That’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, not the zipper empire from Niigata. AKA Yokohama Shopping Trip or Quiet Country Cafe.

We’re doing a roundtable on a random manga, so I suggested this sleepy work by Hitoshi ASHINANO. It ran every month from 1994 to 2006 in Afternoon, winning that monthly men’s comics magazine’s new talent award. So technically it’s a “seinen” manga, a label that won’t get you very far.

You can read the all 14 volumes on gray-area scanlation sites like Spectrum Nexus.

I’ve seen it widely praised: Jog, Dirk, and Derik Badman have all recommended it while noting how quiet it is. All three say it’s “contemplative”, though I’d say Badman’s “serene” is more to the point. Little happens; nobody’s around; a cute android runs a coffee shop. There’s an old guy whose face seems pinned to the back of his neck, and he helps her out by giving her watermelons and taking her to a doctor when lightning hits her. Yokohama, a port city of some 3.6 million people long ago sucked into Tokyo’s agglomeration, becomes a laid-back country hamlet.

It’s a light work, mostly atmosphere. You can read the first volume faster than my summary.

Downtown Yokohama, now with trees.

Since I’m writing under a tornado watch warning, I want to talk apocalypse. YKK posits that something happened, implying but not saying global warming. Ocean levels have risen, coffee’s hard to come by, and humanity’s in decline. (Also, the Japanese Wiki says it was global warming, which is good enough for me.)

In this, YKK‘s a recent entry in a long line of destruction. Japan’s been blowing itself up in pop culture since it happened in real life; lately, the rest of the world’s gotten in on the act. Nuclear fears have given way to ecological: When the Wind Blows replaced by The Day After Tomorrow. (I much prefer the former.) Sometimes it’s an excuse for zombies, or worse yet, sermons, but they always claw at the same part of the brain as weatherfolk do to keep us terrified.

Ashinano uses it as an excuse to get rid of all the people. In other hands it would be a Derrik Jensen fantasy: you caused global warming, so nature will punish you. But in YKK it’s really nostalgia: simpler days, country living, not so many people. In this, it taps into that stereotypically Japanese feeling for the old rural hometown. If 1 in 4 people live in Tokyo, then that’s a lot of nostalgia. With it comes a sentimental feeling for natural places, which has resulted in some great poetry and postcard photos if not land-use policy.

I find it reactionary. Compared to other manga like Hanashippanashi (TCJ #280), which deals with the tensions between a feel for nature and actually living in Japan, YKK feels like a retreat. It’s a fantasy of a return to simpler times and does away with urban complexities with a flood.

So while I love the feelings it evokes, the warmth of certain small towns, of getting tipsy at the town meeting, it’s a far cry from Hot, Flat, and Crowded. So it’s a little hard for me to take.

(Incidentally, mentioning Derrik Jensen, I should recommend Leonard Rifas’ review of his graphic novel with Stephanie McMillan in TCJ #295– a great review of an apparently terrible book. And Xavier Guilbert’s interview with Hanashippanashi‘s author.)

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