Truth: life as a young adult is hard. Straight out of high school, your dreams and hopes are still fresh. You constantly feel like you’re on the verge of something big. Dreams seem attainable. Time passes and nothing happens. You compare yourself to friends and fellow graduates, and wonder: what went wrong? How did I get here? How do I change it now? Can I go back? What a Wonderful World! doesn’t answer these questions; it illustrates the paths chosen by a cast of interconnected characters and how they find hope in the face of reality.
The two-volume series by Inio Asano (Solanin, Nijigihara Holograph) contains nine short “tracks” about modern life. Each track begins with a character’s internal monologue about how utterly dismal everything is. Life happens (encounters with friends, family, even enemies and strangers), and by the end of each track, the lesson is learned: this is reality; accept it, find joy in the little things, and be happy. The story is then handed off to the next character, usually a friend or relative of the previous story’s main character. This suggests that everyone feels lost at some point — it’s just part of life.
Sound depressing? A little. But I believe it’s a gem of a book. I grew up reading shoujo manga, so I was a little hesitant after reading the blurb on the back cover: “What do you mean it’s about real life? Rated for ‘older teens’? Where’s my bishounen and love story?!” But the yellow and brown colour scheme for the cover was eye-catching, and the design was rather unique as it didn’t resemble those of traditional Japanese manga (of course, you should never judge a book by its cover). The drawing style was believable, in between cartoon and real life (no oddly proportioned people here!). Character design was accurate in portraying average, twenty-something people in an average town, living average lives.
I ended up loving it. Sombre, but with just the right amount of humour. In fact, I laughed out loud in the middle of a semi-quiet cafe during the last short story, titled “Syrup.” The story focuses on Syrup’s friend Tamotsu, who almost gives up his dream of becoming a photographer because of an argument with a mutual friend. Syrup, nicknamed thus because of his addiction to cough syrup, saves Tamotsu’s faith in photography during a tussin-induced high. In doing so, Syrup almost kills himself in a hilarious manner. The story doesn’t end there, but I’m not going to spoil it. The ending was bittersweet and brought a smile to my face.
Other stories include a girl who talks to and outwits a shinigami (Japanese death god) in the form of a crow; a kidnapper/thief who ends up befriending and giving stolen money to the girl he takes as a hostage; a girl who rediscovers love for her long-term boyfriend; and, a jaded bully who restores his belief in life again after being forced to talk to his victim, and that’s just to name a few. The quotes out of this book are enlightening. A few of my favourites include:
“Living sucks. And yet, I still want to live.”
“Don’t stress. We all live in our own ways. And we all have doubts about whether it’s right or wrong. But there isn’t a right or wrong way to live.”
“…You’ve probably realized that happiness never lasts. That fleetingness is why we have to cherish each and every day…”
They’re really common quotes, but they’re things people need to remember in order to be happy wherever they are in life.
What a Wonderful World! is written and drawn by Inio Asano, and is published by VIZ Signature. This two-volume manga is available for purchase at your favorite stores and online retailers today and can be purchased directly through the publisher here: