Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: TomojiPosted: February 11, 2022 Filed under: review | Tags: biography, comics, history, Japanese culture, Jirō Taniguchi, manga, religion, Taishō era, Tomoji 1 Comment
One of the greatest mangaka of all time passed away five years ago. Today we’re going to look at another of his late works, created after Furari and before The Millennium Forest.
Tomoji (とも路; German title: Ihr Name war Tomoji)
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Authors: Miwako Ogihara & Jirō Taniguchi (writers), Jirō Taniguchi (artist)
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Futabasha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2012)
Number of volumes: 1
Price: € 17
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/ihr-name-war-tomoji/978-3-551-76104-0 (German); https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=119718
A very short summary of this story would be that it tells the life of Tomoji Uchida (1912-1967), who, together with her husband Fumiaki Itō, founded a Buddhist sect. But that would be misleading. Instead of a hagiography, Taniguchi (together with co-writer Ogihara) does what he is best at: telling a story of ordinary people living ordinary lives. He is able to pull this off by having the story end in 1932, after Tomoji had married Fumiaki but before they became religious leaders.
What makes this story interesting nevertheless is that it’s also a portrait of Taishō and early Shōwa era Japan. We see Tomoji as a young girl in the countryside of Yamanashi Prefecture, helping out at her family’s shop, working in the rice paddy, going to school, and later going to town to attend a sewing school. Some dramatic events in Tomoji’s life are also shown – e.g. her father’s death, or how her mother abandons the family – but the only historic one is the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923, which is mainly depicted from Fumiaki’s perspective in Tokyo.
This is actually one of the more unusual aspects of the manga: Tomoji and Fumiaki don’t meet until 1932, but the perspective shifts several times from her to him, and it is strongly implied that they are somehow destined to be together. For instance, on p. 111, Fumiaki in Tokyo looks out of the window; the next panel shows a bird of prey in the sky; the one after that shows Tomoji looking up from her work in the rice paddy near her faraway home village – as if they were both watching the same bird – and then on the next page the sequence is reversed until in the last panel we’re with Fumiaki in Tokyo again. The caption on the page after that reads: “Fumiaki was 18 years old, Tomoji 12. Both were looking at the same sky, but some more years would pass before they met.”
With the knowledge of how Tomoji’s life story continues after the end of the manga, one is tempted to look for other hints in the story, apart from her fateful meeting with Fumiaki, as to how and why she became a religious leader. And indeed there are many little episodes which one can read as examples of young Tomoji’s kindness, compassion, humility, studiousness, piety and spirituality, all of which are probably appropriate prerequisites for a future temple founder. That being said, Tomoji remains a charmingly ‘ordinary’ slice-of-life manga.
Art-wise, Taniguchi is once more at the top of his game, which shows particularly in the many landscape panels and the endless variations of the page layout. Thankfully, the German edition also includes all the watercoloured pages (22 including chapter title images) in colour, and I have already sung Taniguchi’s praises as a watercolour painter before. Then again, the colour pages are probably German publisher Carlsen’s reason to charge the hefty price of € 0.10 per page for this book.
If Tomoji can be considered required reading for Taniguchi enthusiasts, it’s because it bridges two gaps in his oeuvre: as some people have pointed out, it is one of only two of his manga with a female protagonist (the other being Sensei no kaban from 2008, adapted from Hiromi Kawakami’s novel). And, chronologically, Tomoji is another piece in the puzzle that is Taniguchi’s manga history of Japan, as it were, as the time period that it covers fits nicely between the Meiji-era Bocchan no jidai (1987) and Harukana machi e / A Distant Neighborhood (1998), small parts of which are set in WWII.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: FurariPosted: February 11, 2021 Filed under: review | Tags: comics, Furari, geography, history, Jirō Taniguchi, manga, medieval Japan 2 Comments
One of Jirō Taniguchi’s († February 11, 2017) last manga to be published in translation during his lifetime, Furari has been called (even by the mangaka himself) ‘The Walking Man in Edo’. But is Furari really a masterpiece on the same level as Aruku hito?
Furari (ふらり, lit. “aimlessly”; German title: Der Kartograph)
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Author: Jirō Taniguchi
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2013 (originally 2011)
Number of volumes: 1
Price: € 16
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/der-kartograph/978-3-551-75102-7 (German); https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=60670
Some similarities can’t be denied, as both manga are about flaneurs, men walking around and exploring their urban surroundings. One difference is the protagonist’s motivation: while the nameless Aruku hito has just moved to a new home and wants to get to know the neighbourhood, Tadataka Inō, the protagonist of Furari, is a pensioner who has taken up pedometry – measuring distances by walking with a constant step length – as a hobby. (Only at the end of the manga does he officially become a surveyor; thus the German title, “The Cartographer”, is a bit misleading.) Also, Furari is a lot wordier than Aruku hito with many thought balloons, as Taniguchi must have felt it necessary to have his main character explain more things to the reader, as it were, and bridge the 200-year gap.
The biggest difference, however, is that Furari is really about something else. In 7 out of the 15 episodes, Inō has dreams/daydreams/visions in which he transforms into an animal (or a tree in one instance) and sees Edo from its point of view, e.g. from the river as a turtle, or from above as a dragonfly. And also some of the other episodes feature such a change of perspective on the town- and landscape, e.g. on a boat trip on the river: “when I’m on water for once, I realise that things come into view that you can’t see from onshore.” Thus I’d argue that Furari is at least as much a meditation on geography itself as it is a portrayal of historical Edo.
This is all quite fascinating, but there is one aspect in which Furari might be inferior to such Taniguchi classics as Aruku hito, Harukana machi e, or Chichi no koyomi: in these, the main character is pretty much a ‘nobody’, or an ‘anybody’, a ‘man without qualities’ from the contemporary real world with whom readers (particularly from Japan) can easily identify. Inō and the things he sees and does, in contrast, feel very distant to the reader, and thus the experience of reading Furari is more detached.
That being said, Furari is a must-read for any Taniguchi enthusiast, especially for those with an interest in historical Japan. Too bad the German publisher Carlsen once more overpriced what is essentially a regular tankōbon.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
Exhibition review: Craving for New Pictures, BerlinPosted: February 3, 2018 Filed under: review | Tags: Berlin, comics, exhibition, German, history, media, museums, printmaking Leave a comment
Whenever there’s an exhibition with a (sub)title like “From Broadsheet to Comic Strip”, the question for the comic aficionado is: how much comics is there really? As a history museum, the aim of the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) is to show how printed pictures changed the way ideas are communicated (with a focus on sensational news, propaganda, and education, the three sections in which the exhibition is organised). Thus the exhibits span from late medieval woodcuts to present day political cartoons, and such a wide time frame leaves little room for comics, of course. (There’s also a marked but neither exclusive nor explicit emphasis on Germany.)
Still, some items on display are noteworthy in this context. The earliest are broadsheet picture stories from the mid-nineteenth century – maybe not quite comics yet, but see Andreas Platthaus’s analysis of one of them in his opening speech which was also published in English.
Next to them we have a small section of early American newspaper comic strips (shown as facsimiles), and within it there’s the highlight of the whole show: two Katzenjammer Kids episodes, translated into German and published in Lustige Blätter des Morgen-Journals in 1905 and 1908 (!), respectively. Not quite as early but still remarkable is a German collected book edition of Felix the Cat from 1927.
Famous but seldom exhibited is Pablo Picasso’s two-part etching, Sueño y mentira de Franco (1937), also mentioned by Platthaus.
At the end of the education section there are three examples of the best-selling comic magazines in postwar Germany: Micky Maus #1 (a copy of the valuable original magazine is on display), Fix und Foxi from 1956 (original drawings by Werner Hierl plus published pages) and part of a 1974 Digedags story from Mosaik (drawings + published pages). As interesting as these comics may be, though, I find it hard to see the connection between them and the overall exhibition topic.
That being said, it’s still an exhibition worth visiting if your interest is not limited to comics alone, because there are many fascinating non-comic prints to see. Furthermore, the DHM currently also hosts the excellent and much larger show, 1917. Revolution. Russia and Europe, so your overall museum visiting experience might be better than my rating below suggests.
Craving for New Pictures: From Broadsheet to Comic Strip at Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, is still open until the 8th April 2018.
Linda Hutcheon’s Postmodernism – in comics?Posted: March 31, 2017 Filed under: review | Tags: Brahm Revel, comics, Guerillas, history, Linda Hutcheon, politics, postmodernism, theory, US, Vietnam War, war, Women's History Month 1 Comment
There have already been five posts about postmodernism on this weblog, so why a sixth one? Linda Hutcheon’s 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction is interesting because it directly engages in a dialogue – or should I say, argument – with previous texts on postmodernism such as Fredric Jameson’s.
Hutcheon defines postmodernism as:
- “fundamentally contradictory”,
- “resolutely historical”, and
- “inescapably political” (p. 4, my emphasis).
This seems to contradict Jameson’s and other authors’ view of postmodernism as ahistorical and depthless. But what exactly does Hutcheon mean by ‘historical’ and ‘political’?
The treatment of the past in postmodern works is indeed different from earlier, modernist works. Postmodernism “suggests no search for transcendent timeless meaning, but rather a re-evaluation of and a dialogue with the past in the light of the present. […] It does not deny the existence of the past; it does question whether we can ever know that past other than through its textualized remains.” (pp. 19-20, emphasis LH).
Likewise, the political nature of postmodernism is a complex one, “a curious mixture of the complicitous and the critical” (p. 201). “The basic postmodernist stance [is] a questioning of authority” (p. 202), but at the same time it is also “suspicious of ‘heroes, crusades, and easy idealism’ […]” (p. 203, quoting Bill Buford). “The postmodern is ironic, distanced” (p. 203).
The contradictory nature of postmodernism, on the other hand, is something everyone can agree on. This characteristic seems to be more of a prerequisite for or superordinate concept of the other two.
Hutcheon’s idea of postmodernism is a relatively narrow one. Although she references many examples of postmodernist works (mainly novels), it becomes clear that those examples represent only a part, and probably not a large one at that, of contemporary cultural production. Which brings us to today’s comic, which is not quite as randomly selected as previous examples in this column: it might fit Hutcheon’s criteria (well, see below), but some other comics that have a more ‘postmodern’ feel to them might not.
Brahm Revel’s Guerillas vol. 1 (Oni Press, 2010) opens with a quotation attributed to French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929). The first words of the comic proper are in a caption box that says, “Vietnam, 1970.” For the next 50 pages, the story follows John Francis Clayton, an “FNG” (Fucking New Guy) in a military unit in the Vietnam War. Revel pays a lot of attention to detail, such as military equipment and jargon. There are references to historic figures like Richard Nixon or Jane Goodall. And the depicted events are typical of what is commonly known about the Vietnam War: U.S. soldiers raping native women, torching villages, falling victim to the Viet Cong’s guerilla tactics, etc.
All of this serves to create a sense of historical accuracy. While the story narrated by Clayton can with some certainty be identified as fictional, the events just might have happened as depicted, in Vietnam, in 1970.
Then there’s a rupture around p. 56, at the end of the first chapter, when the chimpanzees are introduced, a rogue squad of trained apes equipped and dressed as U.S. soldiers, who fight against the Viet Cong on their own. Chapter 2 tells their origin as an experiment conducted by scientists (of German descent, of course). The chimpanzees exhibit a mix of human and animal behaviour; they thump their chests but smoke cigarettes.
This appears to be the contradiction that is central to Guerillas: the outlandish, ‘unrealistic’ motif of the scientifically enhanced apes clashes with an historically accurate, ‘realistic’ setting. While the beginning of this comic might be read as Revel’s version of what really happened in Vietnam, the story of the chimpanzees can hardly be interpreted this way: here we’re clearly in the realm of fiction, or entertainment, or fantasy. Of course, earlier fantasy and science fiction stories have used similar setups (e.g. Bram Stoker’s Dracula). However, the main difference is that in those classic stories, the authors went to great lengths to make the improbable seem plausible and fit into the realistic setting, whereas it’s harder to suspend one’s disbelief when reading Guerillas (not least because we’re reading it with the experience of many of those older similar stories).
According to Hutcheon, such a treatment of the past tells us something about the present, and this is also where the political nature of the work comes from. It is unreasonable to assume that the depiction of the grimness of the Vietnam War is a protest against, reassessment of, or coming-to-terms with it, given that the comic was made over 30 years after the end of the war. The ostensible reason for the Vietnam setting is that it makes more sense to deploy chimpanzee soldiers in the Vietnamese jungle than e.g. in the desert of the Gulf Wars, or in WWII in which the U.S. experience of the tropical regions was dominated by naval and aerial warfare (The Thin Red Line perhaps being the exception that proves the rule). But maybe Guerillas isn’t so time-specific after all. One of its themes is that a man learns from animals what humanity truly is, and this is a message that is relevant regardless of time and place: not unlike Pride of Baghdad by Vaughan and Henrichon, Guerillas can also be read as a commentary on the dehumanising effects of the war in Iraq, and by extension also Afghanistan and any other armed conflict.
But wouldn’t this – i.e. extrapolating from the specific to the universal – be a rather modernist reading? Indeed, Guerillas doesn’t seem to be the ideal example of Hutcheon’s postmodernism, but then again, few comics would meet her criteria without reservation. Still, Guerillas comes close. One can easily imagine how it might have qualified if Revel had made some different choices, e.g. if the protagonist would have been made identifiable as a real person (thus creating a contradiction between the genres of biography and fiction, cf. Hutcheon p. 9), or if the chimpanzee experiment would have been based on more advanced science and technology (thus creating a contradiction between different time layers, cf. Hutcheon p. 5). The resulting work would have been postmodern in Hutcheon’s sense, but whether it would have been a better comic is another question.
Manga talks at the 2015 ComFor conferencePosted: September 11, 2015 Filed under: review | Tags: Christian Chappelow, ComFor, comics, conference, history, Lukas Sarvari, manga, Marco Pellitteri, Rik Spanjers, Shigeru Mizuki, World War II 2 Comments
A surprisingly large number of papers on manga were presented at this year’s conference of the German Society for Comics Studies, which was held in Frankfurt last weekend. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear all of them (among the ones I’ve missed were Sven Günther’s paper on Thermae Romae and Sylvia Kesper-Biermann’s on Barefoot Gen), but here are brief summaries of the ones I did attend:
- Rik Spanjers spoke about Shigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. In this classic manga set in the Pacific War (as well as in his other manga), Mizuki employs a distinctive art style in which cartoonish characters clash with photorealistic backgrounds. Spanjers explains this art style with Mizuki’s attempt to adequately represent the horrors of war. For instance, the opposition between these two distinct art styles mirrors the opposition between life and death in the story, etc.
- Marco Pellitteri presented results from a survey on the arrival and impact of manga in several European countries. He attributes the success of manga in Europe mainly to two circumstances: the adoption of the ‘authentic’ tankobon format for translated editions, and the simultaneous broadcasting of anime series on European television channels.
(Naturally, there is some overlap with my own PhD research, but also one major difference: when one tries to identify similarities and differences between so many different comic markets and within such a long time frame – 1970s to today –, the perspective is necessarily much wider, and the results coarser. Which doesn’t make it less valid, of course.)
- Lukas Sarvari introduced three manga drawn by Kazuo Kamimura: Shinanogawa (1973-74, written by Hideo Okazaki), Furious Love (Kyōjin kankei, 1973-74, written by Kamimura himself), and Lady Snowblood (Shurayuki-hime, 1972-73, written by Kazuo Koike). Each of them is set in a different period of Japanese history: Shōwa (1926-89), Edo/Tokugawa (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912), respectively. However, Sarvari’s hypothesis is that these manga tell us more about the time in which they were made than about the time in which their stories are set. Thus they convey views about the nihonjinron discourse, Japanese exceptionalism, and fascism that readers today might feel uneasy about.
- Christian Chappelow identified similar elements in two manga about Adolf Hitler: Hitler (Gekiga Hittorā, 1971) by Shigeru Mizuki and Adolf (Adorufu ni tsugu, 1983-85) by Osamu Tezuka. Both manga can’t really be regarded as anti-war stories and lack a critical stance against nationalism, militarism and fascism. Chappelow suspects that this is the reason why Mizuki’s Hitler hasn’t been translated into a European language yet.