ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sneeze

If you’ve been reading manga for any amount of time, chances are you’ve at least encountered the name Naoki Urasawa. The internationally acclaimed mangaka is known in the west more for his long-form works like Monster and 20th Century Boys, but VIZ Media is publishing some of his short-form in Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection, with translation by John Werry and touch-up art and lettering by Steve Dutro.

Sneeze opens with a brief definition of the title: “a sudden expiration of breath. A short work as opposed to a long work. It can even make the most beautiful person look momentarily ugly.” While in long-form, Urasawa’s more known works span years, these stories are just brief moments in people’s lives. However, this is still Urasawa, and his penchant for twists and turns is still present even in the shorter page constraint. There are gangsters, psychics, kaiju and kaiju enthusiasts, and mice that boast too much for their own good. Each character discovers something they may or may not regret during their lives.

“DAMIYAN!”a story about a gangster who hires a man who may (or may not) be able to hurt people with a single stare, dials the absurd humor up to an 11. It was a great way to start this collection by showing a lighter side to the mangaka. Another standout was “Henry and Charles,” a full-color quest of two mice to get a piece of cake without waking the housecat. Urasawa cites his love of American comedies and cartoons such as Looney Tunes for inspiration, and it shows. Thoughtful commentary for each story is included in the back of the volume, making this a much more personal anthology than expected. Urasawa reflects on how much of his work is influenced by what he loved as a child, as well as the culture of the 60s and 70s.

The other side of this anthology is a wonderful showcase of the mangaka’s love of music. There’s a short piece (with a lovely personal afterword) about a story once told to him by Japanese rock musician Kenji Endo. (Sound familiar? Kenji Endo is also the name of the main character in Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys.) Musica Nostra is predominantly a personal travelogue of Urasawa’s trip to LA, where he saw Neil Young and Paul McCartney play live, and performed at Timewarp Records (Urasawa is also a musician). While very different from the fictional stories in the anthology, it is also a refreshingly personal look into the mind of such a well-known mangaka.

As always, Urasawa’s unique art style stands out: faces have all manner of extreme expressions and are right at home with the absurd humor that comes into play. Movement is also fluid between panels, which assists with the more slapstick comedy in pieces like Henry and Charles. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Dutro’s lettering. It is clear that thought was given to text style and font based on the tone/nature of each piece. Musica Nostra stood out especially for the choice to make the lettering font appear handwritten, which complimented the art and layout of the page mimicking a personal journal.

While every story in Sneeze might not be for everyone, I would definitely argue there is something for everyone in this anthology from a beloved mangaka. It is a must-have for any Naoki Urasawa fan, and definitely worth checking out by anyone who loves comics.

Sneeze is available from booksellers October 20, 2020.

Sneeze
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Summary

While every story in Sneeze might not be for everyone, I would definitely argue there is something for everyone in this anthology from a beloved mangaka. It is a must-have for any Naoki Urasawa fan, and definitely worth checking out by anyone who loves comics.