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Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World | Review

Cover of Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World

Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World
By Ryotaro Ueda
Yen Press
Ages 8 and up; $15.00

Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World is a collection of short stories about an inquisitive, very determined little girl who has adventures with her friends in the small country town where they all live. It’s an odd little book that echoes classic children’s stories such as Where the Wild Things Are, but some moments in the story may be too intense for young readers. In fact, like Yotsuba&!, Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World wasn’t really written for children: The stories ran in Comic Beam, a comics magazine targeting young men.

Ueda skillfully blends imagination and reality, showing how Hana-chan sees a giant human figure in the moonlight pouring through the eye of a storm. That’s the first story, and it’s pure fun, as Hana-chan goes out in the middle of the nighttime storm to get the cache of chocolate snacks she has hidden in a tree. The book takes a hard turn toward the weird in the second story, though, when the adults in the village set out to burn the weeds in a neglected rice paddy and some very somatic-looking weeds pods with human-looking orifices emit a vapor that makes the adults’ heads swell to giant size and deforms the children’s features. Hana-chan grows a toothed snout, and her eyeballs migrate to the ends of her pigtails, for instance. It’s a bit more intense than the imagery in Spirited Away, and younger children may find it scary, although the overall situation is played for laughs and all ends well.

Another story makes an indirect reference to Japanese horror: The woman who works in the local store has hair that completely hides her face, a common trope in horror and yokai stories. Here, though, Hana-chan sneaks in an electric fan and blows the woman’s hair off her face, and the story ends in pathos, as tears appear in the woman’s perfectly normal eyes.

The darkest moment in the whole book is actually one that children may not notice: Hana-chan and her friends go looking for a cat and find it in the home of a widow who collects cats. The widow doesn’t seem to be around, and in just one panel, we see her empty futon, covered with dark stains. Although it’s not stated directly in the story, the cats have eaten the widow, something Ueda does say outright in an interview he did with Anime News Network.

All these stories are set in a rural Japanese village with traditional architecture, and Ueda says they are meant to take place in the 1980s, when he lived in a very similar village. Hana is often accompanied on her adventures by her pet cat, whose eyes are permanently askew, and her best friend Uta, a bespectacled, practical-minded little girl. The art is stunning, and the characters and settings are reminiscent of classic children’s books and the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Hana-Chan and the Shape of the World mixes mischief, mystery, and occasional moments of horror in a set of stories that always end on a happy note. Kids who can handle Goosebumps and yokai stories will probably have no problem with it, and for those who like a good scare, it’s an excellent choice for Halloween reading.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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