A Creeping Sadness...

*I am everywhere and I see everything. First for today, we have my latest column, based on true events from the gritty floors of the comic shop. See a blogger's life and limb - in danger! This is hard-hitting column writing as you like it and can't live without. It also features great suggestions for what to name your next bowling team. Hope you like it.

*And now - say, look there!


I have a new review of several recent incarnations of Nightjar, the aborted Alan Moore/Bryan Talbot serial turned Avatar series-of-miniseries by Antony Johnston and Max & Sebastian Fiumara. I cover both the initial miniseries and the Hollow Bones prose book, with bonus consideration of Avatar’s place as a publisher. At Comic Book Galaxy. Hope you like it too.

*And as for this little ol’ site:

Suicide Club (Jisatsu Circle) Vol. 1 (of 1)

I bet you’ve heard of a movie bearing this title. It was released in 2002, written and directed by Shion Sono. It’s played a bunch of film festivals, and it’s out on R1 dvd.

It’s the one that starts out with a 54-member strong schoolgirl gaggle holding hands, counting to three, and leaping en mass into the path of a roaring subway car, sending a geyser of blood sloshing onto the walls, the rails, and all passerby.

This is the official manga adaptation, titled Jisatsu Circle in its homeland, released in 2002, written and drawn by Usumaru (or, if you prefer, Usamaru) Furuya, veteran of the esteemed alternative manga anthology Garo, author of the excellent two-volume Short Cuts, and contributor to the likes of Secret Comics Japan, which reprinted portions of his Palepoli strip. Being in love with the man, I was obviously interested in checking this thing out, as the movie (which I have not seen) has built up quite a reputation, and Furuya is a formidable, idiosyncratic talent. And I’m very sorry to say that it’s a disappointing combination, though not without certain charms.

We’re back in scanlation country, as you can see. But why, you might be wondering, would this one-book adaptation of a somewhat visible film not already be licensed for US release, especially considering that the author has had multiple works brought over here already? There’s a few possibilities. Perhaps, because of the film version’s notoriety, the license is prohibitively expensive. Or maybe it was just the content of the book; believe me when I say that some of this stuff gets pretty extreme, with scenes of chilly, muted violence and explicit sexuality, all of it centered around schoolgirls. It’s not prurient material, I assure you, but it’s not exactly coy either. Maybe all the shrinkwrap in the land couldn’t persuade a US-based company to bring this book over. I don’t know.

As I’ve just said, I haven’t seen the film, but I’m told that the manga borrows the title and aforementioned opening scene only, then essentially becomes its own work, with very little plot connection to its source material; this divorce of drive is instantly made plain through Furuya’s orchestrating of that infamous train scene - there’s no ocean of blood, but a mass of oddly clean bodies, piled up on the tracks with the occasional errant arm or leg sitting off to the side. It’s an understated spin on such a grabbing start, and might bode well in the minds of some readers.

And you’d be forgiven for getting even more excited over Furuya’s initial charting of the life paths of Kyoko, a sharp, happy girl, prone to typical teenage distractions and concerns, and Saya, a haunted waif who’s been prostituting herself to teachers and businessmen even since her father went away to the mental hospital. They used to be inseparable, but Kyoko eventually discovered romance and got sidetracked away from her friends (as some teens do). In the meantime, Kyoko became pals with a strange girl named Mitsuko, who had a cult-like club going strong, filled with sad and lonely girls who love her like a god. It’s the same club that jumped in front of that train. And Saya was the sole survivor.

Furuya isn’t busting out the dazzling feats of adaptable style that he flaunted in Short Cuts; the look of this book is quiet, ominous, and menacingly blasé. Nondescript buildings belie the presence of awful pain, lurking inside the hearts of young girls. Each and every girl (and there are crowds and crowds of them) looks utterly individual, and often pained. There’s a wonderful scene of tattooing on a school rooftop, with countless skirt and blouse-clad lasses laying modestly as their peers gash an identifying club membership into their ears, evoking the classic maturity ritual of getting one’s ears pierced, but with a far more sinister connotation. Furuya is obviously using his plot as a vehicle for a message about mass teenage pain, angst and loneliness manifesting in extreme forms, resounding throughout the years, one sadness jumping from one person to another.

However, Furuya’s intent is confounded by his adherence to too-typical horror tropes, with the suicide urge essentially manifesting itself as a body-hopping demon, craving more and more kills. This type of B-level thrill structure eventually overpowers the author’s allegory, with girls suddenly running around tossing tattlers and folks getting too close to The Truth off of stairwells like it’s a mass Giallo outbreak, complete with dopey cops unable to pick up on what‘s happening. There’s an inquisitive teacher who seems scary but then turns out to be helpful, dumping out the backstory (which he learned about on the Internet) like a classroom lecture. There’s even a race against time at the climax. And I suppose this sort of material could have worked, in some capacity, except it upsets the bleak, isolated tone of so many earlier pages; even the mandatory train bit was understated, but we end up with screaming and fights, all the louder from lack of blood. And that’s kind of a downer.

True, Furuya pulls his themes together by the end, and there’s a nice little grace note tucked away in the climax, as friends finally discover how to really talk. But I can’t help but wonder if this would have been a far more effective work had Furuya not merely distanced himself from the film, but from typical dramatic expectations; his characters could have benefited from spending more time in their haze and doubt, the horror gently covering them, just like the gorgeously pale colors of the opening sequence. But no, Furuya edges closer to what we expect, and we’re all poorer for it.

Though as far as comics adaptations of movies go, it sure beats the hell out of its superhero equivalents. I wonder if fans of the movie got upset over the near-total plot departures? Or maybe those fans were conditioned to expect the unexpected, both from the film and from Furuya, in the event they had heard of him. If you haven’t heard of him, as shaky as this particular work can be, I recommend you search out more, now that you have. At the very least, get Short Cuts, available from Viz; a talent of this type needs some money spent on it.