Walking in rhythm, singing his song

walking man coverToday’s profile: The Walking Man (1 volume)
Publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
Age rating
: N/A
Buying it: Good luck — the publisher’s online shop shows no purchase links available, and Amazon’s listing shows copies starting from the amazingly low, low price of $67.20. (Keep in mind, this thing’s cover price is $16.99.) Best bet may be to hope it pops up at a used bookstore.

This month’s Manga Movable Feast, hosted by Ed Sizemore over at Manga Worth Reading, focuses on the hidden treasures of artist Jiro Taniguchi. I call them “hidden treasures” because unlike last month’s MMF-featured artist, Osamu Tezuka, you’ll hardly ever walk into a store and find books by him sitting on the shelves (at least, not here in the islands, anyway). Granted, there were a handful of his titles that Borders picked up — that’s how I learned of the joys of A Distant Neighborhood — but, well, we all know where Borders ended up. His most accessible work at the moment, aside from what pops in and out of print on Amazon, may well be Kodoku no Gourmet, the manga he worked on with Masayuki Kusumi about a lone gourmet enjoying the delights at local restaurants and ramen shops that’s available on JManga.com.

Shame, really. Because if there’s anything A Distant Neighborhood and another series I’ve briefly addressed in this space, Summit of the Gods, taught me, it’s that Taniguchi is a mangaka worth following. Looking at the lineup of MMF pieces reminds me of all the books I’ve heard of but never had the opportunity to read yet — The Times of Botchan, The Quest for the Missing Girl, A Zoo in Winter, just to name a few.

To really capture the essence of Taniguchi, though, one needs only to experience The Walking Man. Yes, you could just replace “experience” with “read” in the last sentence. But then you’d be glazing over the whole point of looking at this book.

The premise is as stated in the title: There’s this guy — I’d peg him to be a middle-aged businessman — and he walks around. A lot. Repeat this over 155 pages, and that’s the book. It’s like those installments of “The Family Circus” in the Sunday comics where one of the kids wanders around from point A to point B with a dotted line tracing his convoluted path, except these journeys unfold frame by frame in intricate manga storytelling style.

It sounds incredibly dull. And for the manga reader who expects something, anything to happen to the characters they’re reading about other than “they exist,” it is. Heck, we learn more about the man’s dog (his name is Snowy!) than we do about the man himself (his name is [fill in the blank here with whatever you wish, there are no right or wrong answers]!) Here’s the essence of the first seven chapters:

  • Man meets bird watchers
  • It snows
  • Man explores town
  • Man climbs tree
  • It rains
  • Man skinny-dips
  • It storms

Throw in the phrase “Walking Man summary” and add in a few punctuation marks, and you could actually fit that into a single tweet with a few characters to spare. (Yes, I actually checked this.)

But The Walking Man isn’t meant for those people looking for action-oriented thrills. Rather, its target audience is really those who are able to find beauty in the seemingly mundane. Like I said in my look at A Distant Neighborhood, Taniguchi’s strengths are in rendering the intricacies of a particular scene and generating empathy for his characters. Whatever the man experiences in this book, we experience as well. If he feels like getting off a bus and walking to the top of a small hill, basking in the breezes and noting a marker where the altitude is exactly that of the peak of Mount Fuji, then we follow right along with him. When a wayward ball knocks off his glasses and he accidentally steps on them, Taniguchi shows us his blurred world view when he isn’t wearing them, and the fractured view when he is.

Devoid of any plot to concentrate on, we’re free to focus instead on the details with which Taniguchi has populated this man’s world — the stranger with whom our unnamed protagonist silently bonds on one walk, the wayward elderly lady and the children playing their recorders in the streets on another, the “sklunk!” of a can of coffee dropping from a vending machine. Thus the reason why I wrote earlier that The Walking Man is more to be experienced than to be read becomes clearer: The reason why this book appears at first glance to be about nothing from a storytelling standpoint is because “nothing” is exactly what Taniguchi wanted us to embrace. The man clearly has an identity and a job that keeps him busy, but that doesn’t matter; we’re always seeing him unplugged from that, walking somewhere, enjoying whatever life happens to present to him on a particular day.

This manga may have been released in 1992 in Japan and around 2004 in the U.S., but its message may be even more relevant in the information-dense, go-go-go environment of 2012: Relax. Take a walk. Enjoy life. That’s what’s most important.

Amazon’s listing shows copies starting from the amazingly low, low price of $67.20. (Keep in mind, this thing’s cover price is $16.99.)

Osamu Tezuka’s rare translated treasure

Any mention of the name Osamu Tezuka is guaranteed to make dedicated manga fans’ ears perk up. Astro Boy, of course, has crossed over into being a cultural icon. I’ve gushed about Black Jack before. Digital Manga Publishing recently held successful Kickstarter drives to reprint Swallowing the Earth and publish Barbara in English. Everyone’s oohing and ahhing over Vertical’s recent release of Princess Knight, and I for one can’t wait to see what the publisher does with the license-rescued Adolf, the tale of three men named Adolf in World War II-era Germany. The archive page for this month’s Tezuka Manga Movable Feast, hosted by Kate Dacey over at The Manga Critic, is testament to just how much we manga bloggers can discuss the man regarded by many as the “god of manga.”

Yet in this time of plenty for Tezuka fans, one English-translated volume stands out for its sheer rarity. This curiosity has been sitting in my collection for several years now, scooped up for $2 in the Punahou Carnival White Elephant tent. I’d never seen the book for sale before. I haven’t seen it anywhere since. The only other review listed in the MMF archive is one by Connie C. over at MangaVillage.

Meet Crime and Punishment.

CaP cover

It’s a second-print Japanese-English bilingual edition, published by the Japan Times in November 1990. The translation, handled by writer/translator/Tezuka scholar and associate Frederik L. Schodt, is top notch, as can be expected by a man who pretty much wrote the book on manga for English-speaking audiences, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. The first edition’s release date, in May of that same year, places its publication a little over a year after Tezuka’s death in February 1989. The manga itself is from Tezuka’s early career, published by Tokudo in 1953. It even came with a postcard.

CaP postcard

As well as a lovely pamphlet advertising some of the other books available from the Japan Times at the time.

CaP pamphlet

But back to the manga itself. This is, indeed, Tezuka’s adaptation of the 1866 novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Before you start having horrifying flashbacks to that time you had to write a 1,000-word essay for your world literature class about the novel’s prevalent themes and how they applied to 19th-century Russia, though, you have to realize that this is very much an early-’50s Tezuka production. I haven’t read the original novel, but I can’t imagine Dostoyevsky ever wrote anything like this:

“Morning, sir,” the short, pudgy assistant to Inspector Zamyotov said. “The Superintendent wishes to see you, sir.”
Zamyotov yawned and rustled in bed. “Thanks, but I’m sleeping in,” he mumbled.
“His aide has come for you, sir!”
“Tell him I’m not here!” Zamyotov said, sticking his tongue out.
“But he
nose you’re here!” With that, the assistant’s curvy, elephant-like nose suddenly grew even longer, bonking Zamyotov on the head.
“Yow!” he screamed, crashing to the floor.

So while the core story remains the same — Raskolnikov, a student, kills a pawnbroker that he feels cheated him out of the cash he deserved, then spends the rest of the book dealing with the knowledge that an innocent passer-by is being framed for his crime — Tezuka tends to take many liberties with the material, adding in cartoonish humor where none existed before. It makes for a curious pairing at times — a few pages after the scene described above, for instance, there’s a serious discussion of an essay Raskolnikov wrote about how the “ordinary” masses are always destined to follow the privileged, “extraordinary” few. And that’s followed by a scene where Raskolnikov inadvertently flings some jewels at some mice, who promptly start putting them on and marveling, “Beeootiful!”

The blending of cartoon humor with a mature psychological thriller isn’t perfect. But where Tezuka’s Crime and Punishment excels is in revealing part of the artist’s creative evolution. Realize that in 1953, Tezuka’s biggest successes had been in writing stories tailored more toward younger audiences, with New Treasure Island, Astro Boy, Jungle Emperor and a just-starting Princess Knight among them. The prototype for what would become Phoenix would come in 1954, with many of his books for more mature audiences (Black Jack, Buddha, Swallowing the Earth, Book of Human Insects, Ayako, et.al.) to follow in future decades. What we see here is a small taste of Tezuka’s future direction.

Crime and Punishment also features its fair share of Tezuka’s experimentation with panel layouts. Take the critical scene where Raskolnikov kills Ivanov, the pawnbroker. Tezuka leaves his virtual camera trained on a cutaway view of three levels of the apartment building and lets the action play out for 11 pages. Sometimes the characters run up and down the stairs. Sometimes two different things are going on at the same time on two different floors. Watching what would otherwise be a mundane act of two men going about their work painting a room for rent on one floor intertwine with the main action on another floor actually heightens the dramatic tension, and it’s a neat effect to see play out. Another memorable sequence sees Judge Porfiry discussing with Raskolnikov how he plans to draw the murder suspect to him like a moth to a flame, the scene slowly transitioning from a view of Porfiry and Raskolnikov to that of a flame seducing an attractive female moth. When the flame finally succeeds in pulling in the moth, the flame’s shape morphs into that of Porfiry’s head, driving the point home with added emphasis.

As more Tezuka manga gets translated into English, one would hope that Crime and Punishment would see a re-released edition sometime in the future. For now, though, all I can say is, if you ever come across it at a used bookstore, or a garage sale, or some unusual venue like that where you can get it cheap, buy it immediately. It’s a neat collectible.

Introducing Otaku Ohana, version 2.0!

Ever since tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. and I were handed the keys to our own little corner of the Star-Bulletin blogging kingdom in June 2009, we’ve had one mission in mind: to provide as much exposure as we could to anime, manga, and the local and national fan communities that power those industries. Otaku Ohana, as I explained back then, was meant to be an extension of my print column, Cel Shaded:

What I’ve discovered over the years, though, is that one column a week is hardly enough to contain all the anime and manga news that comes down the pipeline. For every one topic that I’ve covered in print, there have been at least two or three others I’ve passed up. And then there’s the poor, often neglected “Random Plugging” section. In theory, it was supposed to ease the backlog of anime and manga that we have yet to review. In practice, columns kept filling up without the help of “Random Plugging,” and now we have a backlog of several hundred series, partial and complete, that we have yet to comment on in any form. (I wish I was exaggerating with that number.) So it’s time for the next evolution.

Fast forward several years to the present. Some things have changed: Cel Shaded now exists only as an online extension to Otaku Ohana; the Star-Bulletin merged with the Honolulu Advertiser and became the Star-Advertiser; and it seems like our coverage is leaning more toward coverage of the local fan community. Other things haven’t: That review backlog still remains at several hundred series, mostly as the free time that Wilma and I have has evaporated before our very eyes. (We’re really trying to do more reviews this year, though! Really!) And, of course, Otaku Ohana’s been housed on the last regularly updated outpost of the starbulletin.com domain, blogs.starbulletin.com.

Until today.

Following the lead of fellow starbulletin.com blogger Nadine Kam and her Fashion Tribe — and after kicking the tires and making sure everything is in working order — I’m pleased to announce that all updates for Otaku Ohana going forward will be made on our shiny new site (which actually looks exactly like our old site, but ehh, details, details), http://otakuohana.staradvertiserblogs.com. All our old content won’t be going anywhere; it’ll still be archived at http://blogs.starbulletin.com/otakuohana for the foreseeable future.

I wanted to write a post about all the possible name changes we could’ve given the blog in its new phase, including:

  • Otaku Ohana 2: Electric Boogaloo
  • Otaku Ohana: Now With Bears (a nod to the Xbox 360 sequel to Kinectimals)
  • Super Otaku Ohana Turbo Hyper Championship Edition

Wilma groaned and put the kibosh on the idea immediately.

So I’ll just say this: Don’t forget to point your browsers and update your bookmarks and RSS feeds to reflect our new home on the web. Regular programming will begin shortly. We thank you for your continued patronage. And since the first-ever post in Otaku Ohana ended, for some weird reason that rests with 2009-era me, with a random link to a music video about some plants and some zombies, I’ll end this post with an equally random link to a journalist interviewing a wrestler in the Nintendo Wii game Rhythm Heaven Fever.

Yes, that new tune’s firmly wedged itself in my brain, too.