By Sarah Smith, Adult Services
If you’re looking for an upbeat, cozy story about the end of the world, you should absolutely read the “Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou” manga series. There are no zombies or totalitarian governments. No irradiated landscapes with starving survivors fighting for survival. No plague, no comet on a collision course with Earth, no giant alien monsters. This is the story of an android named Alpha who runs a rural coffee shop in a small coastal community near Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo.
The Japan of “Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou” (or “Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip”) is subtly different from our contemporary world, hinting at the end of the world rather than making that the focus. The sea seems to be slowly reclaiming the land, with roads gradually becoming impassable as they flood and erode beneath the waves. The world seems emptier, there are few people around, and even fewer children. There are signs of human civilization, but the art focuses on the natural landscape: deep forests, striking ocean vistas, sweeping stretches of empty sky.
Written and illustrated by Hitoshi Ashinano, this series originally ran from 1994-2006, but the quietly reflective story feels timeless. The story is being re-released in large collected editions of the English translation, and I am transfixed. The art has a dreamlike, watercolor style (though still black and white) that helps to set the tone for the slice-of-life stories. The book opens with Alpha making the journey into Yokohama for supplies, trying to navigate around roads that have become submerged since her last trip.
Ashinano often lets the art do the talking, leaving much unsaid or only alluded to. I enjoy this style of storytelling in comics, as it gives more space for my imagination to engage with the world he’s created. There’s a gentle melancholy or nostalgia to the story, as the older characters remember what has gone—places, people, their own youth. But there’s still a joy to the story and an optimism that the children (and androids) will be able to live good lives, even if the world they inherit isn’t one previous generations would recognize.