It’s a gorgeous, sunny PM here and that lovely afternoon quiet has descended on our little corner of the world for the time being. I don’t feel like catching up on the housework (let’s face it, I’m never going to be caught up on the housework), I don’t feel like sanding down the woodwork as I planned to do. Instead I’ve been rereading the next two volumes of Ishizuka’s Flying Witch (I wrote about volumes 1 and 2 here) and wallowing … luxuriating, even … in the harmless, peaceful, adorable world of Makoto and her friends.
I have only just learned that there is a subgenre of Japanese ‘slice-of-life’ manga and anime called iyashikei. It translates as ‘healing’ and is created for that purpose, to sooth its readers/viewers and draw their attention away from their worries, to remind them of the small joys in life. This is exactly what Flying Witch does for me, and it delights me no end that the Japanese have a whole category of fiction marked out for this purpose. Sometimes you really do just need to have your mind drawn back to the sudden greenery of the world around you after the rain, the lovely order found in a thriving vegetable patch, or the beauty of an early morning mist. I was puzzled by Flying Witch when I first read it. I couldn’t understand how something in which so very little actually happens could exist, let alone continue to exist into multiple volumes. Now I know that this is a thing in Japanese culture – and I’m fascinated to know why and how – I feel a little bit warmer and fuzzier inside. And I was already feeling pretty fuzzy today …
In volume 3 Makoto, Kei and Chinatsu visit a supernatural café owned by a witch and her daughter and employing a ghost waitress. The three also get their fortunes told by Inukai the dog-faced witch (I’m not being rude, she’s a furry dog-like person during the daytime because of a curse), Nao visits and helps harvest Makoto’s radishes, Akane, Makoto and Chinatsu visit a flying whale, and everyone has hotcakes for breakfast. In volume 4 Makoto makes herself and Chinatsu new witches’ robes and a new cat bed for Chito; Kei, Makoto and Nao do a cookery class together at school, and Makoto meets up with her motorbike-riding mentor Akira. Afterwards she and Inukai go for a walk on the beach where they meet an odd little creature who goes home with them. They name the creature ‘Beachy’.
As you can see it’s all pretty small stuff. The most surreal it’s gotten so far is the flying whale and Beachy the rabbit-totoro-balloon-creature – I really don’t know what to make of Beachy, he’s (she’s?) both kind of cute and kind of creepy – and even then these things aren’t having a massive impact on the world or the characters. There’s no tension at all. We’re all just along for the ride around this beautiful, rural place with occasional glimpses into the world of witches and “those from the other side”. And yet it’s utterly bewitching. The ghost waitress is so shy she wears a mask when she finds out Makoto and co can see her. Inukai brings a gift of azuki bean sweets when she visits (I’d have guests round way more often if I knew they’d bring sweets with them). Kei is the ‘Hotcake Machine’ because he’s so good at making them. Makoto strikes silly, funny poses in the night-time streets when she thinks no-one can see her.
Ishizuka’s artwork too is just lovely. They (I cannot find any information about Ishizuka) find interesting angles and lines of sight, describes the characters’ body language with such attention to detail that each of them have their own ways of moving and expressing themselves, and regularly intersperses the action panels with what I can only think to call mood panels: a glimpse of the sky on a sunny afternoon, a hole in the roof of a derelict building, the still corner of a room in the evening, an aerial, a spring blossom, an empty road. These small views of incidental things keep the pace slow and easy, even while the characters are chatting and laughing and exploring. It’s like the landscape around them is as much a character as they are. A big, calm, benign character.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Ishizuka likes food too. Food is celebrated here as something healing and as something that brings people together. There’s cake and sweets of course, but also fiddlehead fern (Stardew Valley anyone?) and pickled radishes, beautiful bento boxes, choco-pies and, of course, those big, fluffy hotcakes. It’s all lovingly, mouth-wateringly drawn and just makes me think of all the really great home cooking I’ve had over my lifetime (both our mother and maternal grand-mother were wonderful cooks), and how I need to keep that going, not just because I love food (all of it, all of the time), but as a way of keeping in touch with that part of my upbringing too.
I can’t recommend Flying Witch enough to anyone looking for a doorway into a quiet, private room in their heads where they can chuckle at the innocent doings of a small group of friends and their way of life without having to worry about larger things like plot development, dramatic tension, themes, or literary devices. If you like manga and there is even a little part of you that finds the idea of a cat being a scholar of anthropology amusing, give these sweet little books a go.
Now I’m going to go see if I can find out about pickling radishes …