[大東京] ビンボー 生活 マニュアル ([Daitoukyou] Binbou Seikatsu Manual)


  Author:        前川つかさ (Maekawa Tsukasa)
  Publisher:    講談者 (Koudansha)

This book is from the '80s but it showed up in the "recommended" list of a bookstore I like, so I checked it out.  It's very nice indeed.

It has no real plot, and consists of short vignettes about just a guy living in a very small cheap apt in Tokyo, who apparently only has the occasional odd job so he's very poor (his girlfriend apparently does have a job because she's always the one who's paying for things).

Though nothing really ever happens, the stories are simply very nicely done and almost lyrical at times.  They're very atmospheric and evocative of Tokyo, and many of them are quite romantic in a low-key sort of way.

The Tokyo of the book is that of the 1980s though, and is a slightly different place; some of the places described have since gone or changed greatly, and this enhances the vaguely melancholic and nostalgic tone of the stories.  It's not overdone though, so one doesn't get the feeling of wallowing in nostalgia.

Anyway, recommended.

鉄子の旅 (Tetsuko no Tabi)


 Authors:      菊地直恵 (Kikuchi Naoe) + 横見浩彦 (Yokomi Hirohiko)
 Publisher:    小学館 (Shougakukan)

This is a slightly odd sort of manga:  basically the "story" is that a manga artist is asked by her boss to accompany him and a travel-writer on various train trips around Japan and draw a manga about it.

The kicker though, is that it's completely non-fiction -- the creator really did go on all these trips, and the manga simply records what happened, with no embellishment.  There's a little disclaimer at the front that says "This is non-fiction, so I apologize for the lack of drama," and indeed, it mostly is just about them riding trains from place to place, waiting on platforms, etc.; there's none of the silly artificial melodrama that sometimes accompanies info-manga.  Despite the disclaimer, however, it's really very entertaining (I hate most of the "info-manga" [cooking manga and the like] I've read, but I quite like this).

The "travel writer" turns out to be a super train-otaku who has vast knowledge of the train network, but also micro-manages all their trips, planning every detail down to the second.  He cares mostly about following the schedule and successfully achieving his planned goals (e.g. visiting all stations on a line in a completely bizarre order to accomodate infrequent trains).  The mangaka doesn't really care about trains; she's cynical, sarcastic, and rather lazy (she mainly just looks forward to the next eki-ben); he's completely gung-ho as long as he's following the schedule, and the inevitable conflicts are pretty entertaining.  There's a pleasant feeling of self-awareness about the whole thing -- because she drew the resulting manga, the same attitude comes through in other forms (the train-guy is always a bit over the top) but done very skillfully, so it doesn't feel self-indulgent at all.  She knows when to exaggerate a bit, and when to use understatement.

They try to make the trips interesting in various ways.  On one trip they attend the closing of a old train line; lots of funny stuff happens, but the story is infused with a sort of "inevitable melancholy" (that I think of as being characteristic of Japanese writing).  On another trip, an "idol talent" (along with her manager and make-up guy) comes along [you can purchase a DVD with some video clips of this trip], and the interaction with the train-guy is pretty funny; despite a constant smile, she's quite willing to say everything the mangaka was thinking but not saying...

Throughout, though, it feels real -- if you've travelled by train in Japan it will all seem very familiar, not just the scenery, but also the atmosphere and feel -- and the artist does a great job of pacing and applying little tweaks to keep it consistently entertaining.  In an additional bit of recursiveness, some of the characters who show up in the manga (who of course are real people, who really did show up) do so because they (really) read previous episodes of the manga!

In addition of course, you can learn about various out of the way and interesting Japanese train lines and stations; some of them really do look cool (I wanna try some of these trips myself!).  There's always this vague sense of surreality about it however -- the trips are all planned by the train-guy (goal: visit all 9,843 stations in Japan) who seems to consider everything as part of a checklist rather than an experience to be enjoyed.  You learn a bit about train-otaku culture too; there's really only the one guy in the story, but train-otaku culture is a sort of constant peripheral presence.

The art is basic, but clean and appealing.

Anyway, I found it pretty fun (I like trains generally though).

団地ともお (Danchi Tomoo) #1


 Author:       小田扉
 Publisher:  (appeared in Big Comics Spirits)

This is a slice-of-life story, about an unusually dim 4th-grader (Tomoo), and his somewhat smarter friends and family.

It's consistently amusing, in a low-key way (puncuated by the occasional belly-laugh).  It seems pretty realistic actually; much of the humor stems from the dimness of what the kids do, but it's always stuff that might actually make sense "if you're a kid".

Tomoo seems almost like a much more realistic version of Nobita from Doraemon (but whereas Nobita is constantly doing really stupid/selfish things to serve the dramatic demands of the story, Tomoo seems more like a real kid).

One nice point is that it for the most part avoids the artificial heart-warming moments that usually infest this sort of book.

So I dunno, I guess the above sounds lukewarm, but I'll be buying the subsequent books.  It's perfect reading for vegging out on the floor on a hot summer day...

20世紀少年 (20th Century Boys)

 Author:      浦沢 直樹
 Publisher:  小学館 (Shougakukan)

Vast web of twisted conspiracies, masterfully lays on a nostalgia trip and then slowly twists it into something mega-creepy.  The backgrounds are highly detailed and gorgeous (he apparently has legions of assistants!).

[This sort of lost its way, and bogged down in the last few volumes I thought, but most of it was just great.]

ふたつのスピカ (Futatsu no Supika)

 Author:      柳沼 行
 Publisher:  メディアファクトリー (Media Factory)

Wistful-but-hopeful, vaguely-super-ganbaru type of comic about kids at an astronaut school, with a weird vein of mild mysticism.

The plot is pretty cheesy -- pretty much everyone has a hidden tragic past/present -- but done with enough sensitivity and skill that it ends up working anyway. The art is basic, but effective, with an unusually strong sense of light.  The occasional detailed drawings of rural japan -- train stations, shrines, small towns -- are wonderful, and one gets the feeling it's the part of making manga the author likes the best. The short end-volume strips in the tankoubon are also entertaining.

[There's also an anime "based on" this manga, but from I've seen of that, the manga is much, much, better.]

第七女子会彷徨 (dai-nana joshikai houkou)

 Author:         つばな (Tsubana)
 Publisher:     リュウコミックス (Ryuu Comics)

Weird, endearing, super sarcastic, sly, occasionally creepy.  Short-Stories about two schoolgirl friends in a near future that's exactly like the present except when it's insanely different.