Nozomi Inusaki, twenty-three, self-styled private detective, is a regular kind of a guy who makes a living from helping out in the local community (dog-walking, shopping for the elderly etc.). He often enjoys a café-au-lait in his friendly landlady’s Café Kurosaki (she has cats but insists that it’s not a cat café) and the occasional chat with her high-school son, Mitsuru. But Inusaki’s cheerful manner hides a troublesome secret: since childhood, he’s been able to communicate with birds. Which you’d think would be a wonderful gift, except birds turn out to be constantly quarrelling with each other and occasionally hostile to humans. So when, one day, a crow addresses him by his name, he’s surprised to find he can share a meaningful conversation with the mysterious corvid. A few days later, Inusaki helps two children rescue a fallen fledgling but is unable to return the baby bird to its nest, high up in a tree. When the friendly crow suddenly appears and offers to take the baby bird back, Inusaki’s immediate thought is that the crow will eat the little creature – dare he trust him with the little one’s life? Invited by the crow to give him a name, Inusaki (not very imaginatively) calls him ‘Kuro’ (black). The more he sees Kuro, the more he finds the crow’s voice strangely familiar – and even more perturbing are the strange feelings of attraction he’s experiencing toward… a crow? It takes Mitsuru Kurosaki to point out to the mystified detective that his family name starts with ‘Kuro’ too. There can’t be any connection between the dark-haired high-school student and the bird…can there?
Toritan is – as far as I’m aware – the first publication in print in English of a Kotetsuko Yamamoto title for c. fifteen years, which is astonishing, given how many entertaining and popular BL manga she’s produced in that time. So this first for SuBLime is to be welcomed, for bringing the work of a well-liked mangaka to the English-reading audience. That said, it has also to be acknowledged that Toritan (2 volumes) is not, in all honesty, one of the prolific mangaka’s most vibrant titles, although as it’s OT-rated, it makes a likeable, cute and amusing introduction to her works and to BL in general. Yamamoto-sensei is known for her mischievous sense of humour which is much in evidence here, especially in the opening chapters in which Inusaki reflects on his embarrassing gift (curse?). Anyone expecting that the birds are ready to share beautiful thoughts with their human interpreter will be rudely disabused (as poor Inusaki is too)!
Toritan dates from 2017/18 and the characters are drawn with Kotetsuko Yamamoto’s instantly recognizable and attractive style; she’s particularly skilled at facial expressions that convey so much more than the words exchanged in conversation and add an extra layer of relevance. She’s also a skilled storyteller, so the story fairly bowls along, delivering an enjoyable read. Humour is to the fore, especially with the piquant comments of the birds (the mangaka, who has a bird as her avatar on Twitter, tells us, ‘I really love birds, so there are a lot of them in the manga!’) Style-wise in the character designs, the two leads have much in common with the main protagonists in her ongoing slice-of-life Ashita wa Docchi da! and Warau Oni ni wa Fuku Kitaru (both titles would be very welcome over here), hint to SuBLime Manga!
However – minor quibble but, as this is a manga about birds, is there a mistranslation/misprint in the text? A section in the first chapter in which Inusaki chats with a pair of birds about the position of their nest describes them as sparrows – but the location of the nest and the illustrations show birds that look and behave just like swallows. (Unless it’s another joke?) Also, there are at least two instances of missing words in the dialogue – which is unusual in SuBLime publications, known for their high standard of finished work.
On the plus side, however, Adrienne Beck’s translation captures the mangaka’s easy conversational tone for humans and birds alike just right, and there’s a colour page at the front as well (always a welcome bonus!). The mangaka’s splash/chapter pages are fun as well, each one showing Inusaki with a different bird (I love Chapter 3 with a shoebill!)
The first volume of Toritan is a fun read and a good introduction to Kotetsuko Yamamoto’s work, showcasing her sense of humour and her gift to create attractive yet believable characters.