Just So Happens

Writer / Artist
Just So Happens
Alternative editions:
Just So Happens graphic novel review
Alternative editions:
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Jonathan Cape - 978-0-224-09663-8
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Abrams - 978-1-4197-1596-9
  • Release date: 2014
  • UPC: 9780224096638
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Slice of Life

Yumiko has been living in Britain for several years when she travels back to Japan for her father’s funeral. While in London she sometimes still feels an outsider from a different culture, but that enables her to bring an outsider’s viewpoint to Japanese traditions, such as the two day ceremony of her father’s funeral, which seems pointless in many respects.

Having made the same journey as Yumiko, Fumio Obata is well positioned to depict straddling between two cultures, and he institutes an ethereal feel to much of Just So Happens, Yumiko occupying a ghostly netherworld. On a previous visit home she was the only witness to a Noh play being performed in a park, and memories of that fuse with her conflicted feelings in a form of mystical realism. Combining illustrative elegance with delicately applied watercolour, Obata ensures the intrusive elements really stand out, using the comparatively bright red of the Noh costumes to introduce a problem Yumiko hadn’t acknowledged. The other colourful intrusion is the bright orange of a temple at the point when Yumiko reconciles herself, the colour providing opening and closure.

The precise and complicated nature of the Noh play extends back centuries, and while Yumiko represents a very modern person there’s something fundamental and traditional within her that she’s never really acknowledged. We see in flashback that she’s always made her own decisions, an inner strength bolstering them when they contradict an expected conformity, and yet Obata is careful to show how she’s taken on influences from both her divorced parents. Neither is perhaps exactly as she imagines them to be. Her journey home has a specific purpose, yet there’s also a spiritual need that’s ultimately fulfilled. It all combines to make Just So Happens a thoughtful meander around decisions we sometimes don’t even realise we have to make.