Saturday, May 07, 2005


Once again, it's been too long since I've done one of these, for various reasons (including trying to at least keep up with the English-language release of Fruits Basket in my reading of the Japanese volumes). Anyway, today's manga is Azuma Hideo Douwashuu [Hideo Azuma Fairy Tale Collection] by Hideo Azuma. This is a collection of unrelated short stories, most only a few pages long: the first such collection that I've reviewed here, iirc. (The stories in Usamaru Furuya's Garden were longer.)

As well as being the title of the book as a whole, "Hideo Azuma Fairy Tale Collection" is also the title of a set of thirteen fairy-tale parodies, which takes up the first seventy pages. These stories are somewhat like "Fractured Fairy Tales," but with a good deal more sex and violence. The most striking among them is "Rapunzel" ("Rapuntseru"), which is also the story that lured me to buy the book when I was browsing in Book-Off (a second-hand bookstore, so the manga aren't shrink-wrapped). In Azuma's version, after Rapunzel's hair is cut off, she discovers that she can extend her leg from the tower to the ground; and when the witch cuts this off (bloodlessly) too, she extends other parts of her body, all of which are in turn lopped off, until by the end of the story she's been reduced to a featureless torso. In Azuma's disturbing version of "Sleeping Beauty" ("Nemureru bijo"), the prince is a lecher, and the sleeping princess's unconscious body is being prostituted by (presumably) the evil fairy. The prince takes the fairy up on this offer, but discovers, in a genuinely repellent scene, that both the princess and her room are filthy. Horrified, he cleans up the princess and her room instead of having sex with her, and devotes the rest of his life to keeping her clean.

After these thirteen stories come several humorous fairy-tale-like stories in the same vein. Then comes a series of surrealistic stories, primarily not humorous. The best of these is perhaps "Namako." Namako is in school when bizarre spore-like creatures burst out from her teacher's orifices, and the same fate rapidly affects all her classmates. On the story's final page, we are told that the next day her teacher and classmates were back to normal, "but from inside my body something wanted to leap out, and I was desperately holding it back." (Apologies for the clumsy translation.) The final two stories are the longest in the book, twenty-four pages each, and combine autobiography and surrealism, with bizarre events going on all around a phlegmatic Azuma, whose friends are drawn as anteaters and other animals. I have to admit I don't really know what to make of these two stories.

Azuma has clearly made use of Tezuka's artistic style, though not his cinematic storytelling. In fact, a number of Azuma's figures look like they have stepped straight out of a Tezuka comic. But Azuma puts this style to un-Tezuka-like uses. Not that Tezuka couldn't be weird himself at times; but Tezuka's works always retain a humanism that is absent from these stories.

Frankly, I don't feel I understand the work in this collection well enough to give a recommendation one way or the other. But at any rate, it's another example of manga that pursues unique artistic expression.

The book is 240 pages and its retail price is 640 yen. It was published by Chikuma Shobou (whom I'd never heard of before), and its ISBN is 4-480-03210-X. At the end, there's a seven-page "commentary" by Tori Miki, an anthology of whose wordless gag strips was recently published here by Fantagraphics.

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