If I'm keeping up with this date metaphor, I feel like I just had a marathon date with Eeyore.
(Maybe not Eeyore. Eeyore seems incapable of seeing the bright side to any situation. This one just doesn't have a bright side. It was like a date with Droopy Dog.not simple
By Natsume Ono
Published by Viz
I'm not saying that a comic--or a TV show, or a movie--has to be all "ha ha ha ha! Weeeee!" But if you are a person such as I, seeking a pleasurable experience that will hopefully lead to more pleasurable experiences (either by reading a series or more work by the same writer), this was not the book for that.
Because this book is BLEAK. It is also KIND OF STUPID.
Let me spin this toward the positive a little. Being so bitingly bleak is not, in itself, a bad thing. In fact, I can't recall experiencing that particular feeling done so well in book form in recent memory. I imagine that all of us, at one time or another, have had an experience or a period of time when we just felt extremely low; like there was a huge gaping hole of pain where our stomach was supposed to be. And if you've been there, but recovered from it, it's not really that easy to recall the experience because, well Lord, who would want to?! But this comic has this ability to take one down some of the deepest, darkest unending roads that one can travel. But it's not pity that is drawn out from the reader. I wasn't pitying not simple's main character. The whole comic just oozes sadness and despair.
The art seemed simple at first, but by that I just mean that it was easy to look at and follow. One shape keeps coming to my mind. Circles. A lot of big, sad, round eyes, round text bubbles, round heads. Those eyes, if really looked at proportionately, wouldn't work in real life. But in this case, well, they are the windows of these fictional souls. Regret, bitterness, sadness -- all drawn in big saucer pools, and while I wouldn't go all the way and call them empty, I'd bet that part of the reason I wasn't empathizing or sympathizing was that those giant circles didn't want to let me in. They just want to talk, they don't want to listen.
This comic does what it does really well, even though there's no real catharsis. There's no real point to be made or gleaned. It's feels like a story that came out of a "what if?" "What if all the worst possible scenarios for a kid were true? What if a kid were a product of incest, divorce, estrangement, abandonment, alcoholism, and sexual abuse/prostitution? Could he possibly retain any innocence? What would his life be like?"
Which brings me to some (more) of the problems I had with the book. It's a quiet book, without much dialogue. It seems to be void of anything that smacks of the usual day-to-day. We aren't given even a glimpse of any other part of Ian's (the main character) daily life, anything that might provide some joy. There's the one track meet, but there's no school day depicted. There's no interaction with teachers or kids or neighbors. Just a lonely endless wait and search. It's like the story drowns in its attempts to depict sadness. Despite being a kind of open, easy read, there's nothing making it to the surface except a bleak sameness, the events that cause or maintain the sadness, and then it's over. Ian barely reacts to his circumstances--most of which are terrible--at all, and without any sense of a daily existence, he's just a receptacle for pain. I can't feel sorry for him, because I never forgot how fake he was, I never forgot that not simple was just a story.
Oh yeah, the prologue? WTF? As a storytelling device, sure, it works great to tell the end so that the reader's head is filled with questions and is subsequently pulled towards a book's conclusion. (Although I think we've seen that plenty of times now, you know?) Anyway, this prologue nearly had the opposite effect on me. It was just another subplot inside a subplot inside another subplot, all just to set up that this kid with horrific luck, dies. I'm wondering if the epilogue was the first thing that was ever written, and then the chapters. When it came time for Ono to put it all together, she had to find a way to make it all work, so here comes the prologue.
While I'm bitching about the prologue, here's a couple other "problems" I had with this story. What's with this kid and time? He'll wait until he accomplishes some "goals" before he'll try to see his sister again - even though it ends up taking years? He has the first love experience of his life and agrees to meet the woman three years later? Not one? Not six months? Why not 430 hours? Maybe he should have to pick a thousand acorns and then he can meet her for a double dip cone. Why does he agree to arbitrary time constraints and poorly defined objective? It doesn't make any sense for the character, it just seems like random stuff designed to push him forward on some magic story outline.
You know, it reminds me of the set-up in Vampire Knight. There's certain restrictions written in that make no narrative sense, restrictions that exist just to create conflict in a story that would otherwise have none. In Vampire Knight, I felt like I was being forced to agree to stupid rules, and I felt the same way with not simple. I have to just accept this silly set-up of "try and reach your goal, and when you do, we can see each other again," as well as "let's meet again in three years". Without these two plot devices, the book wouldn't really be any different--still bleak--but it would be shorter.And while throwing in an author who is going to write the story of the comic (Ian's life is on track to becoming a book within the actual plot) makes it seem like not simple is some kind of combination story, a mix of real and fictional storytelling, it's a story built out of an overall sameness of tone, a dumb prologue, and a constant enforcing of "rules" that exist just to screw up the character's life more. It's like being told "this thing is supposed to be bad and disjointed, and that's what makes it good." That's fine and all, but things can be "bad" without being stupid.
So, what am I saying? Look, sometimes I like to see a sad movie and cry my eyes out. And if you enjoy seeing the darkest nature of some family units, this might be your cup of tea. But as date? I just really wish I'd spent my time reading something else.
In other words: Next!
-Nina Stone, 2010