Shortcomings is neither fast-nor-slow-moving. Surprisingly for a graphic novel, it moves almost entirely in real time, or at least as close to that as sequential art can manage. It reminds me of those documentary-style comedy shows that seem to be popular right now, except the only genre it really fits into is general slice-of-life. This doesn’t make it in any way boring; part of the fun in reading Shortcomings is seeing how well it imitates everyday life. Even the characters are weirdly close to real life. Their petty sides are never glossed over, especially when it comes to Ben Tanaka, the protagonist. He’s not a completely awful person, but he does have many shortcomings, and he goes back and forth between submitting to them and trying to keep them under control, with little sign of change. He constantly gets into arguments with his girlfriend, and when she moves to New York he ends up acting on his attraction to other women. The other characters at least come across as a little better than him, but then again they aren’t the main focus, and it’s obvious that they have their own flaws, too.
Usually, you need to have at least one sympathetic character for a story to be readable, but the characters here were so realistic that it didn’t matter so much. (The short length also helped with this.) They’re not the most engaging characters in the world, but they’re still worth reading about. Unfortunately, a few of them were way too trendy for my taste. I’m not a fan of trendiness, because it takes beauty and turns it into something shallow. Stuff like the rebellious artist girl and the coffee shop scenes came across as a deliberate attempt to make the comic seem cool. This is a shame since, if you ignore the hollow, trendy moments, Shortcomings is genuinely pretty to look at. Adrian Tomine’s drawing style is clean and simple, with plenty of clear lines and white space. I love how there are no blurry shadows in Shortcomings; instead, they’re all made either with hatching or solid blocks of darkness. A world where everything is slim, elegant and simple appeals so much to my sense of aesthetics, to the point where I sometimes want to step into it for a little while. Tomine’s art is also effective from a storytelling point of view. The first page actually shows scenes from a (rather trite) film Ben is watching, which you don’t realise until the “camera” (or in other words, the panels) pan out to reveal this. It’s a clever trick, and shows what you can do with the medium, even in one that sticks as closely to the established comic strip format as this one. I also like how there aren’t any page breaks between scenes- it adds to the real time feel. 4/5.