Monday, January 25, 2021


Boku wa Biitoruzu, written by Tetsuo Fujii and drawn by Kaiji Kawaguchi, is a ten-volume manga whose premise is that the Fab Four, a very successful Japanese Beatles tribute band, are inexplicably sent back in time to 1961, before the Beatles released their first record. Makoto, the bassist, had dreamed of making the Fab Four the twenty-first century Beatles; he now proposes that the band play and record Beatles songs before the Beatles record them, claiming them as their [the Fab Four’s] own original songs, and convinces the others to go along. He justifies this on the grounds that when the Beatles realize that the songs they were going to write have already been written, they will write new songs, thus increasing the number of Beatles songs in the world. The principal action of the series is the Fab Four’s quest for first domestic (that is, Japanese) and then International stardom.

As individuals, the Fab Four’s members resemble the sanitized public image of the early Beatles more than they do the actual Beatles; they don’t take drugs or get involved with groupies. (Shou, the lead guitarist, gets to know a girl fan, and they meet in a park for chaste conversation.) But that’s fine, since the whole point of the series, despite its title, is that the Fab Four are not the Beatles, but imitators of them. The series is very respectful of the Beatles throughout, despite its premise. If anything, it goes too far in the direction of Beatle-worship, especially in the final volume.

Aside from the Fab Four, the most important character is Uzuki Maki, the owner of a small production agency, who sees in the Fab Four an opportunity to break the grip of large talent agencies on the Japanese entertainment world. She fights tirelessly on their behalf, even as she gradually comes to realize that there’s something very strange about them, not least Makoto’s obsession with an unknown British group called the Beatles. Maki, not any of the Fab Four, is the series’s most developed and most sympathetic character.

The first time I tried to read Boku wa Biitoruzu, I quit in the middle of the second volume, and wrote a rather dismissive post based on what I had read. In retrospect, I gave up at precisely the wrong time. The vintage-instrument fetishism I wrote about in that post, in particular, disappears shortly after the point where I stopped. And while the series may initially hook readers by appealing to fantasies of being the Beatles, as I suggested, it also explores the dark side of wanting to be your idols. Makoto thinks of the Beatles as rivals, and looks forward to the Fab Four going head-to-head against the Beatles on the international charts, the Fab Four’s remembered Beatles’ songs against the new songs the Beatles will write; while Shou thinks that stealing from the Beatles will somehow create a link with them. And while the series sometimes seems to gloss over the morality of the Fab Four’s actions, in the end it faces up squarely to the fact that they’re plagiarists.

Rereading the series, it kept my attention to the end, except for a kidnapping subplot (taking up about half a volume) that felt like filler. Still, the series as a whole feels like a missed opportunity. (Mild spoilers ahead.) Initially Rei, one of the Fab Four, who is essentially John to Makoto’s Paul, wants nothing to do with Makoto’s scheme, both because he objects morally and because he has come to regard the Fab Four as an obstacle to his own efforts to express himself. About midway through the series, though, an external event causes him to change his mind. As a result, Rei’s individual story is abruptly cut off, and the conflict between Rei and Makoto disappears completely. But that conflict and that character arc were the most compelling aspects of the series for me. That Maki plays a larger role later in the series is some compensation, but not enough. The final volume is also a disappointment, as all conflicts are resolved through what is virtually a deus ex machina. Overall, the series would have been better had it spent less time on the mechanics of the Fab Four’s rise to stardom and more time on the effect this rise had on the Fab Four and those around them.

The series appears to be out of print, but used copies are available on amazon.com: volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. (Keep in mind that these volumes are all in Japanese.)

Note: “I am a Beatle” now seems to me the best translation of the title. Japanese generally doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural, and in one place in the series, “Biitoruzu” is used as a singular noun. The echo of “I am the Walrus” would be stronger in Japanese, which lacks definite and indefinite articles.

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