Monday , June 24 2024
Offshore Lightning

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Offshore Lightning’ by Saito Nazuna from Drawn+Quarterly

Offshore Lightning

Offshore Lightning by Nazuna Saito, published by Drawn and Quarterly, is a collection standing apart from typical manga fare. It draws its explorations of theme from characters and settings, much like other comics, but the stories are told in far more day-to-day, literal life. This is ironic since so much of Offshore Lightning is about death, but what would life be without considering its end?

Most life stories of manga-creators involve growing up reading manga and practicing drawing from an early age. Not with Saito. As shared in the included essay by Mitsuhiro Asakawa, translated by Alexa Frank, Saito served as a journalist and office worker for much of her career. While she had read manga magazines like Garo in college, she came into drawing by producing four-panel comic strips in textbooks and illustrating sports reporting.

After moonlighting with further illustration jobs, Saito said she thought to herself, “I wonder if I can make money doing manga.” She submitted her first completed story to the Big Comic Newcomer Grand Prize in 1986 at age 40, earning an honorable mention. From there, her work blossomed through the 1990s.

Saito’s inspiration for the stories in Offshore Lightning come from her previous careers. The titular story is based on a geisha she interviewed while a journalist, for example. The story illustrates the lives of Ama pearl divers who work hard in the daytime diving deep into the water seeking treasures and then come to a second job in the sex industry at night, all trying to make ends meet in a region of Japan left behind by the modern economy. “Countdown,” showing the last moments together of a man and his dying father, comes literally from her own experiences, including the sudden appearance of a bird allowing emotions to finally flow.

The final two stories in Offshore Lightning, “In Captivity” and “House of Solitary Death,” come two decades after the others. Due to family illness and teaching opportunities, Saito took a long absence from drawing. She returned with fresh tales demonstrating the struggles of caring for Japan’s aging population.

These stories tend more to the surreal than earlier, more journalistic manga, though the dreams are seen through the eyes of the characters. Saito shows that as people age, the world becomes a series of visions with more questions than answers. These pages make for some of Saito’s most vivid work, with near-photographic realism just a few panels over from sweeping ethereal portraits of what could be human, animal, or spirit.

In both its old stories and its newer ones, Offshore Lightning shows Saito’s masterful storytelling through the strong perspectives of her characters. Each tale is an in-the-moment interview, often with the protagonists telling the reader their thoughts as they witness the world around them or reminisce about things gone by. This makes the fantastical, such as an impromptu stop at a bar after a long day in “Buy Dog Food, Then Go Home,” all the more real since we witness it just as the characters do, never knowing what to expect next in the mundane world.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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