30 January 2013

Some Thoughts About Good Manga 6

Anybody know who this is? The answer is Morohoshi Daijirou. If you've never heard of him, that’s because not a single work of his has been translated to English officially or unofficially to my knowledge.* His obscurity in the West belies his importance however, considering his influence extended to big-weights like Miyazaki Hayao or Hideaki Anno. In fact, an interesting piece of trivia even I didn’t know before writing this post was that Morohoshi Ataru, the main character of Takahashi Rumiko’s Urusei Yatsura, owes the first half of his name to this mangaka. So what about this guy makes him special? To give an analogy, Morohoshi is to dark fantasy as Hoshino Yukinobu is to hard sci-fi manga. Incidentally, the two are long-time friends.

Morohoshi debuted in '70 with his oneshot Junko Kyoukatsu published in COM (Tezuka's famous response to Garo). At first noted only among the manga subculture crowd, he then went on to achieve more widespread recognition with his series Youkai Hunter and Saiyu Youenden (loose adaptation of Journey to the West), the latter of which was awarded in the Grand Prize category of the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. His works are primarily noted for their unique sense of dread or wonder when myths or the occult cross the realms of reality and meet fantasy. For instance, in Ankoku Shinwa (Dark Myths), Morohoshi weaves myths of Buddhism and early Jomon and Yamato cultures to tell the tale of one boy's divine awakening. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will no doubt feel right at home with Morohoshi's works. Just the fact that he disliked the title Youkai Hunter (a terribly generic name suggested by his editor) and later changed it to From the Field Notes of Hieda Reijirou, which is more reminiscent of the academic journal-style retelling prominent in stories like At the Mountains of Madness, should make his Lovecraftian influences clear. Having said all that, I don't want to hem him inside only within the borders of Lovecraftian horror, as he's also quite adept at doing surreal or fairy-tale-esque fantasy with no grim or eerie elements.

His relatively recent oneshot collections are excellent examples of Morohoshi's non-Lovecraftian fantasy. Their titles are Personal Illustrated Reference of Fish (Shikaban Gyorui-Zufu) and Personal Illustrated Reference of Birds (Shikaban Chourui-Zufu). As the title implies, the stories center around either fish or birds, but each story feels quite different from the next. Some are set in the ancient past steeped with divinity, some are set in the modern-day tinged with magical realism, while some are set in the post-apocalyptic futures where fish and birds are things of the past. Other stories mirror creation myths, Aesop's fables, or fairy-tales. And still others are explorations of dreams, psyches, or even just short gag comedies. A very impressive range of stories indeed. It's always a pleasure to see even established authors like Morohoshi trying new and different avenues.
What touched me most in these two collections was Morohoshi's unique take on Hans Christian Anderson's famous fairy-tale, The Little Mermaid. Just a warning, minor spoilers ahead. Morohoshi's version has mermaids living near the bottom of the ocean, where there is almost no oxygen and no light (curiously enough from an evolutionary standpoint, the mermaids have normal human-shaped eyes, however). Furthermore, these mermaids do not live prosperously in an underwater kingdom but rather a frugal existence with their population in very few numbers and scattered sparsely. Whereas in the original tale, the mermaid is motivated by love to seek a life above waters, Morohoshi adeptly uses these aforementioned elements of setting to have his mermaid be motivated instead by loneliness tinged with curiosity. I, being admittedly a rather aloof and unromantic person, quite like this change as I find it makes the little mermaid more sympathetic. This theme of loneliness continues onto the second part (her life on land), where the story changes to more of a realist drama about lost love and nostalgia for the past. This change might sound sudden and jarring but I assure you it's not. For one, the two parts of the story are split into two chapters and they are respectively placed as the first and last chapters in Personal Illustrated Reference of Fish. Also, the second half actually starts from another character's perspective so we don't initially realize that this is a continuation, and thus we also don't expect the fantastical elements present in the first half. It's only much later that we the reader comes to the slow realization that we're reading a continuation. This little split might not seem like much, but it's actually quite ingenious in getting a reader to follow a set path of expectations. It's these little things in a story's execution that can make all the difference. I won't spoil how Morohoshi's Little Mermaid ends but it's quite fitting and neither overly sappy (like Disney's version) nor overly cruel (like the original). Now maybe it's because I haven't read a fairy-tale since I was a kid but I found myself absolutely enchanted by this story, and Morohoshi's unique alterations really changed my perspective of a tale I once didn't think anything more than "Under the seaaaaaa~"

Well, that's it for now. For those who're wondering, yes, Happyscans and I are making progress on Alabaster right now. And no, there is no set release date for Gyanki-Hen v7 but I believe it'll come out in Japan sometime this spring.

*Correction: Actually, a very short oneshot called On the Way Home (Kaeri Michi) was scanlated years ago. Not really what I'd call ideal in introducing someone to Morohoshi, but better something than nothing, I suppose. I can't find a download link, so if you want to read, you can read it here at mangafox.

28 January 2013

Sangokushi v32 (last updated Feb 16)

I wonder if a Native American can just keep his regular name if he becomes a taoist?
A quick word about the duel's conclusion. In the manga, you might think that the Xiliang forces were cheap and ignoring proper dueling conduct but in the original novel, they only come charging out because they feel threatened by Xiahou Yuan and Cao Hong, who were coming out to stop the duel. Of course, in the actual Records of the Three Kingdoms, there is no mention of a duel between Xu Chu and Ma Chao, though it does say Xu Chu did glare Ma Chao down until the latter retreated.
Jia Xu is one of the most underrated strategists in the novel in my opinion. The few times he appears, he shows Zhuge Liang-levels of prescience and wisdom. It's a shame he only shows up very rarely once defecting to Cao Cao. I wonder why that is? Maybe he was historically not that talented and couldn't accomplish much. Or maybe his lords never appreciated his advice all that much.
Absolutely brilliant plan.
Not to be confused with the imperial seal that Sun Jian found earlier on in the story (I think).
China's distinctive cliff-mountains really are breathtaking.
Don't you just hate it when UPS does this?

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