The second volume of Jiro Taniguchi and Natsuo Sekikawa’s tremendous “The Times of Botchan” completes a single story arc, telling of Natsume Soseki’s transition from struggling teacher to full-time author as well as the transition of feudal Japan into the modernization of the Meiji era.
“The Times of Botchan” is a literate, intelligent comic series that shows that manga is so much more than cute girls with big eyes and small mouths. The art is highly detailed and yet retains a specific style, and the story is a journey through history while still being an engaging narrative.
This first volume concluded with Soseki’s unwilling ousting of Lafcadio Hearn from his teaching position at the First Higher School and his gathering of ideas for the characters who would eventually populate Botchan. In this second volume, Soseki is still seeking inspiration in those around him, from the stodgy old man who would become the principal of Botchan’s school, before finally setting down to write his novel.
Writing a book about someone writing a book can drag, and Taniguchi and Sekikawa add action to Soseki’s writing scenes by means of a judo tournament where Natsumi’s friend Ota is attempting to win two hundred yen so that he can build a better life. The Judo competition becomes a metaphor for Soseki’s inner struggle between desire to be a writer and the real-life financial demands placed on him as head of the household. All of those around Soseki are facing their own personal challenges and transitions, and these are woven into the main narrative.
I really cannot recommend “The Times of Botchan” enough. If you enjoy and are familiar with Japanese literature, then this series brings to life those famous names and shows how they interacted with each other during the dawning of a new era in Japan.