Sunday, February 11, 2007


Kotobuki Shiriagari's destruction-of-Tokyo manga Jacaranda (there should be an accent over the final "a," but I don't know how to write it. deserves a full review, and I hope to write one eventually. But since it has recently attracted a bit of interest due to its having been nominated at Angouleme, I wanted to do a brief report on it now.

1. Jacaranda is indeed about a tree which rapidly grows to gigantic size, destroying much of Tokyo in the process. The destruction is caused by its spreading roots which split the ground, like an earthquake. These both destroy buildings directly and cause fires by breaking gas pipes, releasing inflammable fumes.

2. There is nothing remotely comic about Jacaranda, apart from some satire of TV news in the beginning. In fact, it is one of the most intense depictions of destruction I have ever read. Of the 300 pages of story, 140f are devoted to portraying mass death and destruction in grim detail. Most of these pages are wordless.

3. There is no protagonist except for the giant jacaranda itself. Nor are there any major characters. Shiriagari makes no attempt to "humanize" the disaster (for example, by including a character who witnesses the whole thing, and whose viewpoint we see things through).

4. Nevertheless, the book is not at all clinical or lacking in humanity. This is mainly because of Shiriagari's brilliant art, which is impressionistic, occasionally almost abstract (as in the sequence on pp. 218-25, where the art is at its most intense); fluid and kinetic, yet also effective in portraying the horror of individual victims' fates, which it does often.

5. Strange as it seems to say about a manga about a city-destroying tree, one of Jacaranda's notable qualities is its verisimilitude. Normally, in comics and movies, catastrophe is represented in a stereotyped manner, by depictions of fleeing panicky hordes. Here, as you see the disaster gradually build and people gradually shift from unconcern to terror, you think "Yes, this is how something like this would go down."

6. Of all the manga I've read in Japanese, this is the first one which you can basically understand without knowing Japanese. You'll miss the satire mentioned above, and Shiriagari's social criticism, but these are secondary matters. You won't miss an explanation of the jacaranda, because there is none. Nor will you miss anything else essential. And after p. 130, which is less than halfway through, there is virtually no significant dialogue.

7. Physically, the book is very handsome, even classy-looking: a hardcover with a dark-green dustjacket in subdued lettering. To be sure, this means greater expense, but not as much so as you might think: its price is 1800 yen, about $15 at current exchange rates. At the Japanese bookstore I go to, it would cost $27.

(And yes, that is a pretty big markup, now that you mention it. It didn't seem so steep when the exchange rate was about 110 yen to the dollar, but that was nine months ago.)

8. Info: it's published by Seirinkogeisha and its ISBN is 4-88379-183-1. (Seirinkogeisha's website is interesting to check out, incidentally, even if you're not interested in this particular book.)

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Thursday, February 01, 2007


Partner is a three-volume series, of which I have read the first volume, by Miho Obana. Obana's best-known work in the U.S. is Kodomo no Omocha ["Child's Toy"] (aka "Kodocha" and "Kodocha: Sana's Stage"), but Partner is a very different series, and one which breaks the stereotype that shoujo manga are all about romance. This isn't evident at the start, though: Partner begins like a typical shoujo romantic comedy-drama. The main characters are two sets of twins, all in high school: two female twins, Nae and Moe, and two male twins, Takeshi and Ken. The relationships among these four are typically tangled. Ken and Moe are in love with each other. Takeshi loves Nae, but Nae regards Takeshi as both a friend and a pest, and secretly carries a torch for Ken. But the expectations raised by this comforting beginning are shockingly upended in the middle of the first chapter, when Moe is killed in a traffic accident. To add insult to injury, Moe's body disappears mysteriously from the hospital where it was being held.

At the end of the first chapter, things start to get weird. Ken sees a girl who looks exactly like Moe, but she shows no signs of recognizing him. When he grabs her arm to keep her from walking away, the arm comes off, and it doesn't seem to be an artificial one; but the girl calmly picks it up and gets in a car waiting for her, which drives off. From there the story becomes a grim and downbeat (at least so far) thriller, though Obana also keeps following the relationships between the three survivors. I've also seen the series described as a horror story, which fits too.

Though similar in appearance to Sana, the heroine of Kodomo no Omocha, Nae is quite different in personality. She's serious, and she can take care of herself (unlike Sana, who only thinks she can take care of herself): she uses her kendo skills to disarm and overpower a gun-wielding attempted rapist. Both these characteristics are evident on the cover, which is also atypical of shoujo manga.

The art in Partner, while very similar in appearance to the art in Kodomo no Omocha, is more self-assured and dynamic, and flows better.

In addition to the main story, the volume includes two bonus short stories. The first, "Seto no guran ma" [Grandma of Seto], is an 20-page long autobiographical story about an old woman running a coffeeshop whom Obana met while traveling alone in her early twenties, and again several years later. To me it seemed rather slight, but my impression is that this sort of quiet, undramatic sketch is common in Japanese literature in general. (Of course, such stories aren't unknown in Western art comics either.) The second, "Paatonyaa," is a brief jeu d'esprit in which the four protagonists of Partner, Moe included, are turned into cats and comment on the story.

I highly recommend Partner if you can read Japanese. Obana's story is original and a page-turner, and the characters are well-drawn, particularly Nae and Ken. And this series would seem a natural to be licensed (though since it's published by Shueisha, Viz is the only company that can license it).

The ISBNs for the three volumes are:

vol. 1: 4-08-856200-3
vol. 2: 4-08-856222-3
vol. 3: 4-08-856244-5

The first volume costs 390 yen (though amazon.co.jp sells it for 20 yen more), and my guess is that the other two do also.

(Wow, posts on two consecutive days! I'm on a roll!)

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