Wednesday, December 31, 2003


I used to buy a lot more music than I do now, and one of the things I bought a lot of was compilations of obscure 1960s punk and psychedelic rock from the 1960s: some of the my favorites were Boulders vol. 1, Chocolate Soup for Diabetics vol. 2, and Monsters of the Midwest vol. 1. I basically stopped buying these compilations because I realized that most of the ones I bought didn't do anything for me, and there was no telling in advance whether I would enjoy a compilation or not: even if it was in the same series as one of my favorites, chances were that I wouldn't like it very much (for example, I own Chocolate Soup for Diabetics vols. 1 and 3, but neither is anywhere near as good as vol. 2).

The other day, however, I was at Vintage Vinyl in Evanston, a store which has a wide selection of such compilations, and where I had once been a regular shopper. I was feeling expansive, so I decided to take a chance and gamble twenty-five bucks on Incredible Sound Show Stories vol. 1: The Technicolour Milkshake, which claimed to proffer "1960's Acetates/Private pressings/Obscurities." And I'm glad I did; it's an excellent compilation. There are twenty-two tracks by fifteen groups: standouts are "Action Painting" by the Ricketts, "I'm so Glad" (the Skip James song) by the Maze (two members of which would later be in Deep Purple--but this track sounds nothing like "Smoke on the Water"), and "Red and Green Talking Machine" by an unknown group, but all the tracks, except for the five "bonus tracks" on the CD, are solid.

The CD was released in 2001 on Dig the Fuzz Records. The booklet lists a website (www.digthefuzzrecords.com) and an email address (digthefuzzrecords@yahoo.com), but the website seems to be down, and I don't know about the email address. The snail-mail address, if you want to try, is Dig the Fuzz Records, P.O. Box 79, Nottingham, NG5 9BT, U.K.

Monday, December 29, 2003


I've added links to three literary blogs to the sidebar: Kitabkhana, the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review, and splinters.

Saturday, December 27, 2003


Fairly often, I dream that I've found a book which looks really good, and when I wake up I feel sad for a moment when I realize that it doesn't exist. Last night it was an anthology of short stories based upon Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" character: one was by Colson Whitehead (author of John Henry Days) and another was a pastiche of P. G. Wodehouse, and I remember being surprised (in my dream) that the quality of the stories was so high.

Does this ever happen to anyone else?

Thursday, December 25, 2003


The other day I rented the film Bounce Ko Gals, directed by Masato Harada, which has acquired some notoriety because it's about Japanese schoolgirls who engage in "paid dates," a euphemism for prostitution. The plight of Japanese adolescents has been a fertile theme for Japanese popular culture: e.g. All About Lily Chou Chou and the anime Boogiepop Phantom. But Bounce Ko Gals has neither the depth of these two films, nor the vitality of a B-movie like Alleycat Rock: Sex Hunter. Instead, it's a plodding, moralistic "expose" of a social problem, of the sort associated with Hollywood in the 1950s. The two central characters are both cliches: the inexperienced girl who at first just dips her toes into the world of paid dates to make a quick buck, but is inexorably sucked in deeper, and the streetwise girl who robs her customers instead of having sex with them. Nor did the film provide any sociological insights about the "paid date" phenomenon beyond what I'd already read in newspaper articles. I watched it for about an hour, and decided there was little point in watching further.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


From a couple of days ago, Juan Cole makes the case that Qaddafi's giving up his WMD programs is not due to the War in Iraq.

Sunday, December 21, 2003


The comments to this post on Invisible Adjunct are interesting, if not exactly enlightening, except sociologically. To me, they say that postmodernism in academia is no longer fashionable. Fashionable people don't respond to ridicule by getting defensive: those who ridicule them are automatically perceived as old fogeys, regardless of the merits of the case, and all they have to do is sneer. This used to be true of postmodernists, but no longer.

(Edited to fix minor glitches.)

Friday, December 19, 2003


I've added a link on the sidebar to the very funny webcomic "Triangle and Robert," the only continuing webcomic that I follow. While the link goes to the current strip, you should probably start from the beginning, as there's a continuous plot (though with digressions) running from then till now: the first week is shaky, but after that it's off and running.


The other day I was watching Bob Clampett's immortal "Wabbit Twouble," from the Looney Tunes 4-DVD set. (This set is deeply problematic, but that's a topic for another post.) This wasn't the first time I'd seen it, or the second or third; but this time around I was struck by an aspect of it that I hadn't really thought about before. The middle of the cartoon is taken up by an extended gag, perhaps the longest gag in any Looney Tune (or Merrie Melodie): an elaborate scheme of Bugs Bunny's, involving glasses painted black, a shaving towel and a tree branch, to lure Elmer Fudd into walking off a cliff. And at the end of this whole scheme--he doesn't fall! He walks over the edge of the cliff, but taking advantage of cartoon physics manages to scramble back. Nor has he suffered any injury in the course of the scheme. The payoff is purely psychological, with Bugs "confiding" to Elmer (quoting from memory) "Ya know, Doc, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was me that tricked you," Elmer's delayed reaction as this sinks in, and Bugs kissing him and running off. Like pure mathematics or abstract art, Bugs' schemes in this film have no "practical" function and serve no purpose beyond themselves.


This blog is supposed to be about, among other things, movies. I do intend to do some writing about movies here. As a stopgap, here's something I wrote a while ago for the Asian Cinema Discussion message board (slightly modified):

ALLEYCAT ROCK: SEX HUNTER is a Japanese film directed by Yasuharu Hasebe. While it's not a classic on the level of FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41 (which it shares its lead actress, Meiko Kaji, with), it's well worth seeing.

The film's main character is Mako, the leader of a girl gang called the Alleycats whose criminality doesn't seem to extend beyond petty robbery and smoking pot. Mako has a thing going with the Baron, the leader of a far more vicious male gang called the Eagles. He's a sadistic psychopath with a pathological hatred of "halfbreeds" (Japanese whose fathers are American servicemen); and when a member of Mako's gang dumps a member of the Baron's gang for a "halfbreed," the Eagles set out to "protect" Japanese womanhood from "halfbreeds" by beating up "halfbreed" men who sleep with "purebreed" women. When Mako falls in love with a "halfbreed" who has come to town to search for his sister, the stage is set for an escalating confrontation between Mako and the Baron.

For most of the movie, it seems like a straightforward good gang vs. bad gang movie, but it winds up being considerably darker. The bloody triumph of good over evil that we're led to expect never arrives, and all the major characters are twisted to some extent, even Mako, who's the sanest (in one of the first scenes, she gets in a pointless knife fight with one of the girls in her gang, and tries to kill her). There are a couple of plot holes, but it's well directed and has very good performances by the actors playing Mako and the Baron.

Incidentally, I have no idea where they got the subtitle: there is no "sex hunter" (unless it's the Baron, who's hunting people who have had sex).

Thursday, December 18, 2003


As you've probably surmised, this is a parody of The Hobbit, by "A. R. R. R. Roberts" (actually Adam Roberts). I've only glanced at Bored of the Rings so I can't say how this stacks up with that, but unlike Bored, The Soddit is British humor, in the vein of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. And it's funny, albeit uneven. A sample:

"Tis true, life is hard," stated Elsqare. "There is only one thing worse than being an elf, and that is not being an elf."
A dozen elves laughed, twittering like swallows. The laughter died away.
"I don't get it," said Bingo. He became uncomfortably aware of dozens of elvish eyes, each pair focusing a cut-glass look down upon him.
"You don't get it?" said Elsqare, sounding, for the first time, peeved. "What d'ye mean?" He fitted his cunningly worked elvish monocle back into his eye.
"Well, I only mean to say," said Bingo cautiously, that I don't quite ... I mean, when you say that. Don't you like being an elf?"
"'Course I do," snapped Elsqare. "Absurd question!"
"Well," said Bingo. "It's just that if you say 'there's only one thing worse than being an elf', you're implying that being an elf is a miserable thing, and that only 'being anything else' is more miserable. In effect," he went on, warming to his theme, "you're saying that any existence is appalling, and that the only salient characteristic of an elvish existence is that it is marginally less appalling than any other existence. I suppose I can understand somebody expressing a position of such nihilistic absolutism, but it's difficult to construe it as ... as a joke, do you see? I don't see why that's funny. I mean, if existing is so terrible, wouldn't tears and lamentations be more appropriate?"

I don't think this has been published in the U.S yet. The copy I bought was published by Gollancz in the U.K. (ISBN 0 575 07554 6), and the British price is 6.99 pounds: not bad for a 343-page hardcover (granted, the pages are small).

According to the page opposite the title page Adam Roberts has published several books under his own name, including Salt, On, Stone, and Polystom. These sound suspiciously like poetry, but I will investigate.


Workers at Borders Books Store #1 in Ann Arbor, Mich. have been on strike since Dec. 8. They are asking people to support them by boycotting Borders, Waldenbooks, and amazon.com. More information here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


This is a slightly modified version of an email I wrote describing two more manga I've read, both by Shiriagari Kotobuki: A*su (I'm actually not sure how to romanize the title; the Japanese title consists of the characters for "a" and "su," and between them a large round circle of the kind that Japanese use to "blank out" a character) and Hinshi no Esseisuto, which means Dying Essayist or Essayist on the Verge of Death. These two are the best manga I've read: A*su in particular is one of the best comics of any sort that I've ever read.

A*su has essentially no action, nor is it about relationships; nor is it a comedy, though there are moments of dark humor. Instead, it is a psychological portrait of a mentally ill young woman, seen through her own eyes.

The book's protagonist and narrator (who is always drawn naked, but never tittilatingly so) is searching for friends, and the book consists of brief episodes from her quest. But she is schizophrenic, and the stories follow the twisted logic of her own mind, without distinguishing between reality, her delusions, and allegory. Though she is desperately lonely, the bizarre behavior that her illness gives rise to dooms her quest to failure: in one episode, for example, she tries to make friends by telling a stranger in a convenience store that the shampoo may be poisoned. But she is portrayed with such compassion, though without sentimentality, that I couldn't help empathizing with her in her hopeless situation.

The art is unlike any other manga I've seen (apart from Hinshi no Esseisuto), or any comic at all, for that matter. It's economical but very expressive, and far more flexible stylistically than most manga. Backgrounds and layouts are also simple: the most common layout is four wide panels of equal size, stacked vertically. On some pages, the art is overlaid with childlike scribbles spilling over the panel borders, representing the protagonist's perceptions. Unfortunately I don't own a scanner, and I don't know of any online samples of the book's interior art, but here's a link to a blurry picture of the book's cover, found by Joe Kuth.

Hinshi no Esseisuto is a series of short, essay-like (but fictional) chapters revolving around the themes of death and dying, narrated by a dying man in a hospital. Some of the chapters deal with the narrator's own life; most of these have an element of the uncanny or fantastic. Some deal with other patients: a man who meticulously plans his own deathbed scene, and a woman who obsessively scrutinizes her dreams to find out whether she will live or die, for example. Some are openly fantastic parables or fables. One of these takes place in a country where a fatal disease is rampant which can be transmitted merely by looking into another person's eyes, so nobody ever looks at another person's face; a man on his deathbed, who has never seen another face, asks to see his wife's face. The basic theme is that of the transience and value of life. It's a familiar theme, of course, but Shiriagari gives it a vividness and immediacy I've rarely encountered: I found rereading some of the chapters in preparation for this reply to be emotionally wrenching.

The ISBN for A*su is 4-921181-39-X, and that for Hinshi no Esseisuto is 4-921181-44-6. Both are published (I think) by Soft Magic.

Actually, these two books are atypical of Shiriagari's output, from what I gather: most of his works are comedies, and the one other serious work of his that I own is done in a completely different style from A*su and Hinshi no Esseisuto.

If what I've written about these, or any other, manga, piques your interest, I will try to post or link to info on ordering Japanese-language manga soon.


Juan Cole explains why Saddam's capture doesn't guarantee Bush's reelection.

Monday, December 15, 2003


I realize there isn't much here to comment on yet, but if you have happened to come across this blog I'd love to hear from you. Once I've figured out how to do it, I'll add my email address to the sideboard, but as a temporary measure I'll post it here (munged to guard against spammers). To get my address, delete the "s"s from the following address: comspletelyfustile@esarthlink.net.


One of the things I want to do with this blog is to write descriptions of all the untranslated manga I own, despite not having read most of them yet. (I'm a very slow reader of Japanese.) Manga is a lot more diverse than one would gather from what's been published in the U.S. so far, and despite the current boom that's not likely to change anytime soon. I'll start with a review I wrote a while ago of a manga I have read, Chibi Maruko-chan vol. 12. Since then I've bought three more volumes in the series, but I haven't read them yet.

Chibi Maruko-chan #12
by Sakura Momoko
Ribon Mascot Comics, 1994
ISBN4-08-853771-8, 390 yen

This was an unexpected pleasure. I'd purchased it out of curiosity, because I knew that the anime was tremendously popular and and long-running in Japan, but was unlikely to ever be brought to the US because, as a domestic comedy, it was considered "too Japanese" and lacking in appeal to foreign otakus. And I decided to read it because I wanted to read something with furigana. Chibi Maruko-chan turns out to be something rare in American comics, and in Japanese comics too, judging from what I've seen at any rate: a comic about an ordinary child doing ordinary things.

Sakura Maruko is not an angel like the card-capturing Sakura, or a terror like Crayon Shin-chan or Calvin; nor is she a surrogate adult like the children in many American comic strips. Nor is she constantly having adventures, or coming up with wacky schemes. And while I've seen complaints that the anime is too cute, the manga's Maruko-chan is no cuter than the average eight-year-old. In fact she is just an average third-grade girl: sometimes good-hearted, more often self-centered, but usually cheerful. The book is made up of ten self-contained stories, each sixteen pages long. Based on Sakura Momoko's own childhood experiences, these stories revolve around small incidents played out realistically. In one, for example, Maruko sneaks a peek at her sister's "exchange diary" while starting one of her own with a friend; in another, she forgets various things she's supposed to bring to school and has to ask members of her family to bring them. Often, Maruko ends up in an embarrassing situation due to her own thoughtlessness, but the comic isn't out to teach lessons. The stories aim for gentle humor rather than big laughs, but the realism with which Maruko is portrayed makes them quite enjoyable.

Of the supporting characters, the most memorable, at least in this volume, is Maruko's grandfather, a foolish old man who dotes on Maruko. He indulges her in whatever she suggests; but since his judgment is no better than hers, the results are often unfortunate. Other major characters include Maruko's mother and sister, for whom Maruko is a trial and a pest respectively. We also see a lot of Maruko's classmates, but by and large they don't really come into focus as characters in this volume.

The art is unlike any other manga I've seen, whether shounen, shoujo, or four-panel strips like Sazae-san. Simply drawn, with large round heads and small eyes, the children look more like Peanuts characters than like the big-eyed kawaii children of most manga; and while Sakura's art is not as good as Charles Schulz's, it's much better than the average American comic strip today. The layouts, too, are straightforward, with a lot of panels per page.

This volume has a sort of calendar theme, with each story taking place at a different time of year, from early in the school year through summer vacation. There's also a bonus story in which Maruko meets Coji-coji, another of Sakura's characters, and they go twenty years into the future to meet Maruko's future self in a story that's both funny and touching. I would definitely recommend this, and I look forward to buying more volumes in the series.

A note on readability: this is a children's comic (or an all-ages comic, at any rate), so all the kanji have furigana (though the print is small enough that the furigana are occasionally difficult to make out). Some colloquial contractions are used, but I was able to figure them out from the context. More of a problem, surprisingly, were the sentence structures, which were sometimes unexpectedly complex for a children's comic. But overall this was an easy read.


Since there's nothing else here for now, here are a couple of places you can go:

An excellent post by Jeanne of Body and Soul on America's moral blindness.

Invisible Adjunct as a whole is a must-read for anyone considering going to graduate school, or interested in the future of higher education. But the comments to this post, in particular, are outstanding.


Hello. I've been reading blogs for quite a while, but until very recently I never considered keeping one of my own. I finally realized that blogs are the perfect means of expression for someone like me who is interested in a lot of things but unable to make a long-term commitment to any of them, and who knows a lot about a lot of things but isn't an expert on any one thing (except perhaps for novels for adolescents written in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964, which was the subject of my dissertation). This is more or less an experiment: I can't promise I'll keep this up for long, but we'll see how it goes.

If this is the only post, or one of the only posts, on this blog, then you've stumbled across it by accident, since I haven't publicized it anywhere yet. Apologies anyway for the lack of content--I'll have more up soon, I promise.

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