Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anno Moyoco: Kantoku fuyukitodoki

Anno Moyoco 安野モヨコ initially serialized this between 2002 and 2004, and the book came out in 2005.  Kantoku fuyukitodoki 監督不行届 - it's been translated as Insufficient Direction, which is a great handling of the title.  

Anno is best known as an author of women's and or girls' comics, often with a really sexy flavor;  this is a little different.  It's about her first year or so of marriage, and it just so happens that she's married to Anno Hideaki, director of Evangelion, etc. etc.  So this is a celebrity marriage memoir in manga form.  The subtext is that since Hideaki is Lord God King of otaku, for Moyoco the first year of marriage was a crash course in otakudom;  but the punch line is that she's constantly realizing how fundamentally otakkii she is herself, so it's not a big leap for her. 

This manga works perfectly on every level.  As a gag manga about newly-married life it's funny and
sad and wise in all the right places - it hits all its marks.  As a meditation on otaku and their ways, from inside the citadel, it's thoughtful and perceptive (and it does its homework - it's accompanied by an exhaustive glossary of the titles and terms that come up in the comic).  And as a piece of manga art it's brilliant.

That's what I enjoyed most about it, I think:  the art.  Particularly the way she's chosen to draw herself and her husband.  In the manga she calls him kantoku-kun - Director-boy - and she draws him with a wickedly accurate but inexcapably affectionate caricature.  It's recognizably him, with the wispy beard and the glasses and the Ultraman poses, so it has all the specificity needed to make an effective parody of an individual, but it's also abstracted enough to make him everyotaku, and in some ways everymiddleageddoofus.  I.e., there's universality there.  And it's funny:  she's such an expert artist that even though he's drawn in a really cartoony way every gesture, every pose, every facial expression communicates.  It's human.

Meanwhile she draws herself as a big baby in a onesie and a bib;  she calls herself Rompers.  This is the genius, the fascinating bit.  There's a weird and wonderful disconnect between the two characters:  he's cartoony, but as I say realistic enough to be recognizable as a middle-aged dude, while she's much more cartoony, and as a big baby who's nevertheless introduced as a 30-year-old professional comics artist, she's pure sign.  There's no indication that the other characters see Rompers as a baby - no baby jokes at all.  There's no way in which Rompers can be taken as a physical representation of the author, no attempt at self-portraiture here on an external level.  And yet in nearly every frame we have the two of them side-by-side, interacting as a married couple.  It's gleefully surreal.  Here's Rompers trying on wedding dresses, here's Rompers having a beer, here's Rompers lying in bed with Director-boy. 

It's surreal, and it's funny, but it's also tremendously effective.  What it's doing is giving us, in the same visual field, an external view of her husband and an internal view of herself.  We see her husband as she sees him, and we see her as she sees herself.  It's first-person in a way that I've seldom seen in a comic - it's a wonderful device.  And it's made possible, again, by Moyoco's tremendous drafting skill - even though Rompers is as cartoony as a Peanuts character in terms of line and level of detail, Moyoco achieves a tremendous nuance of expression with her, somehow conveying totally adult mannerisms, reactions, emotions. 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Igarashi Daisuke: Kaiju no kodomo

Igarashi Daisuke 五十嵐大介, Kaijū no kodomo 海獣の子供 (Sea-creature children, although the official title of the translation is Children of the Sea, and I can see why).  It was published in five volumes between 2007 and 2012.  I read the first two when they first came out, and here are the notes I made for myself then:

This is still in progress, but I’ve read as much as has been published, and I can’t wait for more.   

It’s about an adolescent girl names Ruka who lives in a fictionalized version of Enoshima/Kamakura, and two boys, Umi and Sora, who have been raised by dugongs and have mysterious powers in the ocean.  Sounds hokey, very girly, but somehow it works.  The writing is good—a mix of myth, science, science-fiction, environmentalism, and adolescent angst—but the art is superb, and carries it.
Ruka’s father works at the aquarium, while she lives with her mother (parents divorced).  Other characters include a foreigner named Jim Cusack who also works at the aquarium, and is Umi and Sora’s guardian, although he can’t really control them.  Ruka is independent-minded but dreamy and moody.  Her father is kind of bland, always working;  her mother is clearly a beach bum who got pregnant too young.  Jim is fascinating:  tattooed all over with traditional designs from each island culture he’s lived with;  speaks Japanese.  And Umi and Sora are enigmas, constantly disappearing from the story, going off to speak with fish, etc.  The plot is moving kind of slowly—something about fish vanishing, usually in a cloud of phosphorescence;  Sora just disappeared at the end of Vol. 2, although we don’t know if it’s forever.  There are vague hints of climate disturbances (an echo of global warming), and international research bodies with unknown agendas who want to examine the boys.  

But what you really read it for is the art.  Igarashi has possibly the best draughtsmanship of any manga artist I’ve read, certainly recently.  All his shapes—people, buildings, landscapes—feel really solid and real, like he really understands the principles of sketching.  But they’re all rendered in this shaky, impressionistic style—if there’s a pen equivalent to watercolor, this is it.  It gives the whole thing a dreamy, gauzy quality that perfectly fits the aquatic themes.  And what really makes it work is that his tone, which could have been cloying, especially with this kind of art, is actually quite dry and reserved.  Anyway, it’s a masterpiece of visual tone. 

Well, I guess I could wait to read more.  I didn't get around to finishing it until now.   Partly that was intentional - I have a bad memory for plots, so as much as I love serialized fiction I don't really enjoy reading it in real time, because I've always forgotten what's going on by the time a new installment appears.  So when I get hooked on a current title I tend to put it aside until it finishes, or at least until enough volumes pile up to make it worth coming back to.  That's what I did with this.

Then it took the author an extraordinarily long time to come up with the last volume - 4 came out in 2009, and 5 not until 2012.  And I can see why - he obviously had trouble with the ending.  And in this case my plot-centric reading strategy kind of didn't pay off.  The ending is a letdown.  That is, it's hardly an ending at all.  Things go along pretty well through Vol. 4 - we learn more about Ruka's mother (she's not a beach bum at all), and about Cusack, and a couple more interesting secondary characters are introduced.  But Igarashi can't seem to figure out how to wrap it all up.  He keeps adding new layers of subtext - the aquatic sea is the cosmic sea, science is recapitulating myth, death is rebirth, the microcosm is the macrocosm - until the only way he can end it is with page after page after page of wonder-filled, text-less illustrations of Ruka cavorting with sea creatures.  And then it all resets - summer vacation ends and Ruka goes back to school.

So, yeah, I was right, but I forgot I was right.  You read it for the art.  Which is impeccable, all the way through.  The long textless passages of Vol. 5 remind me of some of the flights of fancy in Tezuka's Phoenix for sheer wordless eloquence.