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Avant manga

By James Hadfield

Takashi Nemoto’s “The World According to Takeo” is the heart-rending tale of a radioactive sperm trying to make an honest living in an uncaring world. It’s included in the hilariously vulgar "Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby," one of a number of alternative manga classics that have been released in English during the past year. If you’ve been getting fed up with all those volumes of Naruto clogging the shelves at your local bookshop, this might come as a welcome corrective.

Nemoto first rose to prominence in the early ’80s, when he was lumped in with the "heta-uma" (bad but good) school pioneered by Teruhiko “King Terry” Yumura. His rough, faux-naif style is perfectly in keeping with the grotesqueness of his material. The perverted protagonist of “Monster Man Bureiko” gets his comeuppance when his own genitals, appalled at their master’s behavior, take control of his body. The eponymous Takeo, meanwhile, is condemned to atone for the sins of his father, a coarse drunkard and serial rapist who, ahem, whips it out at any given opportunity. You’ll need a strong stomach to get through these stories, but behind the onslaught of copulation and onanism lie some surprisingly poignant moments and acerbic satire.

Much of Nemoto’s work was originally published in Garo, the now-defunct monthly that, between 1964 and 2002, provided a haven for some of Japan’s most radical manga-ka. Nearly two decades earlier, the same magazine had serialized Seiichi Hayashi’s "Red Colored Elegy," which is now available in a handsome hardback edition from Drawn & Quarterly.

This cool, spare work is a far cry from Nemoto’s in-yer-face ribaldry—they’ve got about as much in common as Jean-Luc Godard and "Braindead"-era Peter Jackson. But like "Monster Men," it’s very much a creature of its time. The story’s young lovers, Ichiro and Sachiko, are an oh-so nouvelle vague couple who spend most of their time in bed, smoking, dreaming and gazing lovingly at their own navels.

It’s woozy, weightless stuff, but Hayashi’s artwork transcends the familiarity of the story, often lending it an emotional impact that it might otherwise have lacked. All stark lines and high-contrast blacks and whites, his images find poetry and resonance in unexpected places, be it a squeaking swing or a moth fluttering on a lampshade.

That attention to detail is turned up to 11 in Yuichi Yokoyama’s "Travel," an account of a train journey that has the sensory overload of an acid trip. There’s no dialogue or “story” to speak of here, but that barely matters. Yokoyama’s panels pulse with energy, making a cigarette break or a sudden downpour seem like moments of high drama. The scenery rushing past the window is forever twisting itself into new shapes and impossible, Escher-esque angles. This is manga as high art—and indeed, excerpts from the book were featured in the 2007 “Roppongi Crossing” exhibition at the Mori Art Museum.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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I'm glad I don't get the appeal of manga.

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Wow. Somebody in Japan got hold of a 40 year old R. Crumb comic.

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