Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: Chichi no Koyomi

One blogpost is not enough to pay homage to the recently deceased Jirō Taniguchi, so here’s another one.

Another noteworthy but largely overlooked manga by Taniguchi is Chichi no Koyomi (My Father’s Journal), of which there is no English translation either. The reason for its negligence in the Western world is probably a different one, though: it might be too similar to Taniguchi’s magnum opus A Distant Neighborhood – which was originally published four years *after* Chichi no Koyomi. Reading these two manga in the ‘wrong’ order makes Chichi no Koyomi feel like a compressed, less daring (no supernatural time travel) and more episodic (thus somewhat haphazard) rip-off of A Distant Neighborhood, when in fact the latter was more of a logical continuation or evolution out of the former.

Die Sicht der Dinge (父の暦 / Chichi no Koyomi)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Jirō Taniguchi
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Shōgakukan)
Year: 2008 (original run 1994)
Pages: 278
Price: € 16,90
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/die-sicht-der-dinge/20582 (German)
ISBN: 978-3-551-77731-7

Yōichi Yamashita (i.e. not Taniguchi himself but an autobiographically influenced fictitious character) is a middle-aged salaryman who lives in Tokyo with his wife. When his father dies, he needs to return to his native Tottori for the funeral, for the first time in 15 years. There he meets his uncle, his sister and other characters with whom he reminisces about his father’s life, Yōichi’s own childhood and how the rift between the two came to be.

The events in the past are shown as flashback sequences, although they take up more space than the events in the present. I wouldn’t call the present-day sequences a framing narrative, though, because several chapters begin in the past, then switch to the present, before they switch back to the past again, so that the past frames the present. There is some structural variation and jumping back and forth in time. The most strikingly structured episode is the one in which seven-year-old Yōichi runs away from home to his uncle in search of his mother: adult Yōichi begins to tell this episode on pp. 19-25, but doesn’t pick it up again until 130 pages later.

Another interesting device, albeit employed only tentatively, is an unreliable narrator: two events from Yōichi’s childhood are first shown as he remembers them, but later he learns from his relatives how he actually misremembered them. This device makes the story more dynamic; just as in A Distant Neighborhood, the past isn’t fixed but changeable. However, there is also an emphasis on a historic event in Chichi no Koyomi, the Great Fire of Tottori in 1952, which makes the past more site- and time-specific in this manga than in A Distant Neighborhood.

Artistically, Chichi no Koyomi is Taniguchi at the top of his game. Particularly the characters and their facial expressions are spot-on, which is no small feat given the number of characters, most of which appear multiple times at different ages.

However, it should be noted that the German publisher Carlsen didn’t do a particularly good job at flipping the manga so that it now reads left-to-right in this German edition: the speech bubbles and captions are often arranged diagonally in the panel, in which case the reading order is bottom(!)-left to top-right, which is awfully confusing. Furthermore, some panels are mirrored and some are not, resulting in the old problems of right-handed characters becoming left-handed and the like.

That being said, Chichi no Koyomi is a classic Taniguchi manga that one shouldn’t miss. Together with The Walking Man and A Distant Neighborhood, this manga embodies the essence of Taniguchi’s work as a mangaka.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○

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Review: König des Comics

film still from flyerA theatrical release of a documentary film about a German comic artist is quite an event. As I write this, König des Comics might still be shown in some German film theaters, and it has yet to be released in other countries. Therefore, I thought I’d post a short review of it (although there already are competent reviews online, e.g. an English one by Joe Walsh at CineVue and a German one by Lida Bach at kino-zeit.de).

This comic artist is, of course, Ralf König. Despite his gay subcultural background, he is probably Germany’s best-known living comic author, so the film title is more than just a pun on his last name. As a biographical documentary, König des Comics succeeds in telling us a lot about Ralf König that we (or at least I) didn’t know before. Instead of using a lot of original early video footage (of which there simply wasn’t much, I guess), the film relies primarily on interviews with König himself and other people who either played some role in his life, or who are just gay celebrities (e.g. Hella von Sinnen). In between we get to see König doing a reading of his comics, talking to a Swiss fan, or hanging out with friends.

There’s nothing wrong with that as a method, but my problem is that the film shows a very personal side of König. Given that the film was made by gay director Rosa von Praunheim, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it emphasises König’s homosexuality, his coming out, his gay rights activism, etc. While such a perspective surely needs to be covered in a film on an author of gay comics, I would have liked to learn less about him as a person and more about him as an artist.

König is shown reading his comics along to a slide show, but hardly ever drawing them. That is a pity, because the film only hints at both the quantity and the quality of his output. I must admit that I haven’t been following his work since Sie dürfen sich jetzt küssen (2003), but König has published at least one book a year since that. For me, König des Comics was also a reminder of what a masterful draughtsman König is, however fleetingly the film treated this aspect. In itself, I don’t think it’s a particularly good film, but at any rate, it makes you want to read König’s comics again, and that’s not the worst thing a film can achieve.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○