Suuchans laidback life takes a sharp turn into a strange place boasts a chapter insert for Kotonoba Drive. Nothing could be further from the truth if only because there really arent any sharp turns in Kotonoba Drive. Drive is as iyashikei as iyashikei gets. It is by design devoid of things like serious character development dramatic tension and excessive narrative motion. Instead like all iyashikei Kotonoba Drive lives and dies on the strength of its atmosphere and mood. Thankfully no one could ever accuse Kotonoba Drive of lacking either. The premise really could not be simpler. Suu who works at a spaghetti shack a small rural restaurant essentially ridiculously named Noodle Lamp with her boss and seemingly no one else. Every day she rides home from work on her motorcycle and every day for just five minutes another world intrudes on her own and engulfs her. These shifts arent treated with much of a sense of mysteryat least not of the solvable kind. Theyre treated a bit more like the small wonders of nature like the northern lights. Were told that Suu has been experiencing these shifts since she was a child and as such they no longer really phase her. And her appreciation for them and for the simple pleasure of riding her bike in the first place is palpable and infectious. To put it more simply this is a manga that manages to do a lot with very little and its adept at sucking you into its small worlds. The shifts explored in the manga take various forms and seem to vary in intensity though their exact nature is not a focus of the narrative and really there isnt a main narrative. The first has Suu stopping in a fog bank only to suddenly find herself just off of a shallow sea. In another she meets a mysterious redhaired girl who appears to be able to follow her on her bike no matter where she goes. In a third while waiting out the rain in her boss truck a portable shrine festival passes by in the midst of the lightning and thunder. In yet another she encounters a boy who locomotes via riding a giant beetle and gets a chance to briefly try riding the creature herself. By their very nature these slipstreams into another realm are limited in scope. Suus small amount of timejust five minutesprevents them from starting any fullon adventures as might take place in some other kind of manga but at the same time Suus exaggerated experiences are really quite reminiscent of the small joys of growing up in the countryside and discovering an unknown nook a small creek or pond an abandoned building and so on. Some of these are more unusual than others just as some of Suus shifts seem to come from our own world whereas others like the boy with the beetle from other worlds entirely but in a way that just deepens the similarity between Suus experiences and our own. 220 220 The mangakas soft impressionistic art style lends itself expertly to scenes like these. Where natural phenomena like glowing plankton in the ocean above or rain below are given a vaporous hazy quality that contrasts with Suu grounded and at the forefront. There is the occasional deeper dive. The beetleriding boy is reprised several chapters later when Suu meets his older sister and discovers that they live as spirits seemingly unnoticeable by most. A parrot that takes the form of a young girl appears twice and so on. It is sometimes implied that Suu is seeing the world as it really is as opposed to seeing things from somewhere else. But again the nature of her power if it can even be called that is not explored in detail. Later chapters also deemphasize Suus bikehaving her at work hitching a ride from her boss or her boss daughter Haruka another recurring character or hanging out with a friend when her episodes hittweaking the formula in the process. The eversoslight expansion of scope prevents the manga from getting stale as it might if it were strictly Suu alone on her bike all the time. Theres also the rare very slight spookiness but nothing that ever gets creepier than the most benign campfire tale. To reiterate Suu herself is really one of the main things that make the manga work. Shes an absolutely charming person caring content and possessing of more than one oddball habit a late chapter has her reveal to us that she sometimes collects acorns for no particular reason. Shes quirky but close enough to realistic that she grounds the manga instead of having it float away. And her nonchalant reactions to the strange happenings she invites seem therefore the product of a mind whos become accustomed to strangeness rather than a forced element something thats even pointed out by Haruka in the mangas penultimate chapter wherein the manga takes a very slight left turn. Haruka perhaps by Suus influence begins to experience the same strangeness that she does. In the last chapter Suu sees her past self through the Noodle Lamps window and reminisces on why she began working there in the first place. These smallinfinitesimal reallynarrative developments that come at the mangas very end would be mere footnotes barely worth mentioning in almost any other kind of series. But the decompressed easy pace and gentle mood of the iyashikei genre lets these moments matter far more than they might outside of that context. It should come as no surprise hearing all of this that Kotonoba Drive is the most recent work of Hitoshi Ashinano he of Record of Yokohama Shopping Trip fame and one of the architects of iyashikeis ambient manga approach in the first place. To be certain Kotonoba Drive is a smallerscale work but it shows that he still has a masterful command of atmosphere and as an escape from the hustle and bustle and into a just slightly unusual vision of the endless everyday it is an easy recommendation.
77 /100
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