Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection is an eclectic collection of eight short manga from the creator of Monster and 20th Century Boys. These manga were all written at different times for different purposes (the oldest is from 1995, the most recent from 2018), but one overarching connection that can be made between them is these tend to showcase Urasawa's lighter, more humorous side.
The first story in the collection, "Damiyan," is an enjoyable enough opener about a teenager whose silent stare might have psychic powers and gets involved in yakuza dealings. It's got some funny lines and a bit of heart towards the end, though there is the nagging uncomfortable feeling that the title character might read as a caricature of a developmentally disabled person. "Throw Toward the Moon," the one story in the collection co-written by Urasawa's regular collaborator Takashi Nagasaki, also deals with psychic powers but demonstrates more of the clever and intricate plotting found in the writers' longer-form works.
Not all the manga in this "story collection" are really full stories. "The Old Guys" and "Musica Nostra" are more like illustrated diary entries where Urasawa discusses his feelings about music, particularly of the classic rock variety (he loves Bob Dylan and The Beatles). "It's a Beautiful Day," about J-rock musician Kenji Endo (not to be confused with the character named after him in 20th Century Boys), is formatted more like a traditional manga but is ultimately less a narrative than an illustrated anecdote.
In the notes in the back of the book, Urasawa wonders if his Tom and Jerry homage "Henry and Charles" is "the finest of all my works?" It's a fun one, but with all respect to Urasawa's opinion, it's outclassed in this collection by "Kaiju Kingdom," which works equally brilliantly as a love letter to the kaiju genre and as a satire of weeaboos who love Japanese pop culture but are ignorant about Japan's actual hardships. Closing out the volume is "Tanshin Funin/Solo Mission," a colorful sci-fi story that reads left-to-right like a Western comic and requires flipping the book around.
Those who come to Urasawa's manga for their complex storytelling might find much of this volume underwhelming, though they should still be impressed by the cleverness of "Throw Toward the Moon" and "Kaiju Kingdom." However, for those looking for a fun and breezy read as well as those curious about a fuller picture of Urasawa's artistic sensibilities, Sneeze is worth adding to your collection.
Sneeze: Naoki Urasawa Story Collection is available from Viz Media on October 20.