From the stack: Kingyo Used Books vol. 3

Seimu Yoshizaki’s Kingyo Used Books (Viz) has been rightly (if harshly) criticized for its reliance on formula and simplistic sentimentality, so I thought it was worth noting that the third volume expands the boundaries of the series in some successful and satisfying ways.

For those who haven’t sampled the series online, it’s about a bookstore that specializes in manga. Customers come in and reconnect with an old favorite in ways that resonate with something that’s going on in their lives. It’s very affirming of fandom across the lifespan, and a little of that can go a long way, particularly in a fairly rigidly episodic format.

There’s a nice two-part story in the third volume that steps away from Kingyo and its customer-of-the-month fixation. In it, a salaryman leaves the corporate world to take over a manga rental library. Remembering a youthful transgression, he sets out to collect the books that were never returned to the library. He’s not punitive about it, but he’s willing to go to rather ridiculous extremes to reclaim some of the lost volumes.

It’s a nice change of pace. It also features (or possibly creates) another kind of shared fan touchstone that’s pleasant to see, even if Yoshizaki has manufactured it entirely. (Do Japanese people actually swap manga when they chance to meet each other abroad? I have no idea, but it’s a nice notion.) And the chapters give me fodder for another license request. (Jiro Taniguchi worked on a food manga? The mind reels.)

On the down side, an episodic structure sometimes promises a predictable number of duds. For me, the biggest disappointment in this volume was a piece spun around the manga of the wonderful Kazuo Umezu. It’s about a ladies’ man who sets his sights on a hardcore Umezu fan in spite of his aversion to horror. Given how distinctive Umezu’s work is, you’d think Yoshizaki might have tried to incorporate some of Umezu’s iconic weirdness into the piece. You’d think wrong. Nobody even wears a striped shirt.

But, stumbles and sentiment aside, Kingyo Used Books is never less than gently likable. I’m not sure it benefits from reading in big chunks, but you don’t have to, what with the SigIKKI serialization.