Hyakusho Kizoku, Vol. 1

Drawn in a loose, improvisational style, Hiromu Arakawa’s Hyakusho Kizuko may remind readers of the gag strips that round out every volume of her wildly successful Fullmetal Alchemist. That’s not a knock on Hyakusho, by the way; like her fellow sister-in-shonen Yellow Tanabe, Arakawa’s omake are every bit as entertaining as her more polished stories, offering her a chance to riff on favorite characters, complain about her job, and reflect on her previous career as a dairy farmer.

In Hyakusho Kizuko, however, the focus is squarely on the joys and hardships of farm life, rather than the pressures of bringing a popular comic to press. Arakawa shares humorous anecdotes about her ongoing war with the Hokkaido squirrel, a skilled crop thief, as well as her family’s penchant for using animal medicines to cure their own ailments. She also waxes poetic about the temperament of cows — apparently, they make great pets — and celebrates Hokkaido’s important role in feeding the rest of Japan. (As she notes in chapter seven, Japan’s dependence on imported food would rise from 50% to 80% if Hokkaido stopped supplying the other islands with its agricultural products.)

Arakawa doesn’t neglect her life as an artist; throughout the stories, we see her interact with her editor, who’s decidedly skeptical about the marketability of agricultural manga. “How come you’ve written about poop two chapters in a row?” her exasperated editor asks. “In a farmer’s story, poop is your friend,” Arakawa cheerfully counters. Besides, Arakawa notes, her manga explores other topics: “I also mention cow teats,” she declares.

As these matter-of-fact exchanges suggest, Arakawa is eager to educate Japanese readers about where their food comes from. She drops facts about food consumption, discusses cow bloodlines, decries government interference in dairy production, and describes what happens to animals that don’t contribute to a farm’s bottom line. She does so with a light hand, however, interspersing the more serious discussions about sustainability with sight gags involving wild bears, foolish tourists, and barn cats.

None of these passages would be entertaining (or edifying) were it not for a solid adaptation. I’ve complained in the past about other JManga titles, which sometimes suffered from overly literal translations; witness Otaku-Type Delusional Girl, better known in English as Fujoshi Rumi. Hyakusho Kizuko, however, is a pleasant surprise; the translator has done an excellent job of rendering the text in fluid, conversational English that’s a genuine pleasure to read. In fact, the best compliment I could pay the translator is to note that I actually laughed out loud reading several passages.

I’d be the first to admit that Hyakusho Kizuko won’t be every FMA fan’s idea of a good read; folks who like Arakawa best when she’s staging magical combat may find the information-dense passages too didactic for their tastes. For curious city dwellers, however, Hyakusho Kizuko will be a revelation, offering them an entertaining look at the day-to-day operations of a working farm. Highly recommended.


16 thoughts on “Hyakusho Kizoku, Vol. 1”

  1. Justin says:

    So from what I’m reading…sounds like it’s worth the cash?! 😀

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Yes! Of all the purchases I’ve made on JManga thus far, I’ve enjoyed Hyakusho Kizuko the most. Not that I wasn’t happy to see new manga by the creator of Town of Evening Calm, of course, but Hyakusho represents the kind of manga that seldom (if ever!) gets licensed for the English-speaking market. Plus, cows!

      FWIW, all Shinsokan titles are $5.99/volume at JManga right now. I don’t know if that’s a permanent pricing change or a limited-time offer.

  2. Rij says:

    I’d love to read this. It sucks that I can’t. I still hope that JManga will go global one of these days.

    whine whine bitch bitch

  3. Jenn says:

    Having grown up on a dairy/poultry farm, I am really enjoying this title. It’s bringing back a lot of memories. Sort of wish I could get it in print to give to my mom. (Never had to worry about bears, though.)

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Glad to hear that Hyakusho Kizoku rang true with someone who grew up on a working farm! The tone and subject matter seemed intuitively right, but I’d be the first to admit that I am a city girl who knows very little about agricultural production.

      As for the book itself, I also wish it were available in print. I’m OK with reading some titles on my laptop, but this is one I’d rather have in book form (or formatted for my iPad). The loading time for pages can be painfully slow!

  4. N says:

    Just wondering… are Jmanga still not listing their translators? The absence of credit bothers me a bit.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Good question, N! I didn’t see the translator listed on the main page for Hyakusho Kizoku, so I clicked through the manga again. No one is credited for the translation there, either. It would be great to know who did the translation/adaptation, as Hyakusho is definitely one of JManga’s stronger offerings.

  5. Khursten says:

    … I wonder if this was part of research for Silver Spoon. As I don’t have access to Jmanga, I’ll probably have to find this in the shelves! Looks fun! And it would probably explain her farm life fascination in Silver Spoon.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Dare I ask: what is Silver Spoon? Would a North American publisher touch it with a ten-foot-pole, or does it fall into the category of Manga I’ll Only Get to Read About on the Internet? Inquiring minds want to know!

      1. Rij says:

        Silver Spoon is Arakawa’s current manga, It’s weekly and runs in Shonen Sunday. It’s a slice-of-life comedy about agricultural high school in Hokkaido. The main character is a city boy who just wanted to get away from home so there’s a perfect reason for lots of exposition.

        I think a five-foot-pole is more likely. The subject matter is probably too weird for international market but Arakawa’s name might just get some of it localized. Somebody obviously thought that Hyakusho Kizoku would sell, so somebody might take the risk with Silver Spoon too.

      2. Khursten says:

        What Rij said, basically. It’s a highly agricultural manga which evokes a strong nostalgia for farm life. It’s quite interesting and between Moyashimon and Silver Spoon, Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji) has a good chance to tap the market. I mean, if Moyashimon got through, I wouldn’t wonder about Silver Spoon especially with the popularity of Hiromu Arakawa’s FMA. Maybe Viz might risk it, depends on how hot it is received in the market (right now, fans don’t seem so hot on it). It’s all right but for those looking for the hype of FMA, Silver Spoon might not make the cut. Maaaybe it’s bound for a JManga release… maybe…

        1. Katherine Dacey says:

          Thanks, Rij and Khursten! I’m a little weary of battle-oriented shonen manga right now, so Silver Spoon sounds more my speed. I could see that working as a JManga license, especially if the response to Hyakushi Kizoku is positive.

  6. lovelyduckie says:

    I REALLY will read this, I LOVED LOVED the mangaka’s side comics in Full Metal Alchemist. They were hilarious.

  7. Angela says:

    I haven’t bought anything myself on JManga yet, since I just despise reading comics on the computer (I can’t sit still or keep from clicking on other websites) but it looks like this will be my first!

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I’m not a big fan of reading comics that way, either, but a farm manga by Hiromu Arakawa? I couldn’t pass it up!

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