Late Sunday

*Good Quotes Dept:

For me this is a volume almost as important as the New Testament or the Koran.”

- Jeet Heer, on The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, still one of the absolute finest starting points in a study of early American strips, and easily found online for under $10. Be sure to read the whole interview (conducted by Tom Spurgeon) - not only will you learn how Vladimir Nabokov helped inspire Drawn & Quarterly’s Walt and Skeezix series, but you’ll be unable to get the dream of a Kevin Huizenga-designed Complete Floyd Gottfredson collection out of your head.

*Odd sight of the day: one of my local chain bookstores had one of the trade collections of Urotsukidoji stocked in the manga section. No shrinkwrap. Good ol’ fashioned hardcore funnybook pornography, that. I can tell why the place is a hit with the teenagers!

Urotsukidoji is a noteworthy series, mind you; originally created in 1986 by writer/artist Toshio Maeda, it was quickly recognized as one of the landmark works of manga filth, and ground zero for the still-notorious ‘nasty tentacle’ style, which Maeda devised as a means of circumventing content regulations that forbade the depiction of actual human genitals. The work’s 1987-89 anime OVA adaptation garnered infamy the world over, especially in an edited movie compilation version titled Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. It got so big, and so controversial, they say it almost killed English-language anime fandom, especially in the UK, by mere association. For more detailed anime-focused information (and bonus spicy pictures) I commend you to Teleport City.

But we’re talking about manga at the bookstore. It’s actually not the presence of porno that surprised me -- I've seen compilations of Tijuana Bibles and dvds full of ‘80s theatrical porn trailers in chain bookstores -- but the fact that CPM Manga’s release of the title is over half a decade old at this point. Doing a little checking around, it seems that the volume present in the bookstore (Vol. 2) is either the only one in print, or at least the only one readily available from online sellers for shipping. Could this be a result of their recent(ish) financial troubles? I’m not very bright with the ins and outs of bookstore acquisitions, so could somebody possibly help me out with this?

I really do love Maeda’s art, by the way. Kind of mainstream ‘80s shōnen, but mixed with the sort of stolid American influence that Ryoichi Ikegami displays; indeed, Maeda cites the likes of Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert and Bernie Wrightson as influences. Er, note that the images at that link aren’t good examples of the stuff in the book - Urotsukidoji is very sooty and sweaty and wildly over-rendered… it really looks dirty. Like, you can sense it’s pornographic before anyone takes their pants off. I admire that.

*Speaking of anime:

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society

This was just released to R1 dvd this past week, and I believe it’s also airing on the Sci-Fi Channel in the US. Stand Alone Complex is the television anime wing of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and Solid State Society is its newest installment, a feature-length film that debuted on pay television in late 2006 and hit R2 dvd about two months later. As always, Kenji Kamiyama directs, also contributing to the writing and storyboards.

This is the first of the Stand Alone Complex stories I’ve seen, and I was a little struck by the creative team’s decision to devote it to the ‘Puppetmaster’ storyline, which also served as the lynchpin for Masamune Shirow’s original manga, as well as the basis for Mamoru Oshii’s initial theatrical film; all three of these incarnations of the story exist on discreet timelines, and need not reflect one another at all. But then, I suppose the Puppetmaster concept provides the completion of GitS’ man-machine themes, and it wouldn’t quite be the same thing without that type of development.

Anyway, the Solid State Society team smartly tosses out virtually all of the original plot(s), retaining only the most basic beats of the original manga’s progression, mixing in some concepts from the GitS2 manga, and even (loosely) adapting a sniper action sequence from the GitS1.5 manga, while building a completely new plot around everything. It’s a typically labyrinthine GitS story, chock-full of erased memories and vigorous typing on keyboards and secret political agendas and cyborgs firing weapons at one another in between bouts of brow-furrowing. It presumes some familiarity with character backgrounds and the interpersonal dynamics at work, but is otherwise accessible to neophytes.

There’s also several images, lines of dialogue and character designs that are obviously meant to evoke memories of Oshii’s original film, but Kamiyama is a far more straightforward director, focused on keeping the storytelling clean and the suspense attractive. At times the film’s style feels slightly impersonal, like… well, a made-for-television movie, but there’s no doubt it’s a far peppier and thrill-driven thing than any of the theatrical films, with no lack of polish or narrative sophistication.

But really, the main thing that separates Kamiyama’s film from Oshii’s for me is its multiplicity of themes. While Oshii conjured a rhapsodic, melancholy piece, primarily about the existential plight of humans turning into machines, Kamiyama tosses out all sorts of heavy comments on international terrorism, Japan’s aging population and declining birthrate, racial nationalism, the indoctrination of children as ‘good’ servants of the state, the concept of parentage in a computerized society, the concept of loneliness in the same - there’s no lack of heady stuff in here, all of it crunched down as neatly as possible into a technological thriller framework. If anything, this is the smoothest mix of thematic depth and vivid storytelling I’ve seen from the franchise, and I expect some viewers will find its sense of balance especially pleasing. I was entertained a good deal, though I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss the uncompromising lyricism Oshii brings to the table.