It’s time to venture forth into an unusual area to explore with the manga medium: Childbirth and prenatal care! We have here a new digital series from Kodansha called Kounodori: Dr. Stork. Is it good?
Dr. Stork is an anthology series set within a hospital. It focuses on the patients of Dr. Sakura Kounodori — an experienced doctor and a master of the keys in his spare time — and the troubles that they bring to him and the other doctors. As a whole, I found this to be quite the engaging, especially for the first volume of an anthology collection. Each story ("Doorstep Mother," "Threatened Miscarriage," "Gonorrhea," and "On Call") bring their own mood, tone, and feel, showing us exactly what kind of series it is. It’s one with highs, but also one with lots of lows and troubles through the journey of childbirth. It even hits humorous moments that can liven things up so there’s not just two moods to the series and it also helps introduce new concepts to those unfamiliar with what goes on in prenatal care. For people who are fans of procedural dramas/dramedies, this would definitely be up your alley.
Dr. Sakura Kounodori is the series’ interesting main character. An orphan himself, he cares very much about the babies and their mothers, wanting to try and do his best to help both. However, he’s also realistic and down to Earth, knowing when to put the safety of the mother first and understanding things won’t be easy or that sometimes there are just no good choices ("Threatened Miscarriage" shows him at his best and wisest). He’s likable and pleasant with everyone, but he’s also harsh and serious when dealing with issues, such as the mother in "Doorstep Mother." He understands the perils she’s in and gets why she did what she did, but he doesn’t view it as an excuse to punish her unborn baby, even flat out telling her that. He can be a bit too blunt in that regard, but regardless, he’s a solid protagonist so far and I look forward to seeing whatever cases he handles next.
Besides Kounodori, there are a few supporting characters in the book that pop up repeatedly throughout the chapters. However, the only one who gets any real focus or character is Dr. Shimoya, who has a bigger role in the "Threatened Miscarriage" chapter. From the way she acts, handles patients, and treats Kounodori, it’s clear that she is a new doctor and lacks experience. She’s nervous, worried a lot, panics in situations, and sometimes lets her worries get the best of her. However, she’s not incompetent at all — she just needs more time and experience to get a good foothold into her career. She obviously cares a lot about her patients and wants what’s best for them, but sometimes needs a helping hand. By the end of the major storyline she’s a part of, you get a good sense that she’s grown and learned from the experience, so I look forward to when she gets the spotlight again to see how she does then.
What I enjoyed the most about this series was the wide range of emotional highs and lows within it. Childbirth, prenatal care, and what comes before and after are all complicated situations that bring out the best and worst in our emotions and this series captures that perfectly. There are strong bouts of joy and warmth as parents meet their babies, the over complicated and mixed feelings of not being able to take care of your child or wondering about your future, and the absolute horror and heartbreak that comes from worrying whether or not your baby will survive when it’s premature. The book captures these feelings wonderfully through the many patients here, showing you exactly where everyone is at and how they’re dealing with this monumental moment in their lives. You can really relate and understand how they feel, especially during the biggest story in the book and when the parents see just how tiny their baby is. Seeing just how worried they are, but yet still loving their child and wanting to do everything they can for him despite how problematic his birth was overall is both beautiful and touching.
One of the weakest points of the book was the artwork. It’s not exactly great, with scratchier and less refined visuals. The style does extremely well in depicting newborn babies and the ugliness and intensity of the mood at times, like during childbirth or contractions. However, the style doesn’t lend itself well enough to depicting characters and their emotional range. A lot of people, in particular the female supporting cast and one-shot characters, tend to look the same and the farther away the person is in a panel, the less detailed and sloppier the visuals can be. The layouts had trouble with big time transitions at points and the world often feels empty at times with little or sterile backgrounds. Now, the art doesn’t exactly ruin the series by any means and it can definitely deliver on some of the powerful moments, but it doesn’t always come through as much as you may want.
Kounodori: Dr. Stork Vol. 1 was an enjoyable, rather engaging, and informative start to this new series. While I knew very little about prenatal care or a lot about the details that come with childbirth, I came away with a better understanding of this subject and was utterly wrapped up in the drama and lives of the doctors and their patients. For those who are big fans of TV procedurals or the format, this a good series to definitely check out.