REVIEW: ‘Hirayasumi’ is a Slice of Life Dream

🏠 Discover a Story in the Heart of Tokyo 🏠

Words and Art: Keigo Shinzo

Publisher: Viz

Translation: Jan Mitsuko Cash

Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Elena Diaz

Design: Jimmy Presler

Editor: Holly Fisher

Slice of life is one of my favorite genres when it comes to manga so when I read the synopsis of Hirayasumi, one of Viz soon to be released debuts, I was intrigued. I read about a 29-year-old, carefree Hiroto Ikuta “who doesn’t have a girlfriend, a full-time job, or a plan for the future—and he couldn’t be happier”. This volume delves into his life with a special inheritance, the reintroduction of a family member and transitions, and changes that enter his life that challenge his carefree way of living. Along with my curiosity of the manga’s contents, I was also curious about the manga creator as I haven’t read anything by him. A quick chat with Cousin Google revealed a body of work of one shots, anthology work, and series mostly focusing in the slice of life genre with room for aliens, erupting volcanoes, carefree characters, and folks unsure of life’s paths. 

Keigo Shinzo debuted as a manga creator in 2008 with his work “Nankin” and has since gone on to create award-winning hits such as Bokura no Funkasai (Our Eruption Festival). In 2016, his work Moriyamachuu Kyoushuujo (Moriyamachu Driving School) was made into a movie, and two years later, his series Tokyo Alien Bros. was adapted into a live-action drama. During the coronavirus pandemic, when Keigo was diagnosed with lymphoma, he decided to write the one-shot “Akusei Rinpashu de Nyuuin shita Toki no Koto” (About the Time I Was Hospitalized for Malignant Lymphoma), in which he chronicles his road to recovery as well as how he got the idea for his award-nominated series Hirayasumi.

This first volume of Hirayasumi opens to…an exasperated Hiroto Ikuta with a camera trying to rush his younger female cousin Natsumi, so he can snap a photo of her first day of attending college. Hiroto is twenty-nine years old, almost blissfully carefree and lives life at a slow pace with a job at a simple fishing pond. He has lucked out into inheriting a slightly shabby but great little house in the heart of the city. He wishes he could fall in love but hasn’t figured out how to do so in the city he calls home. Months ago, he befriended Hanae Wada: a crabby but secretly lonely and secretly very sweet older woman who would invite him over to eat a home cooked meal. Nicknamed Granny by Hiroto, their visits together twice a week were anticipated by both of them. Both oddballs, they became like family to each other…until Granny’s passing.

Meant for teen audiences, Hirayasumi is a manga featuring characters experiencing and attempting to deal with anxiety, confusion, and grief. While the work is not as slow paced as other series and books in the genre, the manga’s true charm is developing a narrative about found family (Hiroto and Granny) and re-connecting with your real family (Hiroto and Natsumi). Hiroto, obviously grateful for the house left to him, still has moments of grieving her and not feeling like he enriched her life. He did–the flashback scene of how she came to the realization that she wanted to leave the young man her home is a tear-jerking one.

The manga also works really well with these young adult characters coming to understand how they are coming across transitional periods in their lives. Natsumi is eighteen years old and is learning that she has to grow up a bit, living away from home and in a bigger city. Being responsible for herself and finding her way through college, friendships, and achieving her secret dreams, is harder than she expected, even though she still has her big cousin as support. For Hiroto, a good ten years older than her, he’s learning to be responsible for someone else–even though this is his beloved baby cousin. She’s moody, grown up, and changed from the cute little girl he once knew yet, almost practically a stranger at this point. Hiroto’s still in her corner as he ponders big on other things like a married friend who announces fatherhood is on the way and lets him know that they’ll be hanging out less in the future. He’s not upset at his dear friend; he is happy for him and wondering on what he should or should not be doing in life–himself.

A plus of the artwork that I love so much in Hirayasumi is the mangaka’s dedication to expressive faces and body language: I think of the panel of Hiroto bursting into laughter noticing that his cousin Natsumi looked like a little Kokeshi doll with his extra motorcycle helmet on her head and the solemn face she gives him. I think of the page of the utter despair of drunk (and underage) Natsumi calling her older cousin for help after she was abandoned by the bunch of cool kids who talked her into drinking with them at the college mixer event. I’m also a really big fan of Shinzo’s attention to detail in his artwork here and how he uses the backgrounds like a space, a room to hint at the personality of a character.

A glimpse of both Hiroto and Natsumi’s room reveal so much about the two: Granny’s altar seems to be in the older cousin’s room, his bed is unmade, and as the cook of the house he has a food magazine in there. Hiroto takes life at its own pace: his bedroom is another part of his home, and his space is a bit cluttered but his own. As for Natsumi: she looks to have a simple futon, canvases and painting supplies (her college major), and things obviously brought from home like her desktop computer, Nintendo switch handheld gaming system, and cute things like plushies and figurines on her bookshelf. She’s a young college student with what she needs for her education with goodies from home–not unlike any other freshman in college. She came prepared with everything she needed, and yet she is still struggling.

At the end of the day, Granny’s home which becomes Hiroto’s home which also becomes the shared home with Natsumi is a safe place, a refuge from the world for both cousins. The mangaka makes sure to humanize the house in such a way that feels like an additional character in the manga. It is seen as homely and shabby, but it is clean and full of wonderful little details in the shared rooms like the refrigerator door with the photos, the cute tablecloth in the kitchen where the two cousins eat meals together. (Not related to manga but if you’re a fan of Japanese literature and you’ve read Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen novella, you’ll get me.) Seeing more and more of the house in each chapter feels like getting to know a new friend over time and the mangaka takes advantage of that with more small details and events that happen at the house.

As I read each chapter of Hirayasumi, I could not help but feel this is a manga that will land in the comfort manga category for readers. The little house itself is a simple one-story home known simply in Japanese as a hiraya. Yet for these two young people, learning to live with each other and figure out life as they know it amidst the transitions and everyday problems, the little home has become their place of rest, their place to retire from the world. Hirayasumi is for the slice of life lovers, the Seinen genre fans and those who love ordinary stories about ordinary people moving through life.

There’s a lot of awkwardness, sadness, and uncomfortable feelings in Hirayasumi and readers will cringe, laugh, and might even tear up reading through the chapters. I loved reading Keigo Shinzo’s English language manga debut and appreciate his way of bringing together people and how maybe being a bit more carefree in life is the answer to making it. There is a character later introduced who Hiroto and Natsumi come across who throws a much-needed monkey wrench in Hiroto’s way of life, and I am excited at the friction she causes and their next meeting in the next volume.

At heart, Hirayasumi is a story about family and being able to come home to a home when life’s got you down that I’ve reread a few times already. Keigo Shinzo’s English language manga debut is a slice of life dream that tackles growing up, discovery, and having a safe place in the world as key to surviving anything that is sure to hook readers in for a new series to look forward to.

Hirayasumi Volume 1 is published through Viz and can be found where comics and manga are sold. If you’re wondering if you should check out Hirayasumi, VIZ Editors recommend that Insomniacs After School, Sunny, and Downfall are all similar reads if you’re still on the fence about this new series!

Thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to have a review copy!

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  • Carrie McClain is writer, editor and media scholar. Other times she's known as a Starfleet Communications Officer, Comics Auntie, and Golden Saucer Frequenter. Nowadays you can usually find her avoiding Truck-kun and forgetting her magical girl transformation device. She/Her

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