Title: Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen
Artist: Abby Denson
Publication Year: 2015
Abby Denson is a comics writer who has worked on a number of high-profile and kid-friendly titles, such as the comic adaptations of Powerpuff Girls and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She’s also drawn two graphic novels of her own, Dolltopia and Tough Love: High School Confidential, both of which I love beyond all reason. She has a quirky style all her own, and her charm shines from everything she creates.
I should probably get this out of the way first – Denson is a wonderful writer, but her art can sometimes be a little uneven. In Cool Japan Guide, the continuity between panels is inconsistent, and her characters all tend to have the same の∇の facial expression. The coloring is absolutely flat, and the bright primary colors can occasionally clash against each other violently.
Even if Denson’s art style isn’t to your taste, is Cool Japan Guide still worth reading?
It definitely is!
As you progress through the book, the art will grow on you, I promise. Denson has a special talent for depicting places and objects, and the details of each panel are fun and creatively stylized.
All of Denson’s travel advice is spot-on. Seriously, this woman has excellent taste – if she recommends something, then it’s definitely worth doing. By all means, check out the train-themed socks for sale at Tokyo Station! Try the sweet potato soft serve ice cream in Kamakura! Enjoy a cocktail at the 8bit Café in Shinjuku! Make plans to attend the Kaigai Manga Festa! Soak in the warm water and kitschy atmosphere of Oedo Onsen Monogatari!
Cool Japan Guide also offers a fair bit of reference material, such as websites with travel resources and smartphone apps convenient for tasks like train scheduling and quickly finding phrases in Japanese. Each chapter is preceded by eight or nine useful words or expressions, and the hand-drawn map of Japan at the end of the book is a treasure, especially for people planning longer journeys.
Cool Japan Guide is definitely not for the type of thirty-something hipsters who are into the Wallpaper* city guides or the type of forty-something yuppies who are into Fodor’s, but I can imagine a younger person smiling with joy while reading through the book. Since Denson takes care to ensure that the content is family-friendly, the book would make a great gift for a child or teenager. The gentle silliness and positivity of the guide succeed in making it enjoyable for older readers as well.
For more pictures, stories, and news, Abby Denson has her own website, and Cool Japan Guide has its own Tumblr.
Review copy provided by Tuttle.
2 thoughts on “Cool Japan Guide”
There has recently been some discussion on Twitter concerning the access of non-Japanese people to manga- and anime-inspired art styles, as well as Japan as a physical location. I appreciate that the issues at play involve a genuinely complex set of intersections of privilege, but honestly, I’m not buying this type of “you must be this Japanese to play” discourse. Do people really think European literary themes and art styles are universal while Japanese literary themes and art styles belong in some sort of self-contained, terrarium-like cultural environment? Really??
Tokyo is a global city, and manga is a global medium.
Case closed, everybody go home.
[…] armchair travel with Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats, and Ramen. It was reviewed at Contemporary Japanese […]