Red Snow is actually a bit tough to write about, because it touches on experiences so alien to my own.
It's about rural life in pre-industrial Japan. In this small town, life is the same as it's always been. But new people are born and raised, and they each strike a little flame.
As a short story collection, Red Snow can't be summed up; it's a series of glances into small-town life. Most of the stories strikes a non-judgmental stance: this is simply how people lived, rightly or wrongly.
The one primary exception is the first story, focused on a young boy who's observing a girl about his own age. She's the daughter of a prostitute, and is treated poorly by the adults of the village. The children, of course, copy the adults. Worse, there's nothing she can do about it, and she seems destined to follow her mother's path. It's touching and sad.
As with so many Japanese stories, one of Red Snow's strongest themes is relationship to community. What you do privately is nobody's concern, but letting that affect the community is a sin.
This intertwines with another theme: sex. It seems everyone is cheating on everyone else. And, again, that's seen as fine as long as there's no chance anyone will find out about it. Both sexes engage in this, too.
In fact, the title of the book stems from a story in which a girl loses her virginity. During a snowstorm, she waits inside a large log for her boyfriend to find her. Freud would have a field day.
Symbolism runs rampant in Red Snow, particularly in the more abstract stories about nature and intertwining relationships. It's a refreshing change from the soap opera tone of the other stories.
Several tales include elements of Japanese superstition, and this is another area in which the book is so alien. Kappa and other strange creatures are woven into the story, with no attempt made to separate them from village life. At first, I felt jarred by this, then I realized that it was realistic: that's exactly how these villagers related to kappa. As normal.
Perhaps that is Red Snow's greatest strength: it makes this alien world of pre-modern rural Japan real and relatable.
Artist/Writer: Susumu Katsumata
Published in: 1970's-1980's (Japan), 2009 (America)
American Publisher: D+Q
Genres: Slice-of-life, drama, adolescence
How obvious are the themes? Fairly subtle. This is a collection of short stories originally published separately over years, so the themes aren't as clear as they could be.
How's the art? Very 1970's.
Can I show it to my Mom? Depending on how open-minded she is. There's a fair amount of sex, implied or shown. At least none of it's explicit.
Can I show it to my kid brother? Well, there is all that sex.
Can I show it to a non-manga fan? Definitely, though be aware that this is a gekiga title. It looks, well, very 1970's.
Does it have any memorable moments? Quite a few, especially those dealing with small monsters and abstract representations of sex. I'm not kidding.
I'm implying that Red Snow is all about sex, which is unfair. It's just a major theme.
Availability: Easily available on sites like Amazon and RightStuf.
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