Review: Boat Life Vol. 1

Boat Life Vol. 1
Tsuge Tadao, 352 pgs, Floating World Comics,, $24.95 USD

The perfect blend of mundanity and the fantastic, Boat Life collects Tsuge Tadao’s stories serialized from 1996-2000 in a wonderful volume by publishers Floating World Comics. A contributor to the classic alternative manga publications of the ’60s and ’70s, Tsuge’s recent work follows Tsuda Tenta (in part a stand-in for the author) as he wanders the banks of the Tonegawa River, fishing, sleeping and meeting insightful river folk both real and imagined. He is drawn toward a simple life away from the ills of modern society: urbanization, economic recession, cultural change. Leaving his wife and two adult children to tend to the family business, a denim shop increasingly catering to a youth Tsuda feels out of touch with, he spends time on and near the river relearning to let life be guided by experience rather than self-expectation.

The art is gorgeous. The drawings are filled with emotion and an earnest empathy for the characters. There’s room to breathe and for the art to capture the reader in this uncrowded, leisurely paced story. Cartoonishly rendered, often exaggerated caricatures make space for the sweeping riverside landscapes Tsuge clearly has reverence for. Backgrounds are detailed and rich, the characters rendered with the expressive, controlled, deceptively simple strokes of a seasoned cartoonist. It’s wonderful to look at.

Boat Life is at times melancholy, often nostalgic (especially in Tsude’s reconnection with his old friend Koyama Tome, who returns to town and anchors Tsude to his post-war teenage years), and an empathetic look at what it means to grow old and jaded while desperately trying not to lose sight of youthful exuberance and the freedom to wander and imagine. It’s funny, but poignant and sweet as it explores the different ways we experience modern life and the people who weave through our own stories throughout the years. The river might just be the perfect place to escape and find oneself.


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