Un bambino e molti sogni: Sleepy Child e That Child di Saika Shinnosuke
A child and many dreams: Saika Shinnosuke’s Sleepy Child and That Child
As I said in a previous article, Glacier Bay Books is a small independent American publishing house that has a precise line, and consequently a precise philosophical vision, on which manga to propose to readers, configuring itself as one of the most interesting niche publishing realities. One of the authors on whom they seem to focus a lot, in my opinion with great foresight and acumen, is Saika Shinnosuke, also known as Toshoneko. There is little biographical information on the author, for example that he left the university early, but he then graduated from the prestigious Setsu Mode Seminar art school. Since 2013 he has been publishing several manga independently and in 2020 his personal exhibition was hosted by Gekkoso, an art store located in the very central Ginza district in Tōkyō. It seems to be apparently difficult to place him in a certain artistic context, but actually the author, in his works, provides the readers with all the tools to grasp his sensitivity, his influences and the atmospheres he wants to create and evoke, through the drawings and themes he proposes.
Sleepy Child and That Child propose the same narrative structure: a child named Mato who seems to suffer from narcolepsy is accompanied to a place (the doctor in the first volume, the school in the second) and there he lives an intense emotional experience while dreaming. The relationship between the child and his parents worried about his conditions and active in following him with due attention, it is built and explored around this structure.
What impresses about these two short stories (both of about thirty pages) are two intrinsically linked elements: the atmospheres and the drawings. Saika draws heavily from Miyazawa Kenji, one of the most famous Japanese writers, both in terms of content and graphics. The characters are anthropomorphic animals, especially cats, and the protagonist is one of them. The representation as anthropomorphic cats is interesting because oftenc, in Miyazawa’s stories, cats are characters in some way negative, while in Saika’s works this distinction fades away and everyone becomes cats, like in the anime A Night on the Galactic Train (1985) by Sugii Gisaburō, transposition of the story of the same name by the writer from Tōhoku. Sleepy Child deals with the theme of death and its acceptance through memory, while in That Child an apparently magical event unleashes the mystery around which the story revolves around: all these characteristics are skillfully exploited and recall many of Miyazawa’s works , including slight hints of humor that enrich the overall tone without breaking the drama of it. In addition, thanks to a strong presence of a dreamlike dimension, the narration proceeds in dreamy and fairy-tale sequences, leaving the reader with the impression of whether what he has read really happened or not at all. During the reading and after that one finds himself pervaded by feelings of nostalgia and melancholy and this is also due to the construction of the pages made by the author. Saika tends to build pages that have four or five panels at the most, a factor that inevitably conditions how the stories are told: the rhythm expands, space is left for reflection and the silences take on great value. In this regard, it should also be noted that the dialogues are laconic and the exchanges between the characters reduced to the essential, highlighting how much what is not expressed in words by the child protagonist is unleashed in his dreams, bringing out all his interiority and emotionality.
A visual element that is as evident as it is impressive is the hatching. Saika in fact shows an excellent mastery of hatching which, combined with a not very clean and often deliberately essential stroke, is very evocative in conveying both the emotions of the characters, through faces with particularly expressive eyes and gestures that transmit calmness and gracefulness, and the physicality of bodies and places, the firsts deeply material and the seconds carved by light. The author therefore decides not to rely on halftone screens for shading and various patterns, as it might seem common in Japan, but adopts more unusual techniques, and in fact it can be placed coherently outside the mainstream publishing landscape. It is interesting to note how the presence of such a marked hatching, so decisive in recalling a corporeal dimension for bodies and environments, contrasts with the fairytale and loose dimension of the stories, moreover infused with subtle feelings difficult to describe. In this sense, the splash pages, which photograph an apparently eternal instant by temporarily interrupting the narration, take on greater intensity and value thanks to the hatching, as in That Child, or on the contrary they stand out precisely for the absence of it, as in Sleepy Child: this ambivalence is a visual tool, and therefore a communicative one, useful for transmitting that sense of melancholy I was talking about previously.
In conclusion, I believe that these are two excellent stories, mature in sign and content and with an eye to the future: a spin-off entitled The Lullaby set in the universe created by the author has recently been released, again for Glacier Bay Books. It follows the story of Rika, a classmate of Mato. This demonstrates how behind these works there is a broader and more creative authorial vision by Toshoneko, where each element or character proves to be important, factors that thus reveal the concrete possibilities of delighting readers in the future with short and impact-on-readers manga.