This post was probably in the queue of posts I wanted to write back in November 2008. Back then I was writing to a non-existent audience, so going against consensus opinion would have been a trivial matter.
The manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is considered by a good number of people to be one of the seminal works within the slice-of-life genre. My experience reading it, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. As in it felt like I would never get those hours of my life back.
What follows are a few reasons behind a disappointing experience; probably certain to be disagreed with below, and may seem like reactionary rage at points, so feel free to rip me apart in the comments if you really have to.
One of the worst things that seems to happen whenever I come across something is having something banged into my head as almost certain to be excellent. Sure it works out pretty well a decent percentage of the time, probably about 60%, the other times, not so well. The part of me that eternally has a dim view of the world starts to kick in whenever there are raised expectations; there has to be a catch or something wrong with this, so I end up taking the recommendations of others with a bit of caution.
Seeing as this was the 5th-rated manga on MAL with an average rating right on that rare 9.00 line, the inner pessimist was going to be hard at work.
Mono no Aware and the Human Experience
Now into the actual story. Hatsuseno Alpha and the rest of the cast are essentially living on a version of the world that is dying, where only robots will be left in the end. Now, there’s no fundamental problem with this concept, but as there are still humans left and there’s no post-apocalyptic cataclysm at play here like The Road.
It could be argued that the whole setting plays into mono no aware, and there should be an inherent sadness at the passing of humanity. Personal experience tells me that the possibility of humanity silently accepting its own end is improbable; destroying itself in a blaze of infamy, yes, but silence, no. I was led to believe that there would be a calming aspect about this, I think it had the opposite effect on me.
Ashinano Hitoshi has enough of a reputation for including very little, or almost no dialogue in general. I mention this because Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou was published monthly over the 12 years it ran. There was something I found troubling in the number of chapters which seemed to be page-after-page of wonderful looking scenery which concluded with one or two lines of dialogue. Part of me was thinking, “a month to come up with that? At least make it look like you are trying to put in a decent shift on the writing side.” This is probably a horribly unfair criticism, but not everyone has the luxury to work on this kind of schedule.
A Partial Story
At times as I was reading it, I felt I was only getting a limited vision of the world within the story. The adventures of those on the surface seemed limited to such an extent that it felt like the world of the particular panel was the only one that existed. Past experiences in the dialogue never seemed to be explained to a level of detail I would call adequate. The chapters on the airship seemed to serve only to put everything in a larger context, but even that left a lot of unanswered questions.
In the end, it felt like I had only read 140 chapters of a 900 chapter story. Call that missing the point or whatever you would like, I could just never get into the story.