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not simple

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not simple

not simple

© 2006 Natsume ONO / Shogakukan

The Bottom Line

A young man travels the world looking for his sister, his story told through the people he meets — a gay novelist, a spoiled girl, a woman looking to leave her dangerous family behind. A tragedy in the first chapter unfolds into a history of heartbreaking revelations.

There is no other manga in English like not simple. A profound and moving character piece, it is affecting and well told. Ono approaches sex, family, and the everyday horrors that humans inflict on one another in ways that most manga-ka wouldn’t dare. If not simple forebears the arrival of a new sort of mature manga, then fans are very lucky indeed.

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  • Unique and striking artwork
  • Phenomenal storytelling moves the reader expertly through the story
  • Fearlessly approaches difficult real-world issues
  • Believable, though not always sympathetic characters
  • Will probably make readers cry


  • Author unnecessarily takes pains to point out unbelievability of certain situations
  • Occasionally clichéd story elements, though rarely distractingly so
  • Ambiguous ending will be unsatisfying to some readers
  • Unconventional art will not be to every reader’s tastes


Guide Review - not simple

One reason why Viz's Signature Line is so exciting is its commitment to new, unique, and unheard voices. It's rare for a mature manga to be released in North America that seeks to describe the lives of adults, rather than simply being an edgier version of shonen or shojo favourites. not simple, Natsume Ono's tale of familial tragedy, is a superlative addition to the line: a bold and contemporary work that deals with real issues.

not simple is the story of Ian, a young man on a quest to locate his missing sister. The framing device of the manga is a novel-titled, cheekily, "Not Simple" — being authored by Jim, a gay novelist and reporter who encounters Ian and becomes enraptured by his slowly-unfolding story.

It's difficult to talk about precisely what makes not simple so fresh and unique without spoiling some of the plot twists. While the book isn't merely a sum of its reveals — in fact it holds up well to repeated readings-the major plot points are at the core of Ian's story and propel the narrative forward, it'd be unfair to dole them out here.

not simple's impact is initially subtle, astute readers being rewarded for making connections that illuminate Ian's history-though ultimately every facet is spelled out, draining the narrative of some of its complexity. But spelling out the transgressions visited upon Ian also thankfully undermines any melodrama; any situation can be talked out and contextualized and doing so strengthens the bond between Ian and Jim.

The art is particularly striking; not simple doesn't look like anything else on the racks, certainly not what the Western world thinks of when they think manga. Ono's figures are bold and rely on gesture rather than detailed rendering, the pliable faces and bodies communicating a fantastically wide range of emotions. Her storytelling moves the reader effortlessly through the novel until she deliberately slows or stops the action to excellent effect.

Perhaps not simple's biggest failing is Ono's lapse-of-confidence in the telling of Ian's story, having Jim say things like "I could make a movie about this and everyone would think it's fake," or "It's unbelievable." It draws attention to the fact that not simple is a fiction, and it is unnecessary when Ono has worked so hard to give Ian's world-and his and Jim's relationship-depth and believability.

not simple is an idiosyncratic release with a strong authorial voice. Frankly, there aren't enough manga being released of this calibre. not simple is not a perfect book, but it is moving, affecting, and unique; merely excellent. See for yourself. Read the prologue of not simple online, for free. It's captivating as either a short story or an introduction to the larger novel: the themes, subjects, and the plot neatly expressed in miniature. The work does a great job of speaking for itself.

Christopher Butcher blogs daily at Comics212.net, is the Manager of comics retailer The Beguiling, and the Director of The Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

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