I’ve been curious to read more of Noda Matsumoto’s work ever since I reviewed their manga I Want to Feel You Because I Like You. Though it flubbed the ending, it had excellent writing up until that point as well as a consistently soft and vulnerable aesthetic. Now, I’ve had the opportunity to read Matsumoto’s collection Show Courage. It features five short boys’ love stories that vary in content from schoolboy romance to a mystical tale involving a sphinx cat with the power to grant three wishes. Do these short manga gel together effectively? Is Show Courage good?
The best story in this collection is easily “My Roll Dawn”. The first aspect that stands out about it is the sense of atmospheric unreality in its line-work. Take, for instance, an early panel of the protagonist, Seiji, standing in the hallway of an apartment complex. Matsumoto frames the shot with a fisheye lens, giving the setting a distorted look. The jagged unevenness of lines one would expect to be straight (i.e. door frames) also contributes to the effect. The whole scene has a dreamy quality to it and, appropriately enough, the story later features a literal dream sequence that draws upon various recurring themes in a way that conveys Seiji’s hazy mental state.
Which brings us to the plot of the story. “My Roll Dawn” is the only manga in the collection in which there is no romantic relationship or sex outside of the aforementioned dream sequence. It’s very much the tale of a young man experiencing homosexual feelings he doesn’t know how to process after happening to see a man he finds attractive while working his newspaper delivery job. The quick pace of the writing matches the velocity with which Seiji’s life throws new stimuli at him, though there are also fantastically slowed down moments where Seiji’s exploits get more grounded. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is an important reference that comes up again and again via lovely rye fields that contrast effectively against the cold foreboding nature of the manga’s more urban imagery. All in all, this is a fantastic snapshot of queer male introspection following an interaction so fleet one could hardly even call it a missed connection.
The collection’s titular story is also an enjoyable one. It stars a young man named Maki who meets a magical sphinx cat and contemplates the morality of using wishes to influence how his crush feels about him. The writing throughout is excellent, both where the human drama and the mystical are concerned. The cat brings both humor and tension as Matsumoto does an excellent job rendering its skin folds and harsh, judgmental eyes. There’s also a great sense of energy to the characters’ motions and shifts between panels and their subject matter. The sex scene in this story is also easily the most well-done in the volume.
Show Courage’s other stories also impress, though they’re comparatively more flawed. “On Your Mark” starts out as a charming depiction of young love until a forced sex scene disrupts the momentum and innocent vibes. “Distressed Boy” also has similar issues. Its depiction of a grade school boy dealing with his homosexuality is solidly written, but again, there’s a sex scene that feels unneeded and, given the ages of the characters, distastefully graphic in how its depicted. Then there’s “The Secret Hot Spring Boys Trip of Two” which is about an adult gay couple who go to a hot spring where they get into a lot of smutty antics. It’s definitely the manga with the least depth to it, but it’s not bad for what it is.
All in all Show Courage is a very enjoyable collection that impresses with the high quality and expressiveness of its artwork, as well as the variety of thoughtfully handled subject matter. From the titular story’s magical realism bent to “My Roll Dawn” and its depiction of how a single encounter can affect someone deeply, there’s a lot to love here. With that said, some of the other stories undermine their own effectiveness by forcing in sex scenes that spoil the mood and/or disrupt the natural flow of events. Nonetheless, the positive aspects of this volume far outweigh the negatives.