Hana-chan and the Shape of the World is a somewhat difficult manga to describe because it's so simple. The six chapters collected in this single volume follow Hana-chan, an ordinary young girl, getting involved in different adventures. Some are low-key, while others are dramatic and fantastical while somehow keeping a calm atmosphere. Sometimes she's accompanied by a Picasso-eyed cat; other times, she's with her friends Uta and Mamo.
Hana-chan's adventures include being sucked into a tsunami, being mutated by poison from flowers burned by workers in power suits and getting lost when the Earth itself starts turning faster than it's supposed to. Despite all the seeming danger, she always ends up perfectly okay in the end, leaving it ambiguous as to what's in her imagination versus what's really happening.
The overall feeling is closer to something like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes than most manga that gets translated in America. It's cute and funny while also maintaining a somewhat melancholy atmosphere and being honest about how kids get on each other's nerves. There's also a fair bit of Miyazaki influence in the mix as well, with some of the imagery reminiscent of My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo.
Ryutaro Ueda's artwork is absolutely gorgeous. The characters are abstract, simple and expressive, while the backgrounds are more detailed while managing to blend with the characters while being more impressionist than realistic. Water and fire effects are particularly intense, with many scenes taking place in the rain. A "therapeutic" ping-pong match between Hana and Uta is also a visual highlight.
Because of its simplicity, there's not that much that can really be said about Hana-chan and the Shape of the World except that it's delightful to read and experience. This is a manga you can judge by its cover; if the art style appeals to you, there's no way you won't enjoy reading the full volume. Should Ryutaro Ueda ever decide to return to these characters, either by writing more manga about them or allowing for an anime adaptation of this volume (Science Saru would be the perfect animation studio to capture this style in animation), it would be reason to celebrate.
Hana-chan and the Shape of the World is available on sale now from Yen Press.