Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san, Vol. 1

If you’ve ever worked a thankless retail job, you’ll appreciate Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san, a semi-autobiographical look at the ups and downs of customer service. The titular character works in the manga section of a large Tokyo bookstore, helping buyers find the perfect series, doing inventory, and meeting with representatives from major publishers. Some of her adventures are genuinely amusing, as when a handsome male customer requests explicit doujinshi for his daughter, or an American fujoshi explains her penchant for a particular seme-uke dynamic; other chapters are more matter-of-fact, conveying the difficulties of keeping popular titles in stock, or documenting the social and professional interactions among the staff members. Though none of its is laugh-out-loud funny, the artwork is terrific, capturing Honda-san’s sweaty anxiety every time a customer or colleague makes an uncomfortable request of her—no mean feat, given that the artist has depicted herself with a skeleton head and androgynous, apron-clad body. (Her colleagues’ identities have been camouflaged in a similar fashion: one has a paper bag for a head, and another wears a gas mask.) Amanda Haley’s thoughtful translation complements Honda’s crisp illustrations, offering useful context for understanding the unique challenges of selling manga to the general public, and plenty of footnotes to decode the insider shop-talk.

Yet for all the craft with which Skull-Face Bookseller is written, I never fully succumbed to its charms. I found the pacing uneven and the publishing-focused chapters long-winded, especially when contrasted with the snappy staging of Honda-san’s encounter with the international BL brigade. I’m still curious about the series, but would put Skull-Face Bookseller in the same category as Saint Young Men: a comedy that’s better in principle than in practice. Your mileage may vary.

SKULL-FACE BOOKSELLER HONDA-SAN, VOL. 1 • STORY AND ART BY HONDA • TRANSLATION BY AMANDA HALEY • YEN PRESS • NO RATING • 166 pp.

6 thoughts on “Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san, Vol. 1”

  1. Manga Worth Reading says:

    Loved this, just took a punt on it a few months ago and then read it in one go on the bus ride home. I really enjoyed the second volume too.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I’d be curious to read your take on Honda-san! I went into the series with unreasonably high expectations, I think, so I might not be the best judge of its overall quality.

  2. zawa113 says:

    I honestly think the anime is a lot funnier and more entertaining than the manga. Not entirely sure why, but it’s probably the pacing and the voice acting, which are both just hilarious and make the jokes land a lot better. And the exposition on certain industry things is pretty easy to swallow in the anime, but can definitely be more “wall of text” in the manga. It’s on Crunchyroll, I’d be curious if you found the anime version better, as I did. The anime goes for the barebones animation style in things like Thermae Romae, but it knows what it wants to do and does it.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I haven’t seen the anime yet, but I can imagine why the material works better on the screen than the page. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Berurin says:

    I didn’t think it would really be that funny, but I am glad that it is no slapstick manga but more of a slice of life kinda thing. I enjoy the little costumer stories and everyday life in the bookstore. Honda seems to be funny and a really heartwarming person, never really judging anyone 😀

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I haven’t given up on Honda-san yet, but have definitely adjusted my expectations; the hype around the series led me to think it was supposed to be side-splitting funny. I agree with you about the scenes of Honda-san interacting with her customers, though. They manage to be warm and amusing in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

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