I’ve read a lot of manga in my life, but I’ve never come across one quite like Memories of Emanon by Shinji Kajio and Kenji Tsuruta. It’s a talking manga in that there isn’t any action to speak of, just a story that unfolds through a conversation one evening, sort of like My Dinner With Andre. This isn’t anything uncommon; there are plenty of manga that are built around people having conversations, but Emanon feels slightly out of place even among those.
The first thing you notice when you open the book, even before you start reading the story, is that the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, especially the titular Emanon. There’s something haunting about the way Tsuruta draws her, almost as if she would be impossibly beautiful if she was real. The rest of the artwork has a similarly distinctive look, as if you’re being shown a photorealistic look at a world that’s slightly out of focus.
Set in the year 1967, an unnamed young man meets a 17-year-old hippie chick named Emanon on a ferry. They spend one day together and Memory of Emanon is the story of that day. It’s a moment in time where two people become a part of each other, but it’s not a romance story, though I suppose it is romantic. The two characters meet, they talk, they laugh, they tell each other the stories of themselves. In the end it’s both unimportant and deeply meaningful in the way that all of our days are, and it beautifully illustrates how even the most mundane of days can be the happiest of memories that to the people who lived them will be unforgettable.
I would be remiss talking about this book without talking about the care that went into the book itself. Before you even get to the table of contents there are a number of just gorgeous watercolor paintings of Emanon. There are more in the back that show some scenes set after the main story, along with some textless preview pages of the next volume which really let you see how beautiful the artwork is. Considering the nature of the story, which is to say it’s a talking heads comic, the visuals could have easily been overlooked, but Tsuruta absolutely did not phone the art in.
Possibly the reason for that is that he had been a fan of Emanon for around 25 years when he drew this comic, having read the 1983 short story this manga is based on (Emanon: A Reminiscence) when he was a university student. He details this in a postscript that explains his history with the character, who he calls his “favorite science fiction heroine.” Author Shinji Kajio also writes a postscript that explains his creation of the character, unsurprisingly inspired by a trip he took on a ferry as a university student.
Memory of Emanon is beautiful and moving on a level that most media isn’t. It feels personal and intimate and I came away from it feeling as if the story had become as much a part of me as the characters had become parts of each other. It’s just one night in 1967, no more or less important than any other night two people have shared, but it’s somehow also a night that will live on for eternity.