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Mujirushi: The Sign of Dreams Manga Review

4 min read
From award-winning author Naoki Urasawa comes a tale of crushing debt, a broken marriage, and the painting that can fix it all—if Kasumi and her dad can manage to steal it.

A tale of a desperate father and daughter, a detective on the hunt for an art thief, a scheming Francophile, and the Louvre.

Creative Staff
Story/Art: Naoki Urasawa
Translation/Adaptation: John Werry

What They Say
Kamoda will do anything to earn a quick buck, even if it means skipping out on his taxes to take his wife on a luxury cruise. But when a random tax audit bankrupts his family, Kamoda soon discovers his wife has taken that cruise after all—only without Kamoda or their daughter Kasumi.

Desperate to provide, Kamoda invests in a scheme to mass-produce masks of controversial American presidential candidate Beverly Duncan. But a lackluster election kills their sales potential, burying Kamoda under a mountain of masks and debt. On the verge of despair, Kamoda discovers a sign that leads him to the Director, an art fanatic who vows he can make all of Kamoda and Kasumi’s dreams come true.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I’ve been a fan of Urasawa-sensei ever since I saw the psychological thriller anime Monster. His stories are intricately crafted, and his drawing style wonderfully individualizes characters even when the cast is insanely large. As such, I was eager to read his latest translated work, the single-volume manga Mujirushi: The Sign of Dreams.

The story begins in modern-day Japan with Kasumi Kamoda, a little girl whose father has gotten into dire financial straits. Due to a string of terrible business decisions, he’s drowning in debt, and his wife ran off with another man. His assets are about to be seized, and he’s on the brink of committing suicide. That’s when father and daughter encounter a crow carrying a note with a strange symbol and the words: the sign of dreams.

It’s an ominous opening. The kind that made me anticipate a dark story like Monster. So it’s completely jarring when Kasumi and her father follow the crow to a creepy Western-style house and end up before Fujio Akatsuka’s Iyami.

For those unfamiliar with Iyami, he’s a character from the 1960s Osomatsu-kun franchise, which has recently found new life in the Osomatsu-san anime. Characterized as a flashy Francophile and opportunist, Iyami was, according to Urasawa-sensei’s afterword, quite popular in mid-sixties Japan.

If you are a fan of Iyami, his sudden appearance might add an element of fun to Mujirushi. But if you’re like me and have no background on him, the buck-toothed character just comes off as weird, especially from a visual sense. Urasawa-sensei’s character designs tend to be more realistic while Fujio Akatsuka’s are decidedly cartoony. As a result, I kept feeling like Iyami was an inside joke Urasawa-sensei was constantly referencing that I wasn’t privy to.

Anyway, Iyami, who only introduces himself as “The Director” to Kasumi and her dad, tells a rather sketchy tale about himself, the Louvre, and the Vermeer painting “The Lacemaker.” He concludes by proposing a rather dicey plan to restore the Kamoda family fortunes by selling a counterfeit painting. Kasumi, who is the voice of logic and reason in her family, tries to talk her father out of it, but he’s fallen under the Director’s sway so the next thing you know they’re in Paris.

By the way, this is the second recent manga I’ve read that prominently features the Louvre (the first being the somewhat incomprehensible Cats of the Louvre). Both manga were published by Shogakukan, which makes me wonder if someone in that publishing house has some connection with the Paris museum. At any rate, Urasawa-sensei’s illustrations of European artwork and architecture have always been top-notch, and he doesn’t disappoint with his depictions of the Louvre and its iconic exhibits.

As the narrative proceeds, Urasawa-sensei throws in a bunch of disparate elements, including a Trump-esque American president, an aged French singer and her Japanese fluent firemen grandson, a couple of journalists, and two detectives on the hunt for art smugglers. And, as in many Urasawa works, all those pieces combine into a final culmination that shifts the fortunes of the protagonist. However, the conclusion felt abrupt, and the President Duncan scandal revelation felt especially shoehorned in. Moreover, the Director is presented as the mastermind pulling the strings behind the curtain, but there are key things he couldn’t have been privy to, such as the journalists’ secret photos. As such, I’m not sure if the Director is supposed to be viewed as superhuman or if this is meant to be interpreted as a chain of coincidences. Or perhaps that ambiguity is the point of the story?

Extras include thirteen pages printed in color, afterword, sound effects glossary, and translation notes.

In Summary

I’m not familiar with Fujio Akatsuka’s Osomatsu-kun franchise, but if you are, you might get a kick out of this tale about a manipulative Francophile and a desperate family. Otherwise, Iyami “The Director” is visually dissonant and somewhat confusing against Urasawa-sensei’s art style. The flip side is that you get a lot of wonderfully rendered illustrations of the Louvre and its works as a bunch of amateurs attempt an art heist.

Content Grade: B
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: 15+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: July 21st, 2020
MSRP: $19.99

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