Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
A middle aged couple learning what other people think of them, a little brother dealing with his overbearing elder sisters, and a teenage orphan fantasizing about her past are just three of the many stories in this collection of Ono's early works.
Natsume Ono, mangaka behind House of Five Leaves and the older man spectacular Ristorante Paradiso and its related manga, is a bit of an acquired taste. In this collection of stories from 1998-2008, Ono takes the slice of life genre down to its most minute format, with fourteen tales about, essentially, nothing. These are literal slices out of the characters' lives, moments glimpsed as you walk past them on the street, flash fiction in manga form. Readers looking for a story will not find it here, but if you have a hankering for a quiet moment on paper, look no farther than Tesoro.
The most polarizing aspect of the book in undoubtedly Ono's art. Plots aside, manga is a visual medium, and many people will put the book back down seconds after flipping through, because whatever else Natsume Ono can do, drawing is not one of her skills. Or perhaps it is and she deliberately takes the simple road. In any event, the artwork in Tesoro (Italian for “treasure”) looks more like an American comic strip or a hastily drawn web comic than what we think of as manga. People are imperfectly formed, eyes are bulbous and fishy, and lines appear to have been drawn with a fine point pen in a moving vehicle. Plainly put, this is an ugly book. Viz has printed it in sepia ink with limited color in the first story “Una Giornata Fredda” (“A Cold Day”) and the five pages following it. The color does help to make Ono's artwork more appealing, but really it is only the suspicion that she is drawing this way on purpose that makes it at all palatable. The sepia ink, presumably a choice made by the original Japanese publishers, is a bit hard on the eyes and takes getting used to.
If you can get past the drawings, Tesoro does in fact hold some treasures. “Eva's Memory,” the longest piece in the book, at 32 pages, tells the story of a Venetian orphan named Eva who makes a habit of calling famous men her father. One day at a political rally in Piazza San Marco she calls out “Dad!” to the politician speaking. The man, instead of brushing her off, returns the greeting, thus beginning a surprisingly sweet story about what it was Eva was really looking for. Likewise the the second story in “Three Short Stories About Bento” is touching as a single dad tries to make the perfect boxed lunch for his kindergarten aged son. “Christmas Morning,” one of several stories about the New York based Froom family, is more tongue-in-cheek as a father tries to keep his daughters from harassing their younger brother with mixed results.
As you may have noticed, family does play a large role in many of Ono's stories. “Senza Titolo #1” (“Untitled #1”) deals with a doctor with a terminally ill son. The four panel strips in “Padre” look at father/son relationships over the generations, and “Senza Titolo #3” also examines at the interactions between a father and his son. (As a sidenote, the six “untitled” stories are completely separate from each other.) To a certain extent, all of the family related stories do share a theme of parental love and vaguely dysfunctional siblings, but this is more an overarching theme of the collection than something that ties the tales directly to each other. “Inside Out,” “Moyashi Couple,” and the remaining two bento stories all deal with spousal relationships, so clearly human interactions are a topic that intrigues Ono. She handles them delicately, but not without a slight similarity of tone and method. It never feels like you are reading the same story over and over, but it does seem as though Ono lacks in storytelling range.
Despite the brevity of the tales, this is no quick read. Partly this is because of the art and ink, but moreso it is due to the fact that Ono has given us plenty to digest here. Deceptively simple, the stories in Tesoro are meant to be pondered. It is the kind of book that could be kept beside your bed and read a chapter a night – calm, a bit dull, but ultimately about the little treasures that all of us have, no matter who we are.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : D
+ Thoughtful, gentle stories that make you think.
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