Manga readers searching for something beyond the mainstream have benefited greatly from Drawn & Quarterly. They’ve regularly published volumes by authors that, although perhaps not necessarily strictly avant-garde, always provide something different from what you’re likely to encounter in the pages of publications like Nakayoshi or Shinen Jump, or even the older-reader sibling publications of those magazines. Although the majority of their titles originate from the Garo domain, Saito Nazuna’s work was never published in that magazine; in fact, she started out as an illustrator for newspapers in the 1970s before turning her attention to manga in the 1980s. She had a hiatus in the early 1990s due to health issues, and returned in the 2010s, but the pieces gathered here have an enduring character. They’re not specific to any one location or period, but they were all released between 1991 and 1992 and 2012 and 2015.
The fact that Saito works with a somber sort of nostalgia—which isn’t restricted to any one era of human history—is one very particular explanation for this. The feelings and experiences explored do not depend on cell phones versus wall phones or the kind of train that is running, even though there are some technological indicators of the times the stories were written. When we view them from the outside, they’re all what we would consider to be “quiet” experiences—the kinds of things that are significant only when they personally affect you. Upskirt, a 1992 story, is the best illustration of this. The story is narrated from the viewpoint of a middle-aged guy who is lying on the ground on his back watching his wife hang clothes. Gazing at her thighs beneath her skirt, he is reminded of a boyhood memory from the Showa period, when he and another youngster were enamored with winning a raffle for an inexpensive bug collection kit. As they use it, having figured out a cunning plan to guarantee their victory (as clever as all cunning kids do), they notice a woman in the thick grass pulling up her skirt. Although it doesn’t quite turn into a formative experience, the boys’ fascination with seeing a grown woman’s lower body stays with the narrator. The image of his wife stepping over him and giving him a full view up her skirt on her way to the phone contrasts with the thought of that one peek that enters his mind, more than the other lad dying young or winning the raffle covertly. In middle age, what was once spectacular to him has become ordinary, just one of a thousand experiences we’ve all undoubtedly had.
Throughout the collection, there is a recurring theme of the idea that change is inevitable as time passes. Though not always in a somber or macabre way, age and death are themes that are explored in several of the compositions. Accepting that life inevitably ends in death is more important. The two tales from 2012 and 2015 effectively contrast this. A dementia-stricken mother is dying in a hospital in the movie In Captivity, and her family isn’t quite able to make it back when she passes away since they drove too far away. The narrative alternates between the mother’s outbursts and bizarre comments, as well as the family’s attempts to laugh off the realization that she is dying. However, there’s a sense of resentment, as if the mother wasn’t a pleasant person even when she wasn’t ill, and her kids might love her, but they don’t like her. The narrative explores how dying might leave you feeling empty and as though you’re not sure how to feel.
Conversely, 2015’s House of Solitary Death tracks the occupants of an apartment building mostly made up of older people as they pass away. There’s a kind of intellectual fascination to every death; people come and go, and the living don’t hesitate to ruminate and conjecture about each deceased. One of the points of view characters is a manga artist who is having trouble coming up with a tale. Through her encounters with a resident, whom she meets because they both adore cats, she learns about the elderly guy they all refer to as “Mr. Planet Purple” due to his strange behavior and affinity for wearing the color purple. The idea that everyone has a story—even if most of them are uninteresting and others aren’t always interested in hearing them—is explored in the work. Even if we may never fully know the people in our immediate vicinity, perhaps such stories encourage us to have empathy for them.
As you may expect, the volume is generally bittersweet. Every story depicts a brief, everyday event in a person’s life; many of them touch on death, however without necessarily expressing grief. Even though Tsuge Yoshiharu is clearly an influence on a few (most notably Parakeet God), Saito’s unique style is evident in each piece. Brightly painted lips are a particularly prominent element in these basic yet poignant works of art. It’s amazing that despite the volume being in black and white, we can still notice the red. Drawn & Quarterly typically includes an essay in the back of their releases that talks about Saito as a creator and offers some insight into some of the stories. This essay also includes excerpts from an interview that Saito had with Tsurutani Kaori, the creator of BL Metamorphosis, who is a fan of Saito’s work.
One of those books that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it is Offshore Lightning. Its subtly depressing nostalgia is remarkable, and as it delves into the common lives of individuals, it serves as a reminder that there is significance in things that some may seem banal.