There have been many attempts at autobiographical graphic novels, Binky Brown and I Saw It among the earliest and Maus the best-known. I think it's fair to say that only fans of the genre and people interested in the specific issues explored were enthusiastic about these books.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi has created something totally different, a memoir that speaks to everyone, in totally original form. He tells an absorbing story using a few simple words and a few simple lines. He uses panels to pace the story, to focus details, to show facial expression, to convey emotion; in ways distinct from written autobiographies, but also distinct from film-makers, painters, photographers and anyone else who ever tried to use art to convey the feeling and meaning of a life.
I feel the reviewers complaining about the lack of depth are missing the point. The author's technique cannot go below the surface, he's drawing pictures. He can use those pictures to suggest depths, but not to explore them. A writer can spend thousands of words (or more) describing internal psychological states or conveying depth in other ways. Other graphic novelists, and also film-makers and painters, attempt to do the same by leaving realism behind or by including a lot of detail. Tatsumi confines himself to simple realism, but realism as perceived at the time, and stripped down to essential lines. He tells us what he saw and leaves it to us to imagine what went on below (and above, and before, and after).
To take one example, a historian might want to know the name and background of the waitress in the restaurant beneath his apartment who tries to seduce him with comic results. An artist might paint a haunting evocation of youth and inexperience and lust. Tatsumi draws her as he saw her, essentials only, few facts and no reliable ones. Was she young and pretty, confident and cheerful, hardworking and promiscuous? We know he thought so at the time, nothing more, but also nothing less. He conveys the episode not in one detailed picture, but in a dozen quick sketches, with word balloons and backdrops. In this way we learn about his life in a different manner than any previous autobiographical work of art, we learn different aspects than we have ever encountered.
This is not only a book for Manga fans. It's a story anyone can understand. The pain of having your ideas ignored or misunderstood. The pleasure of winning some degree of acceptance, and the frustration when others twist it for their own ends (but at the same time, the temptation of letting them do it, to gain recognition and money at the expense of artistic purity). The complex personal relationships, often searing, sometimes wondrous. The ups and downs of collaboration. The enigma of other people, those we love, those we respect and those we fear. All this with a backdrop of Japanese history and culture, a boy growing up, and an art form evolving.
This is an extraordinary masterwork. It takes only a couple of hours to read and you will be drawn into it in a different manner from anything else you've ever experienced.