I’m a little late in discovering Maré Odomo’s wonderful comic strip Letters to an Absent Father, but there was no way I could let it slip by without shining the spotlight on the series. Letters to an Absent Father is a sobering look at the world of Pokémon games and how the trainer, whether a boy or girl, largely goes through the journey of becoming a master without the guidance of his or her father. Though the mother/child relationship is usually established, the dichotomy between father and child is rarely touched upon. Odomo’s Letters to an Absent Father is an attempt to peel back the curtain and give readers some insight into this regularly omitted relationship.
Rather than focus on Red or Blue or any of the other video game trainers, Odomo instead uses Ash from the Pokémon anime as the lead for his comics. It’s a clever shift; Ash has a sort of universal appeal from all the years that the show has been on, and more personality to play with than any of the silent ciphers of the games. The comics have their origin in a video game art and culture magazine called EXP; Odomo also ran the series on his website (which is down as of this writing) and eventually collected them into a single, printed volume.
The print version is how I came across Letters to an Absent Father. I bought it on a whim from Fangamer.com, a website that specializes in video game-themed merchandise and books. When it arrived in the mail, I had no idea how tiny it would be. The comic is a roughly three inch square, bound with staples and only four total pages of reading material. Patterned after a daily comic strip, there are only a total of twelve stories to read (one of which is a bonus exclusive to this collection), and as one might imagine, it doesn’t take more than a handful of minutes to get through reading all of them.
At face value, that might not sound like a book worth anyone’s time, but Letters to an Absent Father’s brevity is in no way a mark against it. The few minutes that it will take to read through the collection quickly multiplied into over a half an hour, for me. I couldn’t stop re-reading it, soaking in each panel over and over. Odomo’s work here is phenomenal because it shows so much restraint. The art is simple yet communicates a complex array of emotions and thoughts, perfectly complimenting the story of each strip.
The main thrust of the series is that one of the reasons why Ash is compelled to become a Pokémon Master is because he wants to impress his father, who is supposedly also a Pokémon trainer. Each of the comics in this collection represents a single letter from Ash to his dad. Again, Odomo works magic here by saying so much, and conveying so much emotion, using very little page real estate. Each letter is only a handful of words, but it’s evident on every panel how much of an impact not seeing his father has had on Ash, and how much it drives him to do what he does.
Letters to an Absent Father is a genuinely special piece of video game fiction. It’s a deep, rich, and emotional examination of Pokémon that, despite not being any sort of official part of the storyline, has an air of validity and realism that fits perfectly within the constraints of the world of the anime. I found Letters to an Absent Father to be very genuine and heartwarming, not to mention food for thought. It would be incredibly easy for an artist to veer off course with a project like this, but Odomo is able to deftly interject mature concepts and themes without breaking the decorum of the Pokémon universe. It’s brief and it’s tiny, but Letters to an Absent Father is nonetheless moving and memorable, and deserves to be read by any Pokémon fan.