Written and Drawn by Lars Martinson
Published by
Pliant Press/Top Shelf

Daniel Wells has undertaken an adventure that most only dream about: he’s left his life behind, traveled across the ocean, and taken up residence in Japan to work as an assistant English teacher in a nearby high school. But it doesn’t take long for him to begin to question the decision: he’s struggling with the language; the only other American he knows is a woman a couple of train stops away, and she’s completely uninterested in him; the school administrators are somewhat uninterested in him; and the teachers have varying use for him, including, in one’s case, none whatsoever. The alienation is crushing. His original plan was to stick it out for a while, but that plan is looking very, very sketchy.

Lars Martinson himself spent years in Japan working as an assistant English teacher, lending this book a heavy dose of authenticity, both in look and in emotional content. The strength of this material lies in how well he gets across Dan’s struggles on a mental level, and that’s strongly based in one decision: he doesn’t translate. When Dan is hearing Japanese spoken that he doesn’t understand, we get the kanjis, not bracketed text telling us what’s really being said. That allows the reader to emotionally invest in the sense of how much an outsider Dan feels like he is in his new home. A great storytelling decision, and a brave one- there are many pages of the book where you are as left behind as the character.

Martinson is an adept artist as well. There’s nothing fancy about his work, but it is very simple and structured, and serves only the story and emotion of the text, never itself. He also has a keen eye for detail and never skimps on the backgrounds, always present in making his Japan a real place on the page. It’s really quite remarkable for someone working on his first major project.

TONOHARU is an excellent read, and one I would expect to be attractive to the library market in particular. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason