By Patrick Tedder
The first work in 20 years by acclaimed manga artist Kenji Tsuruta, Wandering Island, is a simple yet engagingly beautiful work that feels like a throwback to Miyazaki in both art and pacing.
From the very cover of the book to the opening pages, the art immediately sucks you in and gives you the feeling that you’re in for a treat. We’re introduced to Mikura Amelia, a free-spirited young woman who lives alone with her cat and operates an air delivery service. It’s unclear what time period the story takes place, but everything has a retro vibe to it. Amelia may traipse about small Japanese islands in a bathing suit, but her plane is old timey and the locales she visits have an untouched-by-modern-civilization feel to them.
Just pages in, Amelia’s beloved grandfather passes away, depressing our heroine until she realizes a mystery that has been left behind in his absence. Despite knowing the islands like the back of her hand, notes of a fabled island “Electric Island” peak Amelia’s interest, leading her down a road of adventure and the unknown.
Without providing spoilers, that’s pretty much the plot and at no point does it ever become tiresome. In fact, I would say I was enraptured by this story from start to end, desperate to find out what happens as the conclusion leaves readers hungry for volume 2.
While there’s nothing especially unique about Amelia, her design is fantastic. Without dialogue, it’s obvious what she’s thinking and how she’s feeling. There’s also this fun sex appeal that I’m a bit torn about. While it fits her personality, and to a degree logic, that she would run around tropical islands in thin attire, she’s constantly in a bikini. I questioned more than once whether Tsuruta had picked attire in an effort to sell more copies. While the subject is worth pondering, it should be noted that Amelia is a bright and well-rounded female character, neither perfect nor a vapid sex object.
Of late, I’ve been more and more careful about what manga I pick up since so many new creations tend to either die off or go on for so many volumes that they become quite the investment in both time and money. This is one book that you won’t be sad you’ve tried though. It’s a real treat in its art and execution and while it’s hard to say where the series will go, volume 1 will be a novel you’ll be happy to have in your collection.
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga (July 26, 2016)