Taiyo Matsumoto’s Realistic and Poetic Touches Shine in ‘Tokyo Higoro’

The cover of the first volume of “Tokyo Higoro” by Taiyo Matsumoto published from Shogakukan Inc.

Tokyo Higoro
by Taiyo Matsumoto (Shogakukan)

In the previous installment of this column, I introduced Fujiko F. Fujio’s “Mirai no Omoide” (“Remembrance of the Future”) as the original “manga-ka manga,” or manga about a mangaka. There is a scene where Nando, the protagonist, receives a warning from his editor after boasting that he has acquired a knack for drawing manga. The editor, who has worked with Nando for a long time, tells him, “I would’ve liked you to keep on struggling for as long as you draw.” Nando becomes furious and snaps, “Are you saying my work is stuck in a rut?!”

“Tokyo Higoro,” drawn about 30 years later, has an almost identical scene. Only the protagonist here is not a mangaka but an editor who offers mangaka bitter yet candid advice.

Shiozawa, who has devoted 30 years of his life as a manga editor of a major publisher, quits in order to take responsibility for a magazine that he launched but was discontinued after two years. He tries to rid his life of manga, only to find it impossible for him to break free. Eventually, Shiozawa decides to spend his retirement money to produce an “ideal manga book.” One by one, he visits several mangaka that he has worked with in the past and asks them to draw a new work for his magazine.

The mangaka he visits include a veteran who has lost his former luster, an old mangaka who has decided to never draw again and now works as a cleaner of an apartment complex, and a woman who has parted ways with Shiozawa to draw manga that sells. Each of them has their own life. Each of them lives a life that is irreplaceable. Can Shiozawa persuade them and stir their creative souls again?

Taiyo Matsumoto, known for such works as “Tekkonkinkreet” and “Ping Pong,” has the most artistic drawing lines in the manga scene today. Although he now enjoys international acclaim, he was apparently seen as too peculiar to be popular early on in his career. Now that Matsumoto has taken up the subject of manga itself, how can it be anything other than entertaining?

First of all, Shiozawa’s character design is impressive. A single man in his 50s who does not explicitly show his emotions, he is an old-fashioned editor who empathetically and quietly stands by his creators. His pursuit of what he considers an ideal manga magazine is close to an attempt at resurrecting Garo, an avant-garde manga magazine from half a century ago, which had a cult-like following. Even though Garo featured talented artists like Yoshiharu Tsuge as regular contributors, Shiozawa’s dream is extremely outdated, to put it bluntly.

This single-mindedness of Shiozawa, however, moves the hearts of the mangaka who are tired of worrying about their popularity and sales figures. In the first pages of “Tokyo Higoro,” Shiozawa candidly tells a popular veteran mangaka, “Your recent works are like a pipe dream. Please don’t run away from manga.” His blood boiling, the mangaka retorts, “What the!” He eventually agrees to Shiozawa’s offer, though. This scene is similar to what happened to Nando in “Memories of the Future,” where he gets angry at the editor, but then runs down the stairs to apologize. The two manga works, created 30 years apart, clearly resonate with each other.

At the end of the day, it may be that “Tokyo Higoro” is itself a fictional pipe dream. And yet, I am impressed by how realistic and poetic it has turned out when depicted by Taiyo Matsumoto.

When I read this manga, I feel certain that manga has reached the loftiness of artistic literature. At the same time, this probably also indicates that manga expression has reached its full maturity. If so, manga may have started its long descent of aging.

Shiozawa alone is still living the youthful years of manga. That is why he is so dazzling.