Shortcomings – Adrian Tomine

August 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

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This graphic novel is generally about a Japanese man in America. Ben Tanaka has a Japanese girlfriend, but their relationship seems to be quite rocky and uncertain. His girlfriend Miko suspects that Ben has issues with being Asian in a predominantly white country and society, but Ben does not admit to such a thing, and instead starts to push his girlfriend away.

At the same time, Ben befriends a white chick from work. While Miko is away, Ben tries to woo a couple of girls (specifically noted to be of non-Asian ethnicity), only to have issues in the end. Ben’s closest friend is a Korean lesbian, Alice, whose parents hold a grudge against all Japanese people in general, due to what happened in World War 2. And to top it all off, Ben finds out about a secret that his girlfriend had kept hidden from him, and everything becomes unstuck.

I suspect that this graphic novel was given the title Shortcomings because of the nature of the main character, Ben. He has, indeed, some very glaring shortcomings character-wise.

For me, the graphic novel itself comes up short as well. Though the overall theme of the story is mainly about racism and how much of it is part of our lives, I feel like it hardly dwells enough with the issue to make an impact that matters. So many things felt like we just got the cream on top, and none of the strong coffee that was sitting underneath.

Graphics-wise, everything was very clean-cut and tidy, but somehow it lacked the energy that I would otherwise have expected of a graphic novel that intends to deal with an issue this heavy. Everything felt constrained and contained within nice square boxes, whereas the core of the story deals with the issue that over-generalising people into tidy boxes just does not cut it.

It being a graphic novel and all, it was an easy read. I would have wanted a lot more depth, but I guess, there will be books that have their shortcomings.

Conclusion: 2.5/5.

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