Friday, April 07, 2017

Tonoharu Part 3 by Lars Martinson

(Book Review)

So, I don't know if anyone remembers this, but I reviewed Tonoharu Parts 1 and 2 on this blog 2 years ago.

It was a slight breach of protocol for me.  In the first place, I don't usually include comic books on my book review project, and secondly, I probably should have waited until the whole series was completed before I rushed in with my two cents.

But the books jogged enough of my memories from the JET program that I found it impossible to resist commenting.

And now here I am with part 3.

I don't really have too much to say about part 3.  To be perfectly honest, if I hadn't already blogged about parts 1 and 2, I wouldn't be blogging about about part 3 now.  But since I started to talk about Tonoharu, I feel like it would be incomplete not to talk about part 3.

So here we go.

The Review
A lot of the same things I said for parts 1 and 2 hold true for this as well.
Tonoharu perfectly captures the day-to-day monotony that is living in a small town in Japan as an assistant English teacher.

There's a certain genius in how well Lars Martinson conveys just how monotonous a JET's life can be.  You kind of have to admire his skill.  His panels of the character sitting alone and walking alone in a small town in Japan so perfectly convey the isolation many JETs feel.

And the same time, you have to ask why anyone would want to read this?  Certainly this has got to be of limited interested to anyone who is not a JET, right? least on the plus side it's short.  It's a comic book, after all, and not a long one at that.  I think from the time I opened up the first page to the time I got to the last panel was only about 30 minutes.
The artwork is meticulously detailed.  If you're interested in art, you should find Lars Martinson's panel drawings interesting.
I'm not particularly interested in art, so this was all wasted on me.  I didn't even realize how much artistry there was in the book until I saw some of Lars Martinson's youtube videos on it.

My Own Reflections
I spent much of my review of parts 1 and 2 talking about my own experiences on the JET program, so I'll comment here on my own experiences as well.

As I said in my review of parts 1 and 2, I did at times feel isolated in small town Japan, just like the protagonist in Tonoharu.  I think every JET feels this way sometimes.  But more often than not, I loved my time in Japan.  I felt like I was on some big adventure--especially in the first couple years.  So it's important to keep things in perspective.

On another note:
Another thing I noticed teaching English in Japan is that the first year junior high school students (7th graders) would come in with lots of enthusiasm to learn English.  They were very interested in America and American culture and they really wanted to learn English.
Sadly, within a few months of studying English at the junior high school level, that enthusiasm would be drained out of them.
It was really sad.  At the time I thought the Japanese education system was to blame, but maybe some of this dropping in enthusiasm would be inevitable with any foreign language study.

Anyway, Tonoharu part 3 does a good job of depicting exactly this phenomenon.
To its credit, Tonoharu doesn't blame the Japanese teachers.  It shows that the Japanese teachers are just as much victims of the system as the students are.
In the comic, one character, a Japanese teacher of English, explains. "They [the first year students] are so interested in English and AETs [Assistant English Teachers--i.e. Westerners]. We teachers want to protect the students' enthusiasm.  But we have to prepare them for high school entrance exam.  And there is so much to study.  We have to advance too quickly.  The result is students lose their enthusiasm.  They only remember for the test.  But if we slow down, students aren't ready for high school entrance exams.  And parents are angry.  We can't find a good solution. "  (p.76-77)

This book also captures what is the best part of being an Assistant English Teacher in Japan--how enthusiastic the students can be about getting a chance to talk to you.
I loved the chance to talk to students who really wanted to talk to me.  It was the best job in the world when you got to interact with the students.
However, as is also depicted in Tonoharu many of the students could be shy and awkward.  They wanted to talk to you, but they struggled to work up the courage.
Since I was a bit shy and awkward myself, sometimes my self-consciousness and the student's self-consciousness would combine to make some really awkward interactions.

Links to Interesting Videos
The author and artist, Lars Martinson, has a couple of Youtube videos in which he describes his experience creating this book.  Watching these videos has given me a new appreciation for the artistry behind this book (something that I'll admit did not immediately grasp me when I first read it).

Introducing Tonoharu

More from Lars Martinson's Tonoharu

4 Time-Saving Tips (from a guy who spent 13 YEARS drawing a comic)

Video Review
Video review here and embedded below

Link of the Day
Chomsky: Humanitarian Intervention Propaganda

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