Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Colorful by Eto Mori. (Counterpoint Press)
When I was a kid, I was one of the funny ones. All the way through school, I was a class clown who couldn’t take much of anything seriously. I’d be there with a quick one-liner or sarcastic comment, and people would laugh. I’m not sure what changed in my life because now people usually just stare, and I don’t think they’d described me as funny, BUT THAT’S FINE.
In high school, when I started trying to write “serious” stories, the most common feedback I got was, “I thought it was going to be funny.” As a teenager, I’d already been put in my distinct box. I was the “funny guy,” not expected to do much more. Like a lot of things about adolescence, I grew out of this phase in life where people saddle you with your one thing.
Reading Colorful by Eto Mori made me think about this time in my life and I realized this narrow perception wasn’t just for me. It’s happening to everyone all the time. Hell, it’s probably happening to me right now but I just don’t think about it anymore.
Colorful opens in a celestial setting. An angel offers an unnamed soul one more chance at life on Earth. Essentially, this person did something egregious in their previous life, but the big man (a.k.a. God) has unveiled a lottery system that gives wayward souls a chance at rebirth, but they first have to prove themselves to be viable choices through temporary homestays. This entails the second-chance soul slipping into someone’s body as that person dies—a classic switcheroo—using the body as a shell to operate within while they attempt to right their wrongs.
There is a distinct focus on perception in Colorful. Characters continually make assumptions based on the narrow view they have of people, only to have those assumptions turned around when the full story opens up.
It’s a compelling premise and, on top of that, we get some rich and engaging characters in the meat of the story. Our unnamed soul is taking the place of 14-year-old Makoto Kobyashi, a boy who has recently tried to kill himself, ending up in the hospital in a coma. The wayward soul is now on a mission to understand where he went wrong in his own life and learn how to live better for the next round.
His guiding angel, Prapura, explains: all the elements of Kobyashi’s life will relate to his own, so he needs to use those situations and connections to further understand his own failings in his prior life. As heavy as all of this sounds, I should mention that this book is funny as hell. Kobyashi’s guiding angel is a hoot and I loved every scene with him and how well he works off of the unnamed soul.
There is a distinct focus on perception in Colorful. Characters continually make assumptions based on the narrow view they have of people, only to have those assumptions turned around when the full story opens up. Even the main character has a stifled view of himself which, throughout the book, is challenged, expanded, and deepened. This goes back to my sense of humor being the only thing people saw in me when I was in school. It was one shade of my color, but people assumed it was my whole self—and I know there were multi-faceted people who I shortchanged in the process. Mori is doing her best to crack open this approach to relationships, so we can all add a little more grace and consideration to it all. She does a wonderful job of showing us this reality without making it feel like she’s preaching to us.
The relationships in Colorful are well-rounded and carefully crafted. At the beginning, nothing is as it seems, and as we dig deeper into the story and the mystery of Kobyashi’s life it opens up a little at a time until we can see the full picture—then we can comprehend the full array of colors making up the characters, relationships, and emotions—and it’s beautiful.
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