The second volume of Inio Asano’s two-book mini-series,What A Wonderful World! (Viz Media), is very much of a piece with the first: more elegantly rendered intertwined vignettes (a.k.a. "tracks") about urban kids and young adults, struggling to make sense of a world where random catastrophe and cruelty exist alongside cherry blossoms and the simple pleasures of a bowl of ramen noodles. Though primarily realistic in his storytelling approach, Asano is not averse to slipping in a few fantastic elements: a possible hallucination by a battered man who may or may not have an encounter with a shinigami, a mysterious epidemic that makes “you totally stop thinking.”
“In a way,” one of World’s battered young protagonists thinks about the latter as he prepares to take his afflicted sister out to view the spring blossoms, “it’s a pretty convenient illness for the modern man.”
As with the first book, several telling motifs pop up in volume two: references to cram school, Japanese society’s childhood destroying educational sausage factory; the risks of Samaritan action; substance abuse and ruinous family miscommunication. In the volume’s title story, a convenience store clerk sees a stray dog with two arrows in it — the work of punk kids using the mutt for target practice, he thinks. He lets the dog loose without bothering to try and remove the arrows. “I didn’t say I was going to rescue you,” he tells the animal, yet later, when he sees it bandaged and in the company of a homeless man he’s heartened by the sight. “The world’s not all that hopeless, after all,” he says with a smile, even as the reader realizes that the guy hasn’t done a damn thing himself to alleviate that sense of hopelessness.
In another “track,” the acting editor of a porno mag half-successfully tries to balance his job responsibilities with his role as a husband and father: the crass and the humane both competing for his attention. That Asano is able to give both sides their due is a large part of the art in this crafty manga mini-series.