Quick Review: Cigarette Girl / by Masahiko Matsumoto

Cigarette GirlCigarette Girl

by Masahiko Matsumoto

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took time for me to like this book. I nearly put it down. I just wasn’t sure what to make of it. But, as the stories progressed they built on each other. Not so much as they were connected (although some were), just that it took time and effort for me to get into the rhythm of Matsumoto’s writing. By the half-way point, I was completely hooked.

Matsumoto was a contemporary (And friend) to Yoshihiro Tatsumi, but unlike his contemporary his work is subtly lighthearted, and almost comical. It’s not quite the serious dramatic pictures that you get from Tatsumi’s work. There’s a richness to be found in the absolutely uneventful moments in less-than-ordinary life that he writes about. He’s not portraying the ordinary life of ordinary people, but more the people who are on the outskirts of ordinary: from geisha to modern=day door-to-door condom sales girls (apparently, that’s a thing).

I wouldn’t say the artwork is stunning, but I kind of loved it. It was subtle enough to display complicated emotions, and to distinguish between characters, and weird enough to lighten-up the mood.

The only real complaint I have about this book is its lack of “cultural commentary”. Usually in manga, especially titles with harder topics, there are footnotes on cultural specific situations, phrases, events, and reasons for translation decisions. There were several times in the comic that I knew I was missing the “cultural significance”. And, in a title as subtle as this, any additional help would have been greatly appreciated.

And, because of the obscure nature and the lack of footnotes in this comic, I would probably recommend getting into gekiga with something a bit easier (like Tatsumi’s “Black Blizzard”) before you tried this one. Certainly I think that this is a worthwhile read, but it’s not an easy first-comic. I would probably recommend this title, if you already like gekiga, alternative or art comics, or are a fan of Yoshihiro Tatsumi (there’s a nice foreword written by Tatsumi about his friend Matsumoto).

It took a while for me to get into this book, but it was absolutely worth the work. I’ve certainly never read anything like Masahiko’s, Cigarette Girl, and am definitely planning to read it again, and excited to read more by him in the future.

I received a free digital copy from Netgalley for an honest review.