Since I first found out about Juné Manga, I’ve read (and reviewed) a lot of their anthology titles. There’s just something cool about getting to read multiple short works by the same author at the time. It allows one to get a stronger sense of the creator’s style and recurring thematic interests. This week I read Sumako Kari’s A Truthful Picture. About half of the book is devoted to the titular story starring high school students Teruaki Kittaka and Kenji Yoshino. What starts out as a simple depiction of a crush develops and twists into some unexpected directions. The rest of the volume is composed of much shorter stories with a variety of settings and plots, though romance still runs throughout. How do the manga all fit together? Is A Truthful Picture good?
This volume’s titular story is easily its best. “A Truthful Picture” impresses from the get-go with its great dialogue and narration. Kari does a fantastic job setting up the tale of young love and establishing the protagonists’ multi-faceted personalities. The plot’s tension and flow stem organically from Teru and Kenji’s interactions, which are both awkward and charming. Kari also effectively depicts the profound sense of uncertainty present in young adults. Teru’s anxieties are particularly poignant as he laments how happiness itself can lead to sadness and fear. The story’s ending is also notably open-ended in a way that works. These are high school students with their whole lives ahead of them, and the importance placed on their personal connections rather than specifics of their futures feels true to the emotionally driven nature of young adulthood. There are also some creative metaphors in the story’s latter half that help enhance the emotional poignancy.
The rest of the volume’s stories vary a bit in quality level, but they’re all at least somewhat enjoyable. The characters throughout all have distinct voices and personalities, and their relationships span a variety of contexts. No story feels like a lesser version of any other in the collection. The pacing and narration are strong across the board as well. Tension rises and falls in accordance with couples’ discussions as they argue, discuss their feelings, and more. The characters in “Illuminated Man” and “Non-Ordinary Days” are especially memorable. “I Wonder If They Can See” also stands out for its effective artistic renderings of blurry vision when characters remove their glasses. My only major complaint with the side stories is that “Illuminated Man” has frequent clarity issues as far as who’s speaking and when.
As strong as most of the writing in this anthology is, a lot of the fun in reading it comes from looking at the artwork. The facial expressions here are some of the most expressive I’ve ever seen in comics. Kari does a fantastic job conveying both bold and subtle reactions, and characters’ eyes throughout are especially emotive. Most of the line-work is relatively low on detail and has a pleasantly atmospheric look befitting the contents. There are occasional moments when the backgrounds are rendered with much more detail than usual, most often in establishing shots when the setting shifts. These panels of intricately drawn cities and the like look great and help ground the characters in their various environments. There are also a lot of lovely patterns and shading throughout. The page compositions are very well-balanced and use a lot of white space, contributing to the light and airy feel.
Overall, A Truthful Picture is a very charming collection of love stories. The artwork throughout is fantastic, full of emotive characters, well-designed page compositions, and a pleasantly airy atmosphere. The titular story is both the longest and the greatest, with well-structured character development, great dialogue, and unexpectedly creative and poignant metaphors. The others stories go up and down a bit in terms of quality, but they all have at least something entertaining to offer. Besides some occasional clarity issues and weaker plots, there’s very little to dislike here. This is easily my favorite of all the anthologies I’ve read from Juné thus far.