This book contains eight short manga from Naoki Urasawa, a man not just known for his manga, as we see in some of the tales that he shows in this story. It is a peculiar mix, featuring a psychic thriller, a furry/funny animal story, a left-to-right-reading sci-fi tale published for France’s Heavy Metal comic, a series of autobiographical works revolving around Urasawa’s love of music, the author being a talented guitarist and folk musician himself.
The collection begins with DAMIYAN!, about a gaming addict and his psychic friend who offer their services to the yakuza. One man takes them on, wanting to use the psychic abilities not just to help defeat his enemies, but to see his estranged son on his school sports day.
Throw Toward the Moon!, co-written by Takashi Nagasaki who worked with Urasawa on Pluto, begins with a boy encountering a psychic tramp who tells the youngster that he will win the Pulitzer Prize. The boy becomes a journalist, but after a false lead, he ends up working as an obituary writer. However, when he learns that the tramp is not only dead but even had a job at the FBI, he realizes that the tramp’s prediction that he would become award-winning might be true.
Next is the first of the musical tales, The Old Guys being a short essay about Urasawa going to a Paul McCartney concert and being moved by an old man standing next to him who was really into Macca’s music. This is followed by the all-colour Henry and Charles, a traditional Western-influenced cartoon caper in which the title characters, a pair of mice, try to steal some cake while attempting to not awaken a sleeping cat.
Two more music-based tales come next. It’s a Beautiful Day is based on a story told to Urasawa by the late musician Kenji Endo about a visit to a strip club that inspired an album cover. Musica Nostra is a series of essays in which Urasawa records his own experiences in Los Angeles, seeing live gigs and meeting Jack Oliver, former president of Apple Records. If you want to see what the Beatles look like in manga form, this is a manga you’ll want to read.
The most intriguing of the stories in this collection is probably Kaiju Kingdom. This tale is set in an alternate reality in which, since 1954, giant kaiju monsters have regularly attacked Tokyo. While it means that the city is regularly destroyed, the fact that these monsters only appear in Tokyo means that the capital has attracted mass tourism. The story follows a French kaiju otaku named Pierre as he finally holidays to Tokyo for the first time during the kaiju season, seeing the sites such as the crumpled and collapsing Tokyo Tower. However, while there, he learns of the true reason why the monsters are attracted to the city, and decides to do something about it when he comes to learn of the human cost of the regular disasters lumped upon the capital.
The final story is another all-colour affair. Tanshin Funin/Solo Mission is a sci-fi story in which an alien talks to his wife about him having to go on a mission to the Demonic Death-Death Hell Planet. This turns out to be the Earth and the results of the mission are more comedic than horrific. This comic was published in France’s Heavy Metal and as such reads left-to-right.
Sneeze has a lot in it to appeal to many different fans. Although the way the book is structured is strange. For example, the child-friendly comedic short about two cartoon mice is followed by a period music-based story which features nudity.
The music stories are particularly interesting pieces, partly because you get to see Urasawa drawing some of the most famous music stars of modern times. Not just the Fab Four, but Bob Dylan and Neil Young also appear during the course of this book, so if you are a big music lover, this is a manga to get.
However, for me the psychic and sci-fi stories are the more entertaining tales. DAMIYAN! and Throw Toward the Moon! both have Urasawa’s typical thrilling grip on you, while Kaiju Kingdom has a great idea of giant monsters being such a part of Japanese culture that people would actually want to come and see these creatures wreck a massive city. It is both a fun story, but also mixed with some tragic elements when you remember the fates of the locals.
Each of the stories comes with a commentary from Urasawa himself, and it is also nice to see two of these stories being coloured entirely. John Werry also appears to have no problems with his translation. For this and many other reasons, Sneeze is one of the best short story manga collections I have come across.