Thursday, January 13, 2022

Asadora!, Vol. 2 by Naoki Urasawa

Middle volumes are tough to write about, particularly for a series that the reader expects will run for a while. For the fairly early books: how do you tell what will be really important in the end, and what's just scene-setting? For the books deep into the series: how do you even describe what's happening among characters with hundreds of pages of backstory?

Asadora!, Vol. 2 is a middle volume - the first middle volume of this series, he said puckishly. Like the first book, it's by Naoki Urasawa, a highly respected manga-ka whose work I'm only vaguely familiar with. My post on the first book is scheduled to go live in three days as I write this, so I am hoping I remember to turn some of the words in this sentence into a link. (If I didn't, I apologize. Use the search function.)

The series centers on Asa: she was about nine in the first book, set in 1959 during a massive typhoon. From some narration in that book, I believe the series will follow her up to something like the present day, likely hitting just a few major events years apart. And I think "events" will mostly be disasters. There's a Godzilla-sized monster that has not yet been clearly seen, lurking around the fringes of the story - it's a good bet to assume that will cause some more disasters.

In the aftermath of that typhoon, Asa teamed up with her kidnapper - it was a pretty weird mentor/mentee meet-cute, I guess, but Urasawa made it plausible - to semi-commandeer a small airplane to airdrop food parcels to people stuck in floodwaters. Urasawa depicted the authorities, at least the local cops, as either completely incompetent or just entirely overwhelmed, completely unable to cope with the size of the disaster. But one girl and one critically-injured thief, supported by a street of rice-ball-making shopkeepers, could feed a huge swath of Nagoya.

This second volume picks up in the middle of that rescue effort: it's a few moments later, on the same day, as the end of the first book. Asa and Kasuga (the kidnapper) are still air-dropping rice-balls to survivors, but other dramatic events interfere with that as the book goes on.

Well, actually, there's a chapter before we pick back up - a team of scientists are in a jungle somewhere, looking for something, and arguing fiercely about whether they should keep going or turn back. (It is a bit cliched, I have to admit.) And then they see a tree with a gigantic claw-mark - dun dun DUNNNNNN!

This book ends the 1959 episode, with Asa finding some survivors important to her and getting something that will be major in her life. That takes about three-quarters of the book; the rest begins a new episode, set in 1964. (The year of the Tokyo Olympics, in case we have forgotten.) Asa is now a teenager, and has somewhat different problems. Kaguya is still around, and his past is causing complications.

Oh, and the Godzilla-sized-thing is still out there: a few more scraps of evidence pop up just before the end of this volume, and there's a connection back to that squabbling-scientists first chapter.

At some point, Asa will be flying a plane around or above that monster, probably dropping something on it. But that has not happened yet. Maybe next volume it will attack the Tokyo Olympics!

This is zippy and fun, but it's not clear where it's going or how long getting there will take. Are we going to get ~350 pages for each episode, and will those episodes be set about five years apart up to the present day? If so, that would imply Asadora! could be as much as 7000 pages and thirty-five volumes. But those are massive assumptions; it could be a lot shorter. (It could, I suppose, actually be longer, too - manga is a format that is not afraid of multi-thousand-page stories.)

So far, there's a whole lot of mystery, a whole lot of spunky-girl stuff, and very few answers. That's fine for a beginning, but the balance will need to tip at some point: I hope sooner than seven thousand pages from now.

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