Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I've had some fun on this blog with a couple of examples of etchi shoujo sex comedies published in Japan. But I hadn't realized that at least one example of this genre has been published in the U.S.: namely, Absolute Boyfriend vol. 3, by Yuu Watase.

The premise of the series is that a high school girl named Riiko finds herself in possession of an advanced human-looking robot named Night who is programmed to be the perfect lover. At the end of vol. 2, another woman had kissed Night, resetting him to be that woman's lover. In the first chapter of this volume, Riiko gets Night back by kissing him herself. But Night is in danger of being reset again until he has sex with Riiko, permanently "imprinting" her on him.

Riiko is hesitant to take such a big step, but the salesman who "sold" NIght to Riiko is for some reason determined that they should have sex, going so far as kidnap Riiko and drag her, along with Night, to a private resort island. Adding complications is Soshi, Riiko's childhood friend turned boring-but-dependable rival for Riiko's love. Night, while determined to have sex with Riiko, insists on playing fair with Soshi, even taking him along to the resort island. For her part, Riiko can't decide which of the two she's in love with. She also can't decide whether or not to have sex with Night. (Since the series is, in the end, shoujo and not "ladies' comics," a threesome is unlikely.) And hijinx, as they say, ensue.

I haven't read any reviews of this volume, but I suspect that a lot of people would object to a "perfect lover" who is determined that his 16-year-old girlfriend have sex with him -- not to mention an adult who does everything possible to push a 16-year-old girl into having sex and is not portrayed as a villain. But when so much American popular culture approaches adolescent female sexuality with a combination of leering and Puritanism, it's refreshing to see something aimed at teenage girls that matter-of-factly acknowledges that many teenage girls not only have sex but want to have sex, at least sometimes.

Here's some dialogue I predict you won't see in DC's Minx line of graphic novels aimed at adolescent girls: Riiko's overprotective father, who has caught Night with Riiko, says angrily to his wife: "It seems like just yesterday Riiko was tugging innocently on my (BLEEP)!" To which his wife replies "Well, she's almost old enough to tug on other people's (BLEEP)." (p. 174)

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007


This is a very peculiar book. It's not a book of illustrations in the conventional sense; it consists of approximately 760 drawings, one for each page of the 1973 Viking edition of Gravity's Rainbow. Despite the title, Smith doesn't portray everything that happens in Gravity's Rainbow. In fact, most of the drawings don't actually show anything happening. But each page does portray a scene, or sometimes simply an object, which appears on, or is inspired by, the corresponding page in Gravity's Rainbow.

Smith works in a variety of styles and techniques. Most of the drawings are black-and-white, but some have color added. Many of the drawings are caricature-like sketches. Some look like watercolors, or black-and-white reproductions thereof. Some look abstract at first glance. Some are darkened or cross-hatched to the point of virtual illegibility. Some pages are even broken up into comic-like panels, though there are never word balloons.

In appearance Pictures resembles one of those "wordless novels" that have appeared from time to time (e.g. Eric Drooker's Flood!). But unlike such books, it isn't a standalone narrative. Without referring back to Gravity's Rainbow itself, one can't tell the significance of Smith's drawings -- or, in many cases, even what is happening.

This leads to the main problem with the book. If one considers it simply as a collection of drawings, the variety of styles and the skill with which it's executed make it fascinating, though more suited to dipping into than reading straight through. But it demands to be read in conjunction with Gravity's Rainbow. And when you do this, well, Pynchon simply blows Smith out of the water. For all Smith's skill, he doesn't even come near to the richness of Pynchon's prose.

One thing that really pissed me off about the book is the misleading back-cover blurb (which Smith, of course, was not responsible for). This begins: "Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973) has been called a modern Finnegans Wake for its challenging language, wild anachronisms, hallucinatory happenings, and fever-dream imagery. With Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow, artist Zak Smith at once eases and expands readers' experience of the twentieth-century classic." First of all, Gravity's Rainbow is a difficult book, but Finnegans Wake it ain't: rarely if ever is there any difficulty figuring out what event is taking place on the page. Second, if this were a difficulty, Pictures wouldn't help: as I said above, you need Gravity's Rainbow to understand Pictures, not vice versa. (Incidentally, I'm not sure what the "wild anachronisms" the blurb mentions are supposed to be. Gravity's Rainbow ranges widely in time, from the mid-17th century colonization of Mauritius to an imaginary future, but as far as I recall the details of each scene are appropriate to the period in which it's set.)

Another side-note: at the start of Smith's foreword, he tells a story in which he allows a porn director who goes by the name Benny Profane to use some of Smith's Gravity's Rainbow drawings in his latest movie, in exchange for being allowed to act -- i.e. have sex -- in that movie. He comments: "I suspect Pynchon fans will find all that thoroughly gratifying..." I don't know how Pynchon fans would feel about it (myself, I have no feelings one way or the other), but I can't see Pynchon -- at least the Pynchon who wrote Gravity's Rainbow -- being anything but horrified.

If you're interested in the book, it's published by Tin House Books and costs $39.95; its ISBN-13 is 978-0-9773127-9-5.

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Monday, July 16, 2007


About three weeks ago, the blog Same Hat! Same Hat! which focuses on ero-guro (erotic-grotesque) manga, posted links to a scanlation of the sixteen-page experimental manga "Abstraction" by Shintaro Kago. (Link via MangaBlog.) I can truthfully say that I have never seen a comic like this. You may have seen comics which partially treat the "virtual space" of the comics page as an actual physical space by showing characters in different panels interacting directly with each other. "Abstraction" takes this idea to the limit, pushes it into three dimensions, and twists it into a Moebius strip. And that's about as far as I can go toward describing it. Trust me, you have to look at this.

(Note that Same Hat's post is probably safe for work (unless you work in a day care center or something like that) though with some grotesque imagery; but the scanlation linked to is NSFW, mainly due to some grotesque imagery of genitals.)

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Sunday, July 08, 2007


I realize that recently I've done very few reviews of Japanese-language manga. This is partly because I haven't finished any Japanese-language manga for a while, for various reasons. So, I'm going to discuss some manga I own but haven't read, starting with 51 Ways to Protect Your Girlfriend (Kanojo o mamoru 51 no houhou) vol. 1.*

The protagonist, 21-year old Jin Mishima, is waiting for an appointment in a Tokyo square when he encounters by chance an old schoolmate of his, Nanako Okano, who has become a Gothic Lolita.** She's not a very good Gothic Lolita, though, and is looked down upon by the other Lolitas there. In full hearing of these other Lolitas, Jin reminds Nanako that they were both on the basketball club in middle school. She's understandably not pleased about this, and they part on bad terms.

That evening Jin sees the other Lolitas pushing Nanako off a bridge (or perhaps only pretending to) in response to an alleged infraction of some sort. Jin chases the other girls away, and then, being a rather strait-laced young man, upbraids Nanako for her choice of lifestyle. Again they part angrily. But, while mulling over the encounter, Jin suddenly recalls that Nanako had been the target of Japanese-style bullying in high school. Now feeling awful about himself, he runs to catch up with her and apologizes for not having helped her in high school. She tearfully tells him that it's too late for that. Then an earthquake destroys Tokyo.

Okay, that's an exaggeration (but I couldn't resist): Tokyo doesn't appear to have been destroyed, at least not totally. But it is a major earthquake of magnitude 8 which devastates the areas surrounding Jin and Nanako, though they themselves are unhurt. The rest of this volume seems to be primarily devoted to Jin and Nanako's efforts to help the survivors. After the earthquake (which takes up sixteen pages, although it's over quickly in "real time"), the art becomes a bit more angular than is usual with Furuya, which works well with the gritty subject matter.**

51 Ways to Protect Your Girlfriend is published by Shinchosha. Four volumes have been published so farm, each 505 yen each (I think). The 13-digit ISBNs are:

Vol. 1: 978-4-10-771289-9
Vol. 2: 978-4-10-771305-6
Vol. 3: 978-4-10-771321-6
Vol. 4: 978-4-10-771338-4

*Translating the title is a bit tricky: the basic meaning of "kanojo" is "she," but it's frequently used to mean "girlfriend." The afterword is titled, in English, "The Way to Protect Kanojo," which is no help.

**Strictly speaking, Gothic Lolita is just one of several varieties of Lolita fashion: others include Classical Lolita, Punk Lolita, and Sweet Lolita. (I'm particularly taken with the concept of Pirate Lolita.) But I can't tell the difference between the varieties, and saying "Lolita" without qualification might lead to misunderstanding; so at the risk of inaccuracy I've opted to say "Gothic Lolita," which is the most familiar term in the West.

***Incidentally, on p. 25 Furuya does something I don't recall seeing anywhere else in either manga or Western comics: in order to put a lot of dialogue into a single panel, he shrinks the type size, rather than have the word balloons take up half the panel.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007


If one were to make a list of the least promising settings for a comic novel, Sierra Leone during its 1991-2002 civil war would undoubtedly belong near the top of the list. And yet Hugh Paxton's Homunculus is a comic novel set during Sierra Leone's civil war, with none of its horrors omitted. And it's funny, in a very black (no pun intended) way; though if this is your first exposure to the particulars of the war, you'll probably be too horrified to laugh.

The homunculi (plural of homunculus) of the title are totally obedient, self-reproducing miniature killing machines made from corpses by a mad alchemist. This alchemist's attempt, in partnership with a mercenary, to auction them off is the core of the novel's plot. But, as with many satires, the plot is mainly a device to expose the stupidity, evil and/or indifference of nearly all the characters.

Most of the characters are white: mercenaries, diplomats, intelligence officers, and other self-interested parties. The only major Sierra Leonese characters are members of the RUF (the anti-government force in the war, notorious for their use of child soldiers and atrocities against civilians). One could criticize the book politically on these grounds, as well as for contributing to the West's image of sub-Saharan Africa as solely a land of misery. But it's still a powerful portrayal of evil and stupidity. And it's still funny.

Homunculus has apparently not yet been published in the U.S., but it's available from Powell's or Amazon.

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