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Friday, September 22, 2006

MANGA CORNER: KONNAN DE IKKA

Konnan de ikka by Risa Itoh is a four-panel* gag manga collected in one volume, starring a mother and three daughters, of whom two are young adults and the youngest is an adolescent. All of them spend a good deal of time thinking about sex (the eldest daughter periodically suffers from fits in which she sees everything as a penis), except for the youngest daughter, who is more interested in food. The fifth main character is the father of the family, who is dead but keeps returning by possessing various animals and inanimate objects. Among other recurring characters is a shinigami (death god) who periodically appears in the form of a kitten.

A lot of Japanese four-panel strips don't have punchlines: their humor comes simply from presenting an absurd or incongruous situation. (See How to "Read" Manga: Gloom Party for an example that's been published in the U.S.) This is true of many of the strips in Konnan de ikka. But once you get used to this, it's a funny strip There's a lot of nudity and bawdy humor, but the impression given is not pornographic or erotic (except for the covers and endpapers), because of the matter-of-fact way that the sex and nudity are treated, even when one of the daughters is shown performing fellatio on her boyfriend.

As for the title, ikka means family or household; konnan can mean difficulty, embarrassment, or perplexity. So the title might be translated as "A Difficult Family," "A Perplexing Family," or "An Embarrassing Family."

Although Konnan de ikka originally appeared in Big Comic Superior, a seinen (young man's) manga magazine, Risa Itoh** is a woman, which probably explains the large number of dick jokes. Itoh's best-known manga appears to be Oruchuban Ebichu (Ebichu Minds the House), a humorous manga starring a hamster and her female owner. This was made into an anime of the same name, which was notorious for its sexual content. Looking at vol. 1 of the manga, though, it seems fairly tame, and certainly nothing to compare with Konnan de ikka. And here are links to a webcomic in Japanese by Itoh, Onna ippiki neko futari (One Woman, Two Cats) (pdf format; scroll down to where it says vol. 37, vol. 38, etc.), which gives an idea of her style, though the characters in Konnan de ikka are not drawn chibi-style as is the protagonist of Onna. Nor did I see any sexual content in the Onna strips I looked at.

Konnan de ikka is 130 pages long, but the pages are biger than most tankoubons or U.S.-published manga. Its ISBN is 4-09-186711-1 and it was published by Shogakukan. Its cover price is 571 yen, but it appears to be out of print, judging from its amazon.co.jp page, though you can buy copies from third parties through amazon.co.jp.

*The Japanese term, which you'll sometimes see used in English-language discussions, is 4-koma.

**Her surname is sometimes romanized as "Ito," but it's "Itoh" in Konnan de ikka.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

MOVIE CORNER: TAMALA 2010 AND METTA META GAKIDO KOZA

I recently visited Odd Obsession Movies at its new location (incidentally, it's now open on Mondays), and saw a couple of Japanese movies of interest. The first was Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space, an enigmatic but imaginative film directed by a duo that calls themselves t.o.L. It's animated, but it's made as if the last fifty years of anime didn't exist: the primary influence on the animation seems to be American cartoons of the 1930s (like most of these, it's mainly in black and white), with a bit of Peter Max thrown in. There are also brief interludes of full-color, hyper-realistic 3-D animation. There is a dense network of repeated images, so dense that they can't all be absorbed in a single viewing (I watched it twice). As to the plot, the film's first half is devoted to the adventures of the title character, a cute but foul-mouthed female cat from Cat Earth. The second half shifts the focus to Michelangelo, a cat Tamala met on the Planet Q. To say much about the plot of this half would be to spoil it, but it's derived in part from The Crying of Lot 49, and has similarities to Serial Experiments Lain as well. And like the latter, it becomes increasingly incomprehensible, at least on first or second viewing. (I would argue that Lain is in fact mostly comprehensible, but that's a story for another post.) Still, I would definitely recommend the film if the preceding description appeals to you at all. The film's music, which is mostly electronica (assuming that I have the right idea what electronica is) and also composed by t.o.L., is also quite interesting.

The official website of the movie is in Japanese, but here's a "translation" from www.excite.co.jp (which is actually the best J-to-E translation engine I've found on the Web so far) which is coherent in places; click on the tabs on the left side for more. The website also has some short flash animations which give an idea of how the movie looks. This comment by Michael Chmilar on IMDb (you may have to scroll down) has more background info, some of which I've used above. And the comments as a whole demonstrate how polarized the reactions to the film are.

The copy at Odd Obsession has English subtitles, but you have to use the "subtitle" button on your remote control to get to them.

The second movie is Metta Meta Gakido Koza, a live-action comedy from 1971 directed by Mio Ezaki, based on a manga by Tanioka Yasuji. Odd Obsession has this in its "experimental" section, but it's more like a crazed blend of Benny Hill, Monty Python, and Takashi Miike's Visitor Q. The main character is a lecherous boy, around twelve years old, who has a habit of hitting people on the head with an ax. (In fact, the characters are constantly inflicting violence upon each other, though there's no blood.) Among the other characters are his brother, who is only a couple of years younger but is always dressed like a baby, and a "superhero" who wears a blue rooster costume with three leglike appendages attached for some reason. Occasionally, various characters grow huge buck teeth (a bit like the ones in the Monty Python sketch). The copy at Odd Obsession has no subtitles, but the comedy is mainly physical, and I was pretty much able to follow the action, even though I only understood occasional words of the dialogue. For a more detailed description of the film, see here.

If you were a kid in the 1960s in the Chicago area (and perhaps other cities as well), and are nostalgaic for those days, there's another movie at Odd Obsession you may be interested in: Journey to the Beginning of Time, a.k.a. the serial they showed over and over on Garfield Goose. It turns out it was originally a feature film, and Czech (or should I say Czechoslovak?) at that, though the version that was syndicated in the U.S. added new, U.S.-made footage.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

YET ANOTHER QUICK LOST GIRLS LINK

On the revived Journalista (whose welcome return I've been negligent in not pointing out until now), Dirk Deppey reviews Lost Girls and is unimpressed by Moore's writing, though more enthusiastic about Gebbie's art.

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MORE ON LOST GIRLS

While I'd been taken aback by the gap between the lofty claims and ecstatic praise I had read and what I was actually seeing on Lost Girls' pages, I wasn't greatly concerned by it. But as I thought more about Moore's interviews and the critiques mentioned in my last post (which are entertaining as well as intelligent), I began to get genuinely annoyed. Moore boasts about how Lost Girls is more realistic than all other pornography because it shows sex having consequences. (It's not true, incidentally, that his is the first pornography to do so.) But the book is about three repressed Edwardian women who meet for the first time at a hotel and almost immediately (from what I gather) start bonking one another's brains out. To vaunt the "realism" of such a book smacks of hypocrisy.

If the concept of Lost Girls had been given to the old Alan Moore, the pre-From Hell and Big Numbers Moore, the Alan Moore who wrote unpretentions gems like "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" and the D.R. and Quinch stories, it might well have been fun -- cheeky, to borrow dolce far niente's word. But now that Moore is a Thinker, when he writes porn there has to be a Message, and a world-changing one at that (though in fact it's nothing new). And it has to be hundreds of pages long, to show that it's Art.

And, of course, there's "beast-peach hole." Has a worse phrase ever been penned by a supposedly major writer? And Moore used to be a good writer, though at times too purple. It's hard to understand how the Moore I used to read could have published such a phrase, let alone how someone could quote a passage containing it as an example of good writing.

[Edited to make my point a bit clearer.]

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

SOME CURSORY IMPRESSIONS OF LOST GIRLS; OR, WHY ALAN MOORE NEEDS A KICK IN THE BEAST-PEACH

Warning: this post contains (possibly inaccurate) SPOILERS. But then I doubt that anyone will be reading Lost Girls for the plot.

Nearly all the articles and reviews I've seen of Lost Girls, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's high-concept pornographic comic, have been rapturous (but see here for an exception (via When Fangirls Attack)). I'll admit I was predisposed against it, for several reasons. First, I'd read the two issues that came out in comic-book form, and I thought that they were bad comics and bad porn. Second, I haven't cared much for any of Moore's ABC stuff that I've seen. But while Moore's comics have gotten worse, his interviews have gotten more and more pretentious. (I much prefer Moore the craftsman to Moore the shaman.) Third, the extraordinary amount of pretension and hype surrounding Lost Girls itself, from the packaging to the promotion to Moore's claims that it will revolutionize pornography, led me to perversely want to see it fail.

But the aforementioned rapturous reception did arouse my curiosity. And a few days ago I got a chance to partially satisfy this curiosity, thanks to a display copy Chicago Comics had behind the desk. I only looked at it for a couple of minutes, since I didn't want to linger too long over a seventy-five dollar book I quickly decided I wouldn't buy, especially with the store personnel right in front of me. But I did flip through volume three, reputedly the filthiest of the volumes. The main impression I got was that all three protagonists were molested or gang-banged as children or teens, and that's why they turned out as they did (i.e. lusty lesbians or bisexuals).* If this is representative of Moore's deep insights into sexuality, or of his kinder, gentler pornography, I'm unimpressed.

To his credit, Moore has been forthright in stating that Lost Girls is pornography. Most of the articles and reviews I've seen, while dutifully reporting Moore's words, have basically ignored them. (This is an exception, though.) Some have even claimed that nobody will masturbate to it, which is absurd. But my impression was that the book is clearly hardcore pornography. It's not just that it's full of uncensored pictures of penises, vaginas, penises going into vaginas and mouths, and (I presume, though I don't recall actually seeing any) mouths on vaginas; but that these images are drawn in a pornographic way. I can't fully explain what gave me that impression, but if you were to compare the sex scenes in the third volume of Lost Girls to Audrey Beardsley or Picasso's erotic drawings on the one hand, and to, say, Silky Whip Extreme (which, incidentally, also carried a pornographic reworking of Peter Pan) and Anal Intruders of Uranus on the other, they'd resemble the latter a lot more than the former. I have no moral objections to hardcore pornography, but I do object when reviewers and journalists ignore obvious and important features of the work they're writing about.

The art is pretty, but not worth seventy-five bucks.

By the way, here's a sample of Moore's "great writing," quoted from Richard Gehr's admiring Village Voice review (via When Fangirls Attack): "I lanced my tongue in Mrs. Potter's anus, up and fast between the tropic lips into her beast-peach hole. Crowned hot with bronze, American-girl heat rubbed shameless as a cat against my thigh. The smash of wet cymbals inside me as the maid surrendered to the sacrifice. I'm weeping." Are graphic novels eligible for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award?

Edited to add: Here's a thoughtful (far more so than mine, obviously) critique of Lost Girls that I just came across.

*Having read some interviews since I wrote this, I now realize that this is partially incorrect. Apparently, being molested and gang-banged initially made the protagonists repressed as adults. Only after they all get together are they magically transformed into lusty lesbians.

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