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.)

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?