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Not Simple is the tale of a young man named Ian, who has spent the majority of his life in search of his older sister, whom he hasn't seen since childhood. His journey takes him from his birthplace of Melbourne, Australia, to faraway England, to several cross-country trips on foot across the United States. Each new and often painful twist on which these travels take him are chronicled by Jim, a freelance journalist and Ian's only friend.

It lives up to its title, telling the story of Ian in a unique and complex fashion by jumping back and forth across various times in his life as Jim writes the young man's strange and tragic tale. The manga is written and illustrated by Natsume Ono (House of Five Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso, ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.). As with Ono's other works, Not Simple is notable not only for its quirky art style, giving the series a more western look when compared to most modern manga, but also for its mature and hard-hitting story. The manga was originally serialized in Penguin Shoubou's Comic Seed! and later Ikki, collected into a one-volume graphic novel by Shogakugan, and was licensed for an English release in 2010 by Viz Media.


This manga provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Not Simple runs the full gamut of this trope, from Ian's distant and verbally abusive father to his alcoholic mother, who even sells a young Ian's body to a pimp in order to pay for her habit.
  • Anachronic Order: The story continuously jumps around in time. The beginning is set before the events that lead to the end, followed by the end, followed by the beginning, which then carries on up until near the opening scene, and then finally jumps back sometime near the middle of the story.
  • Bait-and-Switch Compassion: Ian's mother gives him up to a pimp, stating that it's fine for him to prostitute himself as she's not related to him. She then says she's kidding—about the relation thing, not about pimping Ian out.
  • Break the Cutie: Ian, pretty much the whole time. Even as an adult he has that wistful, innocent look that makes all the unsimple things even worse.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Jim is witness to Ian's climactic breakdown in the latter half of the story, when he's wailing after learning about his sister dying in prison and why.
  • Downer Beginning: The story starts at the end of Ian's journey, with him picked up by Irene to use him as a decoy in case her father came after her boyfriend. He learns that the girl he's been waiting for these last three years is dead (she isn't, but he'll never know that), becomes the target of an assassination, and left to die believing that he'd never accomplish any of his life's goals. Irene even cries for him, saying that the end he got was unfair. Just before the story proper begins, we learn that Jim does publish the book he wanted to write about Ian, but rumors have floated around saying that he killed himself not even a year after it released.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Kylie is actually Ian's mother, not his sister.
  • Foreshadowing: Several times throughout the story, Ian mentions that he sometimes thinks that Kylie is his mother rather than his sister, in part due to the huge age gap between them. She is, as we later learn in the manga.
  • Fatal Family Photo: All the way back in the beginning of the manga, Kylie takes a picture with Ian on their balcony. Kylie keeps it with her as a reminder to reunite with Ian and as a reminder of what she's doing all this for, but she dies in prison with it still on her. Ian eventually retrieves it and a copy from his mother's house, one of which staying with Jim. Likewise, Ian has one copy on him when he's about to die.
  • Framing Device: The story of this manga is told as Jim writes a book (also titled Not Simple) detailing the trials of Ian's life.
  • How We Got Here: The story of Ian's life starts to be told after his death.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Jim wrote one of his books with Ian as the inspiration for the protagonist. At the time, Jim stated that it was because he saw Ian as having the traits he wanted in himself.
  • Justified Title
  • Karma Houdini: Ian's father, who despite more or less being the catalyst for much of the conflict and not caring or even acknowledging his role in it, suffers no consequences.
  • Kill the Cutie Again, Ian.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jim has one when he sees Ian come back broken from his encounter with Kylie's ex-boyfriend. He notices that Ian arrives with chewing gum in his hand, and realizes all at once that the man who eventually gave Kylie the illness that killed her is also the one who pimped out Ian, since he regularly rewarded the boy with gum when he did his "duties".
  • One Degree of Separation: Sometimes the story having such a small world makes everything hurt worse. The woman Ian was waiting for all this time was Irene's mother, who's currently dating his dad. The man who he prostituted for as a child is his sister's ex-boyfriend.
  • Parental Incest: It is revealed that Ian's sister is also his mother, who conceived him after having sex with their shared father.
  • Pimping the Offspring: This occurs to Ian, as he was given up to a pimp as a thirteen year old to fuel his mother's drinking habit. Ian was too young to absorb the fact that he was abused this way, but everyone else in his life is righteously furious when they find out. In particular, his sister Kylie, who outright assaulted her boyfriend when she figures out he was Ian's pimp.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Ian is killed by Irene's dad's men in the prologue shortly after hearing that the woman he loved (and whom he planned to run away together with once they reunited) died since he last saw her three years ago. This was told to him by the woman's niece, Irene, whose mother had recounted the story of Ian and her Aunt after her Aunt died. However, it all turned out to be a mistake, as Irene was unaware that it was actually her mother who had met and planned to run away with Ian... her mother was just lying to protect her daughter's feelings.
  • The Promise: Before Kylie and Ian separate, she makes him promise that he'll reunite with her when he finishes one of his life's goals. She never specifies what it should be, so she and Ian settle on him breaking one of his favorite track and field runners' personal records. While Ian is eventually able to do so, he doesn't get to meet up with Kylie.
  • Rape as Drama: Of the statutory kind. Kylie and her father had sex, resulting in Ian's birth, but Kylie's mother claimed that the girl did it to get back at her. That sexual encounter was more or less the catalyst for everything that went wrong in their family's life, as the mother became an alcoholic to cope, the father abandoned them for a new wife, and Kylie was left trying to raise Ian as best she could.
  • Title Drop: The story's title comes from the last chapter, in which Irene's mother tells Ian that she is charmed by him and believes that he's not as "simple" as he appears.
  • Trauma Conga Line:
    • The story of poor Ian's life. To be exact, he is the product of incest between his father and sister, and that causes his "parents" to divorce, he then lives with an alcoholic grandmother who sells him into prostitution at age 13, which causes him to get H.I.V. His only goal in life is to find his mother/sister, but before he can, she dies from pneumonia in prison, which she gets because she contracted H.I.V from the same man who gave it to Ian. If that wasn't bad enough, neither of his parents even want to look at him ever again, and it's implied his mother/grandmother blames him for everything that has happened to her. Then, when Ian finally finds something worthwhile in his life, he is killed, possibly by his own father's command.
    • That's not to say Kylie had it any easier. She was impregnated by her own father, resulting in the conception of Ian and her mother getting drunk and blaming the relationship's fallout on her. She gets separated from Ian only because the mother wanted to spite the father, has a spat with her that results in her running away from home, and becomes a criminal. On top of that, she has to go back to her mother's house to take care of her in exchange for granting Ian a better life, gets a boyfriend who turns out to be the guy who pimped her little "brother", and gets sent to jail for attempting to stab the man. After all this, Kylie dies of pneumonia in prison, with her body weakened from H.I.V., and never seeing Ian again.
  • What Are You in For?: Kylie's introduction into the story has her already at the end of her prison sentence, with some other inmates asking her why she got convicted. She explains that she committed acts of petty theft before and once tried to assault her boyfriend. What she neglects to say is that the assault was her righteously furious about her boyfriend pimping out her brother as a child and giving both of them H.I.V.
  • You Remind Me of X: A tragic example; Ian's resemblance to his father is part of the reason his mother hates him. It is implied his father also dislikes the resemblance, though that might be because it made it impossible to pass him off as Kylie's child.

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