I am very, very happy today for two reasons. One, this manga was a delight to read. Secondly, I didn’t have to review it, because George R. valiantly offered a guest post in which he says everything I might have, if I had written it. But I didn’t have to. ^_^ Take it away, George!
My copy of Himawari-san by Manami Sugano, arrived a couple days ago and a quick flip through sent it straight to the top of my to-read pile. Not only is the artwork well done, but the setting strongly reminds me of the old neighborhood book shop near where I usually stay in Tokyo. Sadly that shop did not have an owner as lovely and lovable as Himawari-san and is no longer in business. I spent many a happy time perusing those shelves.
Himawari-san runs an old, small book shop directly across the street from school. Everyone calls her this because the name of the shop is Himawari-shobou [Sunflower bookstore]. She’s a kind, long-haired woman, definitely an adult out of school but still young from my point of view. She typically carries a hataki for dusting the shelves, a book she reads and offers quote from, or both. She enjoys life at her own pace, and though she is occasionally gruff, “if you’re not a customer, go home,” she really does care for and encourage the girls who frequent her bookstore.
This manga is a collection of short, sweet stories about Himawari and her customers. The principle customer is a lively, though not intellectual, freshman from the high school across the street. Kazamatsuri Matsuri (and no, I didn’t stutter there), enters the tale with a bang, bursting in and declaring, “Himawari-san! I love you!!” She fell for Himawari when she came in to purchase a study guide for her entrance exams, and spends a lot of her free time at the store, but it is not books or the store that she loves but Himawari herself. Himawari was the first person to encourage and believe in her, even counting her parents and teachers.
Other customers we meet include Nana, the class president who dislikes rainy days enough to cause an incident at the school library; Sakura, a grade-school girl to whom Himawari teaches lessons about friendship, apology and how to repair manga with tape; and Fuuko, Matsuri’s younger sister, who isn’t as angry and “too cool to care” as she first appears, merely a bit jealous of all the time her dear sister is spending at Himawari-shobou. She helps each of them with words of wisdom and encouragement.
Himawari has quite the reputation for finding just the right book for any customer, and she is well known and loved by everyone in the bookstore district. It was to show Matsuri a shop specializing in photo books that Himawari brought her to this district. And, yes, these books are perfect for Matsuri.
There’s not much explicit Yuri here beyond Matsuri’s obvious crush. Himawari puts Matsuri on cloud nine asking her to go out with her. Is this just shopping? Is it a date? I know what Matsuri would like it to be. Himawari’s feelings in return are ore open to interpretation.
She finds the store overly quiet the week Matsuri was preparing for the school festival and didn’t come to the store. Her feelings on meeting Matsuri at the end of that week are drawn in her expressions and actions rather than stated in words, but her smile when suggesting they watch the fireworks together is genuine. She seems to enjoy their time together.
In the last two chapters we meet Himawari’s older brother who’s a light-novelist. The two don’t get along, having some past history between them. She even tells him to never come to the bookstore. Sugano-sensei gives us some hints at Himawari’s past, but I want to know more than just these hints: how did she take over Himawari-shobou? What was her relationship with the previous owner? How did she change from her non-bookish self back in school? On the other hand, her brother can’t be all bad, as Matsuri stays up all night, enthralled, reading his book. Matsuri, being the good kid she is, even manages to begin Himawari’s reconciliation with her brother.
Sugano-sensei’s artwork holds up to the promise of the cover. Her depiction of the bookstore and streets echo reality to me, but she only uses detailed drawings when needed to set the scene or the mood, and they do that well. Her character art style also works for me. I’m a sucker for bijin with books, and keep looking back at her drawings of Himawari. I like her outfits, good looking yet practical. They’re a welcome change from school uniforms.
I would also recommend this manga to any who are working on learning Japanese. It has full furigana, so you can take the easy way out on looking up kanji, and avoid lugging a second dictionary around while you read.
Art – 9
Story – 7
Characters – 8
Yuri – 2
Service – 1
Overall – 9
I quite enjoyed reading this volume. It combines artwork I like, nostalgia for that very type of bookstore, with characters and atmosphere I enjoy. I can easily understand why the rest of the cast falls in love with Himawari-san; I did too. But, I was left wanting more. With that “more” I could see my story and character ratings climbing a point or two.
While this is not labeled “volume 1”, I hope Sugano-san gives us another volume. That would be the ideal spot to delve deeper into the “more” I was left wanting. I would say this volume functioned very well as hors d’oeuvres, and now I’m ready for a full meal with these characters in their neighborhood. She hasn’t published much else, so perhaps she has more of Himawari-san ready to flow out her pen. I hope so.
Erica here: I wasn’t kidding, George really did say everything I would have said…except for one thing. Not only is Kazematsuri Matsuri’s name redundant, her sister is named Fuuko…the “Fuu” of which is the same word as Kaze. So her name is redundant too.
Thank you George, I agree wholeheartedly that a few more hours browsing the shelves of Himwari Shobou would be extremely enjoyable.