Days on Fes is a tender, comfy little work.
There is a certain charm to the way Days on Fes carries itself. It is not a grand story, nor is it a particularly deep one. The cast is relatively small, centering around four members and a few supporting background faces. The setting is very much our own world, if seen through a softer lens. The stakes are only as dire as ”How will we pay for the next show?!” and will not have you gripping your seat with anticipation. Not everything goes right for Otoha, Kanade, Ritsuru, and Gaku, but nothing goes all that wrong either. It is pleasant from start to finish.
None of this is to the detriment of Days on Fes. The objective here in the first volume is to capture a mood, a vibe, and, interestingly, the feeling of live music much more than the music itself. I initially assumed that this would be about music and bands first and foremost, and while those elements are certainly present they are as much a backdrop as any city skyline.
Days on Fes attempts to distill the experience of seeing live music. What it is like to be up close to the stage when your favorite band plays your favorite song. The electric energy of being in a live show where the crowd is absolutely losing it. The quiet serenity of laying in the cool grass and watching clouds pass overhead as an act wraps its third encore in the distance. Days on Fes is all about the festival atmosphere and sharing those moments with others.
This extends to the practical concerns of festival music as well. We get an entire section dedicating to Gaku and Ritsuru camping: setting up tents, finding the right location, sleeping arrangements—the whole nine yards. We get detailed breakdowns of what items the cast puts in their backpacks to take to the show. Often times the panels depicting bands are mere interstitial shots to show that time has passed, with more page time dedicated to planning outfits by scoping out social media or chatting in cafes about how to coordinate the next road trip.
Kanade and Otoha do not have a whole lot of character development to speak of, but that is not a huge issue. They are both young girls in their first year of high school, and therefore don't have a lot of life experience, with most everything being new to them. That's why their main character traits are “Has been to festivals before” (Otoha) and “Hasn't been to music festivals before” (Kanade). Ritsuru and Gaku have a lot more depth, but even then, they do not get a lot of complex character development and are mostly played off as a comedy duo. These characters mainly exist for readers to project their life experiences on – the simple joy of going to see live music for the first time, the giddiness of wanting to catch every music show you can, the ennui of being a young person in college, the expertise and preparedness that comes with making enough mistakes in the past. They are simple characters, but that didn't stop me from finding them incredibly relatable. I think, at times, I have been all four of these characters at different points in my life (especially the obnoxious listless 20-something bit—that hits too close to home).
The art is excellent. Most of the pages are drawn in a realistic style and utilize framing that feels very much like you are a fly on the wall in a real-world setting. There are the occasional silly faces, mostly from Gaku, but the characters are largely illustrated in a true-to-life fashion. The character designs are appealing, and strike a good balance between simplicity and texture. On the whole, the volume has the sort of "realistic” comic book art that works: not too soft nor too jagged.
Something that this volume does exceptionally well are the Otoha and Kanade reaction shots. In scenes where they are watching a live music performance, the focus is mostly on Otoha and Kanade's faces instead of the performing band (thus potentially sparing readers from word bubbles full of lyrics). They look simply alight with joy, embodying the buoyant energy that often comes with the excitement of watching live music. You are not even totally sure as a reader whether they are enjoying the music or the experience of being at a live show more, and I think the answer is both in equal parts. Experiencing music, in person, surrounded by others, is a unique and wonderful experience.
I found myself fondly thinking back to my own experiences seeing live shows. Those times we used to ride to the next town over to see a garage band in a hole-in-the-wall venue then drive back home after midnight sweaty and exhausted. The time I saw Dragonforce live with my future best man and we stood not ten feet from a fifteen-minute keytar solo, shouting till our throats were sore. Those early, formative experiences are ones I will always treasure, and the fact that Kanato Oka brought those memories flooding back to me is the strongest endorsement I can give this series. I can't wait to pick up Days on Fes' second albu- er, volume.
Ultimately, Days on Fes has low narrative ambitions but excels at capturing the transient joy of its subject matter. Even though there's no music, it's hard not to find yourself tapping along to Kanade and Otoha's adventures.