25 Days of Manga, Day 15 of 25 – Downfall (Review)

Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signatures)

Author/Artist: Inio Asano

Translators: Jocelyne Allen

Letterer/Touch-up: Joanna Estep

Editor: Pancha Diaz

Design: Shawn Carro

Genre: Drama

Rating: M (Mature/18+)

Release Date: 02/18/2020

MSRB: US $14.99 / CAN $19.99 / UK £9.99

Reviewer’s Note: I eagerly borrowed this copy of Downfall from my local, public library. No review copy was provided. All manga reviews are spoiler-free and image-free unless noted in the review. Opinions are my own.

TWs / CWs: Nudity, Sex (no genitalia are shown), Forceful Sexual Assault, Attempted Rape

I don’t know how to begin this post because the manga I read is… not a cheerful title. 

I’ve rather intentionally read primarily hopeful, upbeat manga for 25 Days of Manga. Even My Broken Mariko, which is a genuine tear jerker, still had a message that was hopeful and hope-filled. However… I can’t say the same about today’s read, which is Inio Asano’s Downfall. I can’t say that this is a hopeful manga because honestly… it’s bleak. Some might say beautiful bleak, but… I don’t know that I’m that some.

So that being said…let’s talk about Downfall, a manga all about creation and creativity and character.

Downfall is a story about success and desperation. It’s a story about crushing success and doing anything to find your way and I do mean anything. It’s also a story about creativity, creation, and a lack thereof. 

The story follows Kaoru Fukuzawa, a mangaka who’s just ended his first series. However, he doesn’t know how to follow up his massive success with another series. On top of that, his marriage is falling apart, in large part due to Kaoru’s incredibly bad habit of sleeping with -and generally cheating with- his various call girls. 

Worse, his genuine love of manga has been utterly destroyed by the industry, sucking all of his genuine passion for the medium straight out of his soul. It leaves him quite the callous character, a trait which perseveres throughout this entire volume.

Essentially, Kaoru Fukuzawa is an empty man.

And he sucks.

I really thought I’d have something important to say about this manga, but honestly, Kaoru Fukuzawa sucks and I hate him. While I feel great sympathy for his inability to create -and the intense pressure he feels when he even tries- everything else about him sucks. He cheats freely, then blames his wife wholly for their failing marriage. He spends his time freely, but often forgets that his assistants need regular pay.

A lot of Kaoru’s problems are his own: they’re caused by his own bad behavior and actions. The problems he deals with could have been fixed -not easily, but still- by communicating, reaching out, and just admitting that he was struggling. Instead, Kaoru comes off as quite proud, which of course, leads his life to ruin until it eventually turns a corner again.

It’s also equally true that a lot of Kaoru’s problems are a product of the crushing pressure of following up his success with another big success, all while maintaining an online persona and looking after multiple assistants who depend on his success to pay their own bills. That that last bit is intensely relatable, and might be why I gave this the rating I did instead of going lower.

Still: Kaoru sucks.

What I will say shines through is the translation, which is just really well done. Jocelyne Allen is a veritable wordsmith who takes translations and makes them transcend into a whole new level of awesome. I live for Jocelyne’s work, and can’t praise their work enough. Everyone should read this just for the translation: it’s stellar.

I also think that the art itself is quite beautiful. I really want to engage with more of Asano’s work, and certainly will be looking into some titles after this review. Prior to this, I’d wanted to read Goodnight PunPun, but now… I might go for something a bit lighter.

In the end, I found this to be a deeply pessimistic and pensive manga: intentionally so, but just… to what end? Still, I think it’s important to remember that because this might be incredibly off-putting, especially at the end of a tough year like 2020.

I don’t think I’ll ever return to this manga. It… was a rough read: rough and just really, really upsetting. As a first taste of Asano-sensei’s work, I’d say it wasn’t necessarily the best taste, though I find myself deeply in love with his art style and think that he’s a strong storyteller. Maybe I’ll pick up a copy of Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction and see if that’s more my fare. 

I hope that the audience who wanted this to be localized enjoyed it. I think that in a different year, a book that takes a more critical eye to creation and creativity would be interesting. In 2020, it just feels so exhausting and so pessimistic when those are the last things anyone needs right now.

For now, Downfall is getting tucked into my library tote bag so it can go back on the shelves. I hope the next reader finds what they need between the covers.

TL;DR: Downfall is a deeply hopeless and unbearably pessimistic look at creativity, creation, and what it means to succeed. I didn’t like it, despite the stellar translation and beautiful art. There’s an audience for this kind of story, and I hope they find this volume and find what they need between the covers. However, I ultimately didn’t like this story and found Kaoru to be a deeply unlikable character who caused a lot of his own problems, only to never realize that he was deeply at fault for the “downfall” of his life. For now, this book is heading back to my local library to never be checked out by me again.

Read If You Like…
* Brutally honest looks at creation and creativity

Rating: 🟊🟊 / 2 out of 5 stars

Bingo Card: N/A

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