...at dying out gracefully!
So in the almost-year since the last time, a Book Off (a Japanese chain for used books/CDs/DVDs/games) has opened about 15 minutes away from me, and I've come across some really interesting stuff there. It's also very useful in keeping my book collection at a manageable size, because despite adding two cases to the only free wall of my room, I'm just about at capacity, and some things I'd rather get rid of so that other people can read them, rather than throw them away. Some of my odds and ends are actually extraneous -- I bought last year's Monster perfect edition with color pages and an A5 size, which renders my original volumes obsolete -- and some of them are just plain crappy. I've set aside the books to be sold off, but I'm trying to reread each of them before I give them up, so that I can decide for good if I care to read them again, or if they deserve a second chance. I'd like to say a few things about them and some of the awesome shit I've dug up in the store, so let's get on with it, before I grow bored again!
Miraizer Ban (Bunko Edition) 1-2 by Leiji Matsumoto
This set of books is one that I'm giving up, though in all honesty it deserves to be read. I first borrowed it from a friend back in high school and lost it (sorry Jason) but ordered it again years later. In a way it's almost interchangable with Galaxy Express 999 or any number of other "Leijiverse" titles. You'll recognize all the familiar calling cards: a confused, goony dwarf of a hero; an exotic, elfin heroine; metaphysical wanderings throughout the universe and a whooooole lot of water pressure meters disguised as futuristic technology.
In this one, the titular Ban is put through an experiment that fuses his consciousness with all his descendants and ancestors through the great "ring of time," and most of the manga consists of him rocketing around and experiencing events through various personas from before life on Earth to other planets around the galaxy. As usual per Matsumoto's distinguishable style, the different settings and scenarios are much more imaginitive and fanciful than the hard nuts-and-bolts sci-fi that came to popularity in the '80s (Miraizer Ban was from '76-78), and part of his head-in-the-clouds style of storytelling is the ephemeralness of earthly concerns like plot, characters or logic. Leiji's oeuvre occupies that same niche that psychedelic music and film do -- if you're willing to go along for the ride without questioning, it can be heady stuff, but if you're sucked out of the mood it's very hard to take it seriously again. The setting of an immortal man who lives throughout his descendants until the end of time actually works well for the pace that Matsumoto gives the work -- anytime Ban gets into serious danger, his consciousness pings through space and time to another point on the ring -- but the brevity and interchangability of the scenarios means that only a few stand out and the rest become a blur. In terms of longlasting artistic value per volume (a metric I'm considering more and more as I find myself running out of room) it's probably more worthwhile than Three-Nine's 21 volumes, but I think I've gotten all the enjoyment I will ever get from it.
The Outsider by Go Tanabe
This was actually a book that I bought from Book Off and almost immediately sold back. It had a cool concept -- manga editions of short stories by Western writers -- and the title piece was from a Lovecraft story, but the execution was actually quite weak. Finding out that it wasn't a Cthulu story was a disappointment too, but the real killer was the awkward art. All the characters had identical facial features and models, as if the artist was tracing photos of a wooden marionette, and few other distinguishing marks between the characters made it hard to tell what was supposed to be happening. Add to that a general clumsiness in panel layouts and it was just painful. When you consider the concept of a Japanese artist making comics out of prose stories from English, Russian and Czech writers, there are basically two outcomes that spring to mind: either "this could be a really fascinating idea" or "this could be a really bad idea," and a bad idea it was. Unfortunately, I can't remember the author's kanji and google images is not helping with the cover, so you'll have to go without.
Moyashimon by Masayuki Ishikawa
This one I am most absolutely not selling away, but rather translating at the moment for Del Rey. I'd heard the title mentioned years ago without ever being aware of the concept of the manga, and knowing that it was a title from Kodansha's Evening, I made a mental note to check it out when the anime adaptation was announced a few years back. I archived the animated series (psst that means I downloaded it, don't tell anyone) for a rainy day, and then the offer to translate the manga fell into my lap. It's hard for a quick explanation to do it justice, but the most efficient way I can manage is to put it in a mathematical equation with Genshiken. We're all familiar with Genshiken (if you're not you probably shouldn't be reading this blog) and its combination of college setting, subtle characterization and subculture errata. To arrive at Moyashimon, simply replace the "otaku" field with "microbiology," dial down the in-joke factor and make it more educational and outsider-friendly, replace cosplay boobs with adorable merchandising icons for the eye-catcher, and then double (no, triple) the amount of text. The manga is honestly great and sadly, will probably not garner a fraction of the attention it deserves upon its release, but make no mistake -- it does deserve it. The art is dense and detailed, the story crams an astonishing amount of information down your throat, and the characters slowly grow under your skin. Best of all -- in my authoritative position as translator -- is Ishikawa's hilariously dry sense of humor, which oozes from every sentence.
Unlike virtually every other manga, which remove all the eye-catching and generally useless summaries, character bios and author's messages from the serialized magazine chapters when it comes time to collect them into books, Moyashimon retains all of them. It's pretty apparent at first glance that this editorial decision came from the need to keep all of the microbe bios that appear in the sidebars, as these are very rarely ever fully described within the dialogue of the story. However, the more you see of the other information, the more you appreciate the author's wickedly understated and rewarding sense of humor. Short character bios will appear on the sides of pages in every single chapter, yet there are subtle differences every single time that make it worth poring over each and every one. Add all of this bonus information to an already dialogue-packed story, and this a book you can truly sink your teeth into. Since the market for manga in America seems to have spoken, and spoken for tweeny-bopper stories about Hogwarts ripoffs and puppy-dog crushes, it's rare that you'll get the chance to translate something truly challenging and rewarding, and Moyashimon is the sort of thing that I dream about working on. I got to pull out all the stops, and it's easily the most impressive and entertaining piece of work I've done. Be on the lookout for "Moyasimon" (the English title is slightly altered, apparently at the unyielding request of the author) whenever it hits shelves.
Unfortunately, the anime version suffers a fair amount in comparison to the original. I was initially stunned at the incredible opening sequence, which easily stands among the very best examples of its kind this decade. However, the presentation quickly drops after this point. It gets a passing grade overall because they did a fine job with the depiction of the actual microbes, but the bland acting, bland animation and bland directing really do a disservice to what is quite a clever and subtle series. Needless to say, if you did happen across the anime and find yourself disappointed by a pedestrian treatment of an intriguing topic, consider giving it a second chance with the manga.
I'll have more stuff to post in the next few days!