Monday, October 18, 2010

Sasaki Noriko: Dôbutsu no oisha-san (1987-1993)

Another manga series that Mrs. Sgt. T borrowed from some friends. I read the first volume of it. I don't think I'll read more. This one I had even higher hopes for, after a week of listening to rapt silence in the next room punctuated by sudden bursts of giggles. There she goes again...

The specimen in question is Dôbutsu no oisha-san 動物のお医者さん (Animal Doctor - i.e., "Veterinarian" would be a mistranslation), by Sasaki Noriko 佐々木倫子. It's a shôjo manga that ran from 1987 to 1993. It's about a young guy studying to be a vet at a thinly-disguised Hokkaidô University; but mainly it's about the animals in his life.

Evidently this was quite a phenomenon when it was in its initial run. Bestseller, and wikipedia sez it boosted not only sales of huskies (the guy's dog) but applicants to Hokudai's vet med program. I can see why, sorta. What it does well is depict the relationship between animals and the people who love them.

It does this by not quite anthropomorphizing the animals. They're drawn in a very realistic style, with just enough cartoony touches to suggest emotions and thoughts that animals (probably) don't have, but that their owners like to impute to them. (The animal renderings are brilliant in that respect; otherwise the art is kind of stiff.) These hints of expression are augmented by dialogue that's presented as if it's the animals' thoughts, but not quite - as Mrs. Sgt. T describes it, these are the kinds of things animal lovers say when voicing what they think their pets are thinking. Like, your aged and nearsighted dog stumbles when jumping off the bed, then scampers off sheepishly, and you say, "I meant to do that."

And that, more or less, is the extent of the manga, as far as I can tell. I only read one volume. The human characters aren't too interesting, and storyline is very episodic, each installment basically telling another funny animal story. The humor is subtle - situational, nuanced, and dependent on the finer nuances of embarrassment. It's not Look Who's Talking cheap, but really quite dependent on close observation of humans and animals. I could appreciate it, but I didn't find it laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, I tended to fall asleep while reading it...

But then, I'm not really an animal lover. I love an animal lover, though, so I recognize the things it's doing. In fact, reading this gave me a whole new insight into the kinds of things Mrs. Sgt. T says when looking at dogs, birds, squirrels, cats, horses. Did she develop that sense of humor from reading this at a young age, or did this tap into a kind of humor that people like her already had as a common language?

(For a more enthusiastic, not to mention informative, take on the manga, check out this summary by Rei.)

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