Tatsumi, Yoshihiro. Abandon the Old in Tokyo.

Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2006.

This collection of manga was originally published in Tokyo in 1970, and I gather the Japanese also have long considered it a bit odd. The thing is, a quarter-century after the end of the war — one generation, which had grown up in its wake but without the direct experience — social change was beginning to make major inroads on the Japanese psyche and was not widely welcomed by the previous generations. Partly, people recognized the need for change, but they were afraid of it, too.

Tatsumi is expert at describing that time in Japan’s recent history for the reader, at delineating the minor traumas and villainies which (he says) plagued the average workingman who was just trying to get by. The protagonists in these eight stories range from an out-or-work cartoonist who is drawn to producing graffiti in public restrooms, and the window-washer who witnesses too much within a skyscraper’s boardroom, to the young man trying to do his duty to an aging, infirm adoptive parent, and the abusive husband who (literally) can’t climb out of his hole. The drawing style is very plain and the main characters seem mostly to observe without speaking very much — but the background sounds of the city, the streetcars and the loud music from upstairs, are always present. There are no superheroes here, no big-eyed anime girls. Just excellent, small-scale storytelling and a very different interpretation of “nostalgia.”

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