Thursday, August 16, 2007


I worry about doing too many posts about weird (from an American perspective, at least) manga. Aside from promoting the "freak show" view of Japan in general and manga in particular, they distract from the much better manga I've written about. But it's a lot harder, and requires a lot more thought, to do justice to a great manga than to a weird one. And lets face it: the reviews of weird manga probably provide more enjoyment to more readers. And since I recently read a manga that's both weird and good, here goes.

At the Mercy of the Waves (Nami no mani mani) is by Shungicu Uchida, whom I've written about before (see the sidebar). It's strange, not so much for the events depicted (though there is that), as because of the way it's told and its peculiar tone. In brief, it's about a young woman named Konoha who works at an inn and is regularly tortured by her older sister Tomiko.* Most of the chapters follow a rigid formula. Konoha falls in love with a guest and has sex with him. He offers to help her escape. Tomiko catches them, immobilizes the guest somehow and sadistically punishes Konoha. The guest disappears and is never seen again. Plot details, and even much of the dialogue, are also repeated over and over: for instance, when the guest offers to help Konoha escape, she regularly replies "I was waiting for a gentleman who would say that!" The formula is so rigid that when one chapter's panels are displayed in reverse order, I had no trouble following.

Most shockingly, Tomiko brands Konoha on both buttocks with a large brand reading "baita," or "whore." Tomiko also forces one of Konoha's lovers to tattoo "inbai," meaning "prostitution," prominently below her breasts. Reversing the usual sequence in S & M novels or manga, the worst tortures are dealt out in the first chapters, so in later chapters Tomiko has to resort to less permanent but still unpleasant punishments, such as suspending Konoha by her hair and dribbling mashed yams (which are apparently itchy) upon her nude body. Until the last chapter I could only think that the manga was intended as a parody of S & M porn. The last chapter, however, brings everything together in a way that makes sense.

At the Mercy of the Waves is an early work of Uchida's, originally published in 1985 (though my copy is a reprint published in 2001), but her art is already fully accomplished. Her compositions are good, and she creates interesting textures with the vertical stripes of the two sisters' kimonos and with occasional abstract patterns in the background. (Here's a computer-translated version of the book's page on Amazon.co.jp, so you can see the cover.**) Overall, while this isn't the best thing Uchida's done, I recommend it if the S & M theme doesn't put you off.

If you're wondering about the title, it has the connotation of drifting aimlessly, which certainly seems to apply to Konoha.

Publishing info: at 232 pages, At the Mercy of the Waves is somewhat longer than the usual single-volume manga. In my edition it's bound with a collection of unrelated short manga horror stories (which I haven't read), making 384 pages in total. It's published by Bunshun Bunko, it cost 705 yen, and its ISBN is 4-16-726712.

*Another possible reading for the older sister's name is Fuko, but going by their respective hits on Google, Tomiko is the more likely reading.

**You can order it from this page, but unless you live in Japan it's probably a lot cheaper to special order it from a Japanese-language bookstore, if you have access to one.

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