Thursday, January 07, 2010


The second volume of Naoki Urasawa's Billy Bat has appeared in Japanese. I recently read it, and it turns out to be even more interesting than the average volume of Urasawa's manga. While its first half, like the first volume, continues in the template of Monster and 20th Century Boys, the second half is a radical departure.

The first half continues Kevin's story, though it provides mighty few answers. Kevin learns, not too surprisingly, that he is the only one who can stop the bad guys (whoever they are) from carrying out their nefarious schemes (whatever they are). More surprisingly, he has to stop them by drawing manga, although how this will work is not stated. There are connections with postwar Japanese politics, as Shimoyama's murder seems to be somehow related to a plan to fire hundreds of thousands of Japanese workers. We also see more of Lt. Feeney, who clearly plays the dogged investigator role in this series.

In the second half of the volume, Urasawa does something that is, as far as I know, new for him. First, he abruptly jumps back in time to the ancient world, and stays there for about two and a half chapters. To avoid spoilers, I won't say anything more, although the back-cover copy reveals the situation clearly. After this segment, the next two chapters abruptly jump forward to 1959 (ten years later than the main story has reached) in New York City. The bride on the cover of this volume is from this segment. (Incidentally, she's black, not Japanese.) For the final chapter, Urasawa jumps back again, to feudal Japan. And ninjas. At this point I began to get a mite exasperated; but Urasawa is actually pretty good at depicting ninja action. None of these segments have any apparent connection with each other, or with the main story, aside from the Bat's presence in all of them. And while my guess would be that they will develop into continuing storylines, they could be merely vignettes intended to illustrate the Bat's ubiquity through history.

Of these four segments, the best is the ancient-world one. The main story doesn't advance very much in this volume, and it also includes a grotesquely maudlin scene. The story set in 1959 is somewhat sentimental, although its highlighting of black-white relations suggests that the "white" and "black" bats may not correspond to good and evil, as I had assumed after the first volume. And the final segment, set in feudal Japan, seems undeveloped: I suspect that it will actually continue into the third volume.

As was true of the first volume, characterization is not Urasawa's strong point here. Kevin is still an uninteresting character, and the none of the new characters are distinctive, with the exception of two of the characters in the ancient world segment. (Again, I can't identify them without spoilers.) But despite my reservations on this volume, Urasawa's mysteries still have me eagerly awaiting volume three.

Billy Bat vol. 2 is published by Kodansha* under the Morning imprint (whose logo is mooningu in katakana). It's 216 pp. and sells for 590 yen. Here's its Amazon.co.jp page.

*And hence, as David Welsh points out, unlikely to be licensed in the U.S. by Viz (which is co-owned by Kodansha's two main rivals), contrary to what I said in my post about the first volume.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010


Fridays was a late-night sketch comedy show which ran from 1980 to 1982. Like Saturday Night Live, which it was modeled upon, its cast was a group of young unknowns, among whom were a pre-Seinfeld Larry David and Michael Richards. While it was running, it was widely derided for being a rip-off of Saturday Night Live and for its heavy reliance upon drug humor. (Two of its recurring characters were a "Rasta" who hosted various TV shows while consuming enormous amounts of ganja, and a perpetually drug-addled pharmacist.) Today it's remembered mainly for Andy Kaufman's guest appearances, particularly the first.

Odd Obsession Movies, which I've mentioned before, has on its display shelves two not-entirely-legal DVDs containing the shows on which Kaufman appeared. Not on display, but available for rental upon request, are seven CD-Rs compiling around thirty shows, which if I remember correctly were burned from videotapes recorded by a friend of the owner off of his or her TV. I had watched Fridays when it originally aired, and remembered it as being pretty good. It was undeniably a ripoff of Saturday Night Live; but after its original cast left, which happened in the middle of Fridays' first season, Saturday Night Live basically became a ripoff of itself. So I rented the first of the discs (which aren't organized chronologically, although the first disc does happen to contain the premiere show, if I'm not mistaken).

As was perhaps foreseeable, the show didn't live up to my memory of it. There were some funny bits, mainly in the show that came first on the disc and in the one guest-starring Victoria Principal. But most of the sketches suffered from the usual flaws of unfunny sketch-comedy: sophomoric humor, weak acting, and sketches with little going for them besides their premises, which weren't that funny in the first place. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Before I rented one of the discs, the owner warned me that the set's video quality was "terrible," although "watchable." But on the disc I rented, only one of the shows was of really bad quality. (Unfortunately, it was the one guest-starring Victoria Principal I mentioned above.) The others, while far from professional quality, were perfectly fine for casual viewing.

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