An American audience, subject to an economy hollowed out by a recession and the rise of the gig economy, will find much to relate to here ... [much] distinguishes Tsuge’s artistry that make it resonate on a deeper level than simply being relatable, and marks the work of someone incredibly talented ... In The Man Without Talent, the backgrounds remain drawn with a high level of detail, even as the protagonist is not cute at all, and actually fairly repulsive ... By rendering the outside world in such textured shadowy detail, Tsuge is able to capture the overwhelming quality of reality that is such a crucial aspect of the helpless loser experience ... While modernity in America has its discontents, what enters into the book at the end is the idea of a haiku’s focus on the passage of time, and perhaps it is coming from a culture of Buddhism that enables the book to so skillfully meditate on the basic impossibility of simply existing.
Driven in equal parts by sincerity and irony, in a style both spare and lush, the book centers on a revaluation of the crafts, and knowledges, that attend trades and practices one could call deliberately out of step, slow, inefficient, old-fashioned ... Lest this book seem too downcast, it should be said Tsuge is often very funny ... While The Man Without Talent is by turns mysterious, philosophical and slapstick, it is also tender, capturing the moment-to-moment shift in emotions of a frustrated man who nevertheless loves his child. In a book about valuing the left behind, Tsuge shows us what is never actually at risk of being forsaken.
Readers have an easy choice here: to read this resonating six-chapter collection as an entertaining, albeit sobering, manga about the middle-aged life of a seeming slacker, or approach it as a prominent, pivotal example of 20th-century graphic literary history ... Drawn in stark black-and-white panels, Tsuge's frank narrative portrays an artist-in-decline, an anti-Bildungsroman that offers effective storytelling, enduring characters, poignant reflection and, most notably, gratifying art. Audiences who shut the book after the final panels would certainly leave Sukezō in his solipsistic reverie with satisfying closure ... translator Holmberg's [biographical] essay...is an illuminating enhancement—biographically, historically, literally.
Tsuge’s people are expressive, and each of the characters seems to fulfill an unrevealed quota of stereotypes. The page layouts are rational, there’s only a handful of splash pages and half page panels, and they’re used to great effect. The pacing is sublime; The Man Without Talent has a meditative rhythm ... Tsuge‘s environments are rendered with a little more realism than the people. He uses halftone to shade and crosshatching very irregularly. The parallel lines that he employs, at various degrees of separation, to add weight to the diegesis, produces an organic and dusty look, reinforcing the sense that this is a story about people close to the earth. It’s worth adding here that it’s regularly, if very darkly, funny.
... a curious and contemplative graphic novel ... Tsuge exploits areas of white throughout the book to give a vivid sense of the barren physical and emotional landscape. Elsewhere, the style can be cartoonish, while Tsuge saves his most intricately illustrated panels for the most moving moments of silence and reflection. The result is a deeply philosophical parable about capitalism, art and beauty, and the pressures of modern life ... It is easy to see from this book how Tsuge has become one of Japan’s most celebrated gekiga ('dramatic pictures') artists. But one aspect of it that has not stood the test of time is the author’s treatment of women ... female characters have no real role in the novel other than to chastise their hapless husbands.
Sukezo’s superfluousness makes The Man Without Talent deeply philosophical ... The Man Without Talent deserves its standing as a manga classic. Tsuge’s simple art and use of black and white perfectly compliment this morbid tale. More than an allegory of Tsuge’s own battles with neuroses of one kind or another, this graphic novel explores the lie behind the cliché that everyone matters. Yes, Sukezo’s unwillingness to pursue his art is what damns him in the end, it does not negate the fact that society, which separates its winners from the losers, can deem some individuals and whole professions as useless. Sukezo is useless, thus his life is one long hermit’s wandering that is bound to end in irrelevance. The Man Without Talents is the furthest thing from an uplifting tale. Rather, it is a bleak depiction of the tortured artist and life at the absolute bottom rung of the ladder.
There are layered parables here: the contradictory nature of capitalism and its pointless entrepreneurial drives; the tension between success as a matter of respect and dignity versus success as reflected in material wealth. Tsuge is relentless in his exposition of these themes ... There is a bleakness to the art that mirrors the narrative's underlying sense of despair. The black and white pencil sketches add a sense of barren cold to the landscape: trees bow under the relentless wind and dark crows gaze on forebodingly. Superficially similar to other manga art, Yoshiharu tweaks his panels with shading and deft use of darkness to add a layer of foreboding. There's a sense of buried promise in the backdrops ... Dialogue is sparse, yet this makes the characters' misogyny all the more disturbing. If the comic wasn't intended as an ironic parable, the protagonists' misogyny would rapidly become too much to handle ... The story balances a complex moral line. Outwardly, it's full of bleak despair, yet there is something intangibly warm and touching to the tale as well.
... a story that may initially come across as banal, with its indelicate and sometimes vulgar abandonment of excitement in favor of everyday happenings and disappointments, but quickly reveals itself as eerily relatable in its most base, unglamorous truths about being an artist ... the bare depressing but relatable tale of the stone seller is sure to guide readers through the worlds of suiseki, (the art of appreciation of single stones,) bonseki, (the art of appreciation of multiple rocks,) and jōhatsu, (the act of disappearing.) Part stylized cautionary tale, part exploration into the mind of a lost soul, it will leave readers examining their own passions and place in life.
The narrative seems cynical, and in many ways it is. But there is a humor here, too, to be found in the nonsensical get-rich-quick schemes Sukegawa is continuously attempting, from fixing old cameras, to selling decidedly ordinary stones, to ferrying tourists across the river on his own back, heedless of personal dignity. The Man Without Talent allows the author and the reader to explore the fantasy of leading a contemplative life; but where other authors would laud such a lifestyle, Tsuge is bitterly honest about how such a lack of responsibility affects those around his protagonist while simultaneously proposing that there are too many demands in modern society ... an excellent read for anyone who wants to know more about early underground/art manga history.
Tsuge’s quasi-autobiographical series of vignettes are a masterpiece of mundane struggle ... Tsuge’s realistic manga carefully balances the beauty of the countryside with the family’s shabby and desperate poverty. The book’s tone is darkly satirical, and Tsuge makes Sukegawa the frequent butt of jokes. Every page feels lived and desperate, yet shot through with poetry, becoming a meditation on finding meaning in life despite trying circumstance.
Tsuge’s raw and profound work is equal parts pathos and poetry, streaked with irony and ribaldry. His lines are beautifully clean and wonderfully expressive, the pages sometimes presenting expertly cartoonish simplicity and other times almost photorealistic detail. Tsuge has a soft spot for outsiders yet is acutely aware of how they can end up dead in a field somewhere, covered in their own filth. Humanity stunningly observed—a treasure.