I'm not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing that I can relate so much to Shizuo Oguro, the protagonist of I'll Give It My All… Tomorrow (Japanese title: Ore wa Mada Honki Dashitenai, Dake or It's Just That I Haven't Given It My All Yet.) At 42 years-old, he has decided to ditch his unfulfilling job as a soulless office worker and pursue his dream of becoming a manga artist. Shizuo has neither talent nor experience, but he does have that most necessary trait of persistence — coupled with a thick skin that isn't deterred by countless rejections.
Approaching 40, I see something of myself in Shizuo — not much, thankfully, as Shizuo has Charlie Brown karma and is a loveable loser at everything he tries — but I understand that sense of "If not now, when?" that drives the mid-life pursuit of dreams. Most likely failure lies at the end of both mine and Shizuo's path, but at least we can be happy that we gave it a shot, if not our all.
This forth volume of writer/artist Shunju Aono's series tests just how thick-skinned Shizuo is. Up until now, he has had a fairly supportive editor working with him and giving him encouragement if not publication. But suddenly Shizuo finds himself with a new editor, Unami Aya, who is determined to show Shizuo the folly of his ways and make him give up his dreams. Aya's own father spent wasted decades trying to pursue his dream of becoming a novelist, and she despises middle age men in pursuit of their last glimpse of youth.
Although I have enjoyed it, I'll Give It My All… Tomorrow has been a hit-or-miss series. The first volume was brilliant, but the second volume was just too depressing, dwelling more on the "loser" aspect of the story and less on the "lovable." Volume 4 has the correct balance again. We get to root for Shizuo, hoping that this perpetual underdog will get at least one small chance to see his dreams come true. At the same time, I thought the new character of Umami Aya brought some depth to the series, as we see the child's perspective of having a parent that refuses to acknowledge reality and their own limitations.
I'll Give It My All… Tomorrow is a good book for those who think that "manga" is a genre, with one style of art and one style of story. Artist Shunju Aono has more in common with Daniel Clowes than with Eiichiro Oda. His panels are sparse, with almost no extraneous decoration. Everything has an amateurish feel, as if we are reading the comic that Shizuo Oguro will eventually publish (and perhaps we are. I have my suspicions along that line). Yet even with limited detail and facial expression, Shunju manages to tell an emotional story. He uses a few tricks, like the slogans on Shizuo's perpetual black T-shirts to let us know what mood our hero is in. And occasional visits from God who talks to Shizuo adds a nice fantasy element that keeps the story from being too grounded in depressing reality.
I don't think you have to be a 40-year old guy with unfulfilled ambitions to enjoy I'll Give It My All… Tomorrow, but it certainly helps. This is a comic for adults, and it is interesting that it is being published by pop culture purveyors Viz Media instead of art-focused publishers like Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly. I don't know if Shizuo will ever get a comic published — Charlie Brown never did kick that football, after all. But in reading his story I can borrow a little of his persistence to pursue my own dreams.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.