It makes me a little wistful to think that Tesoro is probably the last work by Natsume Ono that Viz will debut, at least for a while. Viz was responsible for introducing English-language readers to Ono’s work, at least in licensed form, and they’ve provided a steady supply since not simple arrived at the beginning of 2010. There’s more House of Five Leaves to come, which is reassuring, but Viz has pretty much run through her catalog of works that ran in Shogakukan’s IKKI or Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F.
She’s got a number of titles in progress, mostly for Kodansha’s Morning magazines, but Viz has almost never published a Kodansha title. Kodansha itself seems to be reluctant to publish its own seinen works, so the best hope of Ono fans would probably be Vertical. As for the yaoi titles she created under the name BASSO, I have no idea who might publish those, though perhaps Viz’s new boys’-love line might be a possible home.
I can see why Viz saved Tesoro for last. It’s charming, but it benefits from having a larger view of Ono’s body of work. It contains some of her earlier short works for magazines like IKKI and some self-published stories, and I can see it gaining a non-manga audience. It’s very much in an indie-comics vein, especially if we’re talking about recent indie comics where the creators seem to feel freer to indulge in some genial whimsy.
Readers who are familiar with the rather leisurely pace Ono adopts for her longer works might wonder how she manages a smaller number of pages. (Ono herself expresses skepticism about her abilities in this vein, though mangaka rarely sound confident in their author notes.) Given her facility for small, finely articulated moments, she proves to be a natural at short stories. There’s a lot of charming material in Tesoro, and while the tone tends to be genial, there’s a surprising amount of variety on display.
My favorite entry is “Senza titolo 1,” which dips into Ono’s beloved well of grumpy older Italian men. A sophisticated lady helps a doctor friend make his way home on a night when he’s had too much to drink. She learns the source of his distress, and, while he’s helped her in his capacity as a psychologist, she discovers that they share some of the same anxieties. It’s lovely and sad, and it’s probably the most sleekly drawn piece in the collection.
Other charmers here include the third of “Three Short Stories About Bento,” which is spare in its details but very emotionally potent in an understated way. It focuses clearly and compassionately on a parent-child relationship, which is also familiar Ono territory, and she revisits that ground a few times in this collection. In the “Froom family” shorts, she introduces a father who tries to carve out special time for his son that will give the kid a break from his bossy older sisters. I liked the quirky, chatty “Padre” strips about a baker with three demanding children better than “Senza titolo #6,” where we see the kids as somewhat dysfunctional adults.
Speaking of dysfunctional adults, or at least near-adults, the contingent that found not simple a bit too much will probably see its seeds in “Eva’s Memory.” I personally loved not simple, but I can look at “Eva’s Memory” and see justification for the accusations of contrivance and maudlin melodrama. “Senza titolo #5” is flawed in some of the same ways, but it’s on the sweeter side, so it’s easier to take.
On the whole, it’s a wonderful sampler of a lot of Ono’s core sensibilities. There are many characters here who have reason to be sad or discontent trying to focus on their pleasures and blessings. There’s a lot of eating and aimless chatter. And there are a lot of nicely observed moments, especially among messy, loving families. If you like Ono, Tesoro is essential, and if you’re unfamiliar with her work, it’s a good, gentle introduction that gives you a sense of her range.