing. A century later, e-mail was decried as the end of written communication, along with its little cousin the instant message. Then mobile text messaging turned the cell phone into, well, less of a phone and more of a keyboard. But none of these have actually eliminated our ability to write to each other—they've simply given us more ways to do it, as shown by George Asakura's assortment of romantic short stories. The modern-day love letter can take many forms, and the strange yet likeable characters in each story explore these possibilities. Old-fashioned romantics will be happy to know that the love letter isn't dead—it's just grown more diverse.
Working with such a specific theme does lend itself to some predictability: each story is about how a boy and girl meet, ultimately leading to a happy (or at least bittersweet) ending. However, these are the kind of tales where the destination isn't as important as the journey, and it's the little things the characters do in between that provide a unique flavor. Sometimes it's sweet, like the naiveté of "Secret Exchange Notebook," and sometimes it's snappy, like the back-and-forth wisecracks of "Midnight Fax Letters." Sometimes it's not even about falling in love, like in "Ko-chan's E-mail" and "Lovers on Planet Icarus," which focus more on how a single person can be affected by a past relationship. Best of all, these short stories are mercifully free of the cliffhanger-driven angst that usually comes with a long-running series.
In place of the angst, however, are moments of sheer weirdness, where the characters defy all logic and do something for no reason at all. Although annoying at times, it's really how people behave—we say one thing, but mean the opposite, or act irrationally to get close to someone. That's why the stars of each story are both frustrating and endearing—they do stupid things in the name of love, but we see ourselves in them because of that. If you prefer handy stereotypes of pining girls, clueless guys, and well-intentioned best friends, then forget Love Letters, because nobody here is quite who you expect them to be. The storylines may be predictable, but the characters and their actions are unpredictable, just like in reality.
These unpredictable personalities come to life with Asakura's loose, freewheeling art style, always seemingly in danger of splattering all over the page. But behind this devil-may-care linework is an incredible sense of control; it only takes a few lines to express a stylish but realistic face, or a twist of the pen to shift from a smile to a sneer. Even with the emphasis on characters, there are still occasions for spectacular backgrounds: the lunar eclipse in "Metal Moon" and the space backdrop in "Lovers on Planet Icarus" are practically works of art unto themselves. The main visual weakness is in the busy panel layouts, which sometimes wander vaguely instead of guiding the eye in a definite direction.
Some of the stories demand a certain level of pop-cultural literacy, referencing little-known musicians or Japanese entertainment, and Del Rey's translation notes provide ample explanation. The bright, casual dialogue makes each character easy to understand, a necessity in stories that rely heavily on personal interaction. Sound effects are left in Japanese and unobtrusively translated with English sound effects alongside them. The paper and ink provide sharp, clear contrasts as usual, but some panels look blurry and pixelated; knowing Del Rey's reputation as a publisher, it's hard to say whether this was an honest mistake on their part or a quirk of the original artwork.
Whether or not you think that love letters actually work, these six short stories are enough to make you believe that, at least in fiction, they do. Each story is an emotionally satisfying vignette, showing how the mere act of writing can change the way people see each other—and the way they see the world. Sure, they behave irrationally at times, but don't we all? Love makes people do crazy things, and George Asakura knows that all too well. Sometimes it just takes a few simple words.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Unique, true-to-life characters and satisfying storytelling.
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