by Carl Kimlinger,

Calling you


Calling you GN
Ryo is an unusually introverted teenaged girl who wants a cell phone—and friends to call on it. Unable to get either, she obsessively constructs an imaginary cell phone, a curious act that only gets curiouser when she actually manages to call someone with it: Nozaki, a young man her own age with an imaginary phone of his very own. With a little help from Harada, a more experienced imaginary cell-phone owner, the two begin a mutually supporting long-distance friendship... Keigo is a young man who vents his personal trauma with bouts of brutal violence. Then he meets Asato, a sensitive boy his own age. The two cement an odd friendship when Keigo discovers that Asato has the power to heal other's wounds by making them his own. However, Asato has personal demons of his own. It takes more than mysterious powers to heal wounded hearts, but they might have just what it takes, even if they don't realize it themselves.

If you wonder how I can write that synopsis without blushing, then imagine how the author must feel. Actually, you don't have to; in the postscript Otsuichi, the author of the "Pop Novel" this manga was based on, admits to being embarrassed at this work. And rightly so. This is pure schmaltz—inspirational storytelling that, despite its quiet tone, practically screams at you to be touched by its message of hope and personal redemption.

Which isn't an entirely bad thing. Those who are able to switch off the part of their brain that abhors simplistic moral fables will find one story of surprising narrative sophistication, and another with, if nothing else, little flashes of uncompromising realism. At its best, this book's inspirational tone and paranormal touches recall a harder hitting, secular version of what one might expect from "Touched by an Angel" were it not written by hacks.

The first story, the titular "Calling You" begins as a tale of overcoming personal barriers through the power of friendship, but is transformed in one fell swoop into something else entirely, packing a surprising number of twists into its scant page count. The final twists cast light on some of the events preceding them, demanding that the story be read again, whereupon certain little details—both in the art and the story—take on much larger meanings. The slightly preachy air and the sticky-sweet character dynamics, not to mention some barely-addressed time-travel paradoxes (don't ask), require the shut-down of some critical functions of the brain in order to fully enjoy this story, but it displays a narrative daring that is rarely seen in such Reader's Digest-styled inspirational tales.

Unfortunately the straightforward subject matter of "Kizu" (the second story) means that the educational intent of it is much more obvious. This one really is about the redemptive power of friendship, a fact which magnifies the cloying moralizing to cynicism-inspiring effect. Furthermore, whereas Ryo will be painfully familiar to anyone who has ever gone through an introverted phase in their life, Asato and Keigo's traumas are so extreme as to inherently foreshorten audience identification, making the attempts to garner sympathy feel forced and unsuccessful. The story's dark realism concerning its characters' behavior is welcome—especially the all-too-understandable selfishness of one character's reaction to Asato's magnanimity—but is hardly enough to keep the story from feeling like a throw-away add-on to the titular tale, despite being nearly twice its length.

Those reading this review after reading the synopsis from the back of the book might wonder at the lack of anything in this review pertaining to this line: "the restorative power of love confronts the tragedy and horror of a deadly train accident." I too would like to know about that. Because it wasn't in my copy. No restorative power of love, no train, no crash, nothing. It quite simply isn't there at all. Perhaps it's a story from the Calling You novel ("Coming June 2007!" according to the back cover) that never got manga-fied, but the mention of it in the synopsis is still most puzzling.

There isn't much to say about Setsuri Tsuzuki's art other than that it is basic, middle-of-the-road shoujo art. That means emphasis on faces and facial expressions, lots of crazy panel layouts, zilchoid backgrounds, healthy helpings of subjective, impressionistic imagery, and enough sparklies, floating flowers, falling feathers and frilly borders to kill a magical girl. It may be more a result of the superior story than any real change in art, but "Calling You" definitely feels more polished and purposeful on a purely artistic level than the sloppier-feeling "Kizu". Tsuzuki's male characters tend to look very similar as well, a problem that doesn't effect the one-male "Calling You" but does cause some momentary confusion in "Kizu".

Other than the addition of a glossy color introduction—which showcases Tsuzuki's somewhat uninspiring art in all its pastel glory, this book is a standard Tokyopop release. As always, Japanese sound effects are left in situ without translation; the only extras are an illustrated afterword by the artist—which tellingly deals only with the "Calling You" short story—and a short prose postscript by the original author.

Short story collections are always something of a gamble since they can be so inconsistent in quality, as the palpable difference between the two stories in this volume will attest. Fans of inspirational tales may want to take note, while cynics will want to take cover, but even with its unusually tightly scripted opening tale, it's difficult to recommend to anyone a book two-thirds of which feels like after-story filler.

Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : C

+ Opening story with more surprises and re-reading value than its length and premise might suggest.
Inferior second tale; cloying inspirational messages; and wasn't there supposed to be a train wreck somewhere?

Original story: Otsuichi
Art: Setsuri Tsuzuki

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Calling you (manga)

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Calling You (GN 1)

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