Our Nation of Scanlation

*Regular readers of The Comics Journal and/or the more adventurous manga fans out there have already heard of Yoshiharu Tsuge, a pioneering mainstay of the late, lamented, alternative-minded Garo anthology (though I believe his work predates the founding of that estimable source), whose seminal 1968 dreamstate short story Screw-Style was published in the Journal’s gala 250th issue. Save for a pair of additional shorts published in various issues of RAW (Red Flowers in Vol. 1 No. 7, and Oba’s Electroplate Factory in Vol. 2 No. 2), that’s all we’ve seen of Tsuge in the US, in print. He’s not a hugely prolific creator in general; a complete Japanese-language set of his collected works runs a scanty 8 volumes. A lavish French-language edition of Tsuge’s heavily autobiographical book-length work The Incapable Man (also known as Nowhere Man; the original Japanese title is Muno no Hito, though the edition to which I refer goes under the title L’Homme Sans Talent) was released by Ego comme X in 2004; Indy Magazine released a great review, which also serves as a fine introduction to Tsuge in general (additional biographic details can be found here).

But if a more direct introduction is what you crave, or if you’re simply wacky for more of the guy’s work in English, forward-looking scanlation team Kotonoha has released translations of two additional currently unlicensed-for-English stories: Marsh and Mushroom Hunting, both from the pages of Garo, circa 1966. The latter is a sweetly ominous childhood semi-reverie, and I still haven’t totally wrapped my head around the former (and be on notice that the translation, by one ‘Meganeguard,’ is fairly stiff; I don’t know is this is intentional or not, as the story in general is heavily unreal), a far more adult piece; give them a try, you might catch something.

Need I mention that collections of these short stories would surely prove themselves a most beauteous plumage for any arts-minded North American publisher’s cap?

*Care for some longer work?

Happiness (and) Happiness Scene 02 - A Room of Clouds

So on the other end of the Garo timeline, we have noted alum Usamaru Furuya, whose current project is this, a collection of shorts with the omnibus title of Happiness, presented in the anthology IKKI. These two stories are from 2004, and the translations are also presented through Kotonoha (specifically by ‘Zubari’).

I think I’ve already expressed the feeling that Furuya seems to work better in a shorter form, his initially gag-based work in Short Cuts (buy it from Viz today!) slowly transforming as each of the two volumes proceed into a suite of strange, poignant, even somewhat maudlin stories, though all of them positively buzz with life and unfettered creativity. Happiness, in contrast, is a straightforward series of portraits of troubled youths, their ambitions and loves set before us as the primary focus of study; at 30-38 pages per installment, these short tales wouldn’t seem particularly out of place if released as pamphlets from Fantagraphics or Drawn and Quarterly, and I expect the artful handling of youth ennui and uncertainty will strike a chord with readers already interested in the American bibliography of similarly-positioned works. They’re not perfect stories, not nearly as punchy as Furuya’s (if I may indulge in truly unfettered cliché) earlier, funny work, but they’re empathetic pieces, even wise to certain tender cruelties.

The first of these stories, titled simply Happiness, finds poor young Takuya getting the shit kicked out of him again, his former best pal extorting cash and all the world gone to waste. Enter the similarly-bullied Ruka, who’s a little too heavily into the fandom surrounding recently self-terminated pop star Seiya; she fancies herself a true follower of the beauty and the music, while other, vapid fangirls merely slaver over the surface of death-minted popular immortality. But Ruka knows the message behind the music, the path to a friendlier world, and she’d really like a nice guy to enter into the necessary murder-suicide pact with, to better facilitate their travel.

Yes, there’s themes at work here that previously appeared in Furuya’s manga adaptation of Suicide Club, though this story (again, so much shorter) is a good deal more successful, and not only through its avoidance of clashing horror manga tropes. The art, for starters, is especially fine-tuned, with Takuya given a perfectly smooth naïf design (awww, just look at that face!), and Ruka endowed with a perfect mix of nervous, hormonal delusion and genuine delicate sadness. And the plot, cheerily overcooked rock ’n roll teenage thing that it starts out as, soon mutates into a fascinating (not to mention succinct) exploration of teen relationship dynamics, the transitory, capricious nature of peer regard, and that final rite-of-passage necessity for giving certain things up, lest we remain in fan(atic) stasis. Some might view the final page of this story as a very dark joke, which it partially is, but I view it also as a wonderfully cockeyed nod toward sweet teen crushes, both interpersonal and artistic, and the all-devouring power that follows part and parcel. Excellent stuff.

Which is maybe why the second (and thus far newest) story, divided into two chapters, seems comparatively weak. A Room of Clouds (as it's subtitled) starts off fairly well, with depressive, academically uninclined Yama dreaming of clouds whilst drifting through her swiftly disintegrating high school life. Her grades are atrocious, her classmates either loathe her or treat her as nothing but stroke fuel, she certainly has no higher education in her future; but a visit to a questionable old man’s apartment-for-rent unexpectedly nudges her toward acting for herself, and even externalizing her grasps at serenity through art, apparently the only creative thing she can do. Ah, but her lack of education confounds her at every turn, and she must finally resort to more drastic measures to hold on to what’s dear.

Unfortunately for us readers, ’what’s dear’ eventually pans out to be that totally cute guy downstairs, Hikaru, and the story takes a downturn into dawdling, predictable soap operatics, with Yama trying to hide the unpleasantness of her means of support from Hikaru, whom she just knows will never understand. And that’s before we get to the abrupt, too-easy resolution, complete with that most archetypical of anime/manga closing images, the inspiring character’s illusionary head materializing in the sky. As with Suicide Club, Furuya proves himself to be no enemy of familiarity, and maybe in some other story his friendliness toward well-worn genre mechanisms will prove to be rewarding, but he hasn’t quite done it yet. I’ll readily concede, however, that even that ultra-obvious image of the sky being torn down remains gorgeously crafted under Furuya’s pen, which is certainly worth consideration.

As always, Furuya proves to be a man of diverse approaches, though his teen-centered viewpoint remains a constant through the work I’ve read. He’s even branched out into all-out fantasy with The Music of Marie, and I have to wonder how his typical obsessions will rise to the top in a seemingly Miyazaki-influenced context. Regardless of how it’s done, I await the execution, eagerly as always.