Story & Art by Honda
Translated by Amanda Haley
Lettering by Bianca Pistillo
As an avid collector and reader of manga, buying books has become a regular part of my routine. While digital manga is on the rise, the feeling of a buying a physical volume is still immensely satisfying. That being said, we often forget about the middle-man that facilitates this process and bridges the gap between readers and publishers; the retailer. That’s where Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san comes into the picture, giving us insight into the day-to-day operations of a Japanese bookstore. Volume 1 of the series serves as an informative and entertaining look into the bookstore retail space.
Many stories in Honda-san involve its protagonist Honda helping customers at the bookstore he works at. What makes this interesting is that Honda’s customers tend to have particularly diverse backgrounds. Throughout the course of Volume 1, Honda is tasked with helping a group of young women, an old Frenchman, and many more. Just as the customers are diverse, so are their requests. Some customers simply ask for an interesting manga to read, while others have more specific requests like bilingual books. It helps give the readers a good idea of what bookstore employees deal with on a daily basis and how they handle various customer situations. This is also expressed through Honda often being overwhelmed by the requests of customers, and it leads to some particularly humorous moments. Honda freaking out over a father trying to find a hentai doujinshi for his daughter, or flailing around to look for a good book for a customer is thoroughly entertaining, while also accurately conveying the stress of Honda’s job in a relatable way. This mix of realism and humor is what makes Honda-san such an effective manga and a continually enjoyable read.
While interactions with customers make up a good chunk of Honda-san‘s first volume, the manga delves into the internal operations of bookstores as well. Book re-stocking, employee training, and publisher relations are all featured in the volume, and they provide some great information on the struggles that Japanese bookstores face. The chapter focusing on Honda’s bookstore interacting with publisher representatives was particularly enlightening as it depicted the co-operative yet contentious relationship that they have. Like the customer interactions, these situations are also spiced up with some appropriate humor, which helps the reader stay engaged with the information that is being explained. If you aren’t familiar with how bookstores operate, these internally-focused sections of the volume will be incredibly valuable.
One of the best aspects of Honda-san is its varied character designs. Each member of the sales crew in Honda’s bookstore feels distinct, all following an amusingly bizarre face motif. This variety also extends to the customers as well. Every customer looks and acts unique, which helps make each of them memorable. I especially loved the designs of the BL fans that Honda helps out in Chapter 2, as none of them conformed to a singular visual characteristic despite their common interest. It helps establish that fans of comics come from all walks of life, and it’s very refreshing to see.
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san Volume 1 is a great book from start to finish. Between its tidbits of bookstore insight and relatable humor, the series strikes a balance that keeps you wanting more. If you are a fan of manga and are looking for a fun read, Honda-san is definitely worth checking out.