The Trouble with Budori Gusuco

Over at All the Anime, I write up the path to the screen of Kenji Miyazawa:

“It is difficult to overstate the impact of the author Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) on Japanese literature, and anime. He was still in his thirties when he died, a largely unknown poet living in provincial obscurity, and only really read outside local newspapers after the publication of a Complete Works a decade later. In the post-war period, which saw most of the Japanese school curriculum bleached and purged of any authors with wartime associations, Miyazawa’s gentle, pastoral tales, suffused with Buddhist imagery, swiftly took root, becoming the set books of an entire generation of schoolchildren.”


Taiyo Fujii

“Characters… wear augmented-reality contact lenses, not to enhance their perspective but to deaden it against an onslaught of advertising and distractions. Fujii took this idea to a new level with Hello World (2018), in which hackers develop an ad blocker that can filter out government propaganda. This, in turn, proves to have revelatory and revolutionary implications in several foreign states, where the removal of fake news, spam and subliminal advertising creates conceptual breakthrough of immense consequence.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I contribute an entry on the Japanese author Taiyo Fujii.

Hiroshi Yamamoto

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up the remarkable authorial career of Hiroshi Yamamoto, who started out as an elf-girl called Deedlit.

“In any other country’s sf community, an author like Yamamoto might have been the darling of the convention circuit for decades, and a regular sight at awards ceremonies. But in Japan, where his prolixity and varied output is notable but unremarkable, Yamamoto had to wait until Kyōnen wa Ii-nen ni Naru Darō [“Last Year Should be a Good Year”] (2010) to receive a Seiun Award for long-form fiction. Intimately involved in the post-911 zeitgeist, it imagines a world, but more pointedly an America, invaded by androids from the 24th century, determined to stop contemporary conflicts and terrorism as part of an operation in a much wider-ranging Changewar, the precise aims and consequences of which are hidden from inhabitants of the present day.”

The Night is Short…

I once lived in Kyoto. It was a magical time of my life, wandering temples and wooden-shuttered backstreets, side-eyeing geisha at the bus stop – the town that had been Japan’s capital for a thousand years, simmering in the summer heat. My history tutor told me to ring the doorbell of a fearsome, fortress-like building, and to announce to the occupant that I was his deshi. This simple watchword unlocked the bolts, and an antique dealer, feared by the locals, welcomed me with open arms and showed me prints of the war with Russia from a hundred years before. “I remember your teacher when he was your age,” he said. “Like it was yesterday.” But it wasn’t yesterday; it had been twenty years. I went to a barber and sipped gingerly at tea that tasted of fish, while a man who seemed to think it was still 1951 asked me if I wanted a “G.I.” haircut.

Sometimes I forgot what year it was myself. I felt that was how the whole town got along. There was a children’s playground next to a mount called Mimizuka, the “Hill of Ears”. But the name was a lie; it was full of noses, hacked off Korean soldiers during the samurai invasion that closed the 16th century. Every day I would walk across the bridge at Gojo, where my hero Yoshitsune had legendarily fought the monk Benkei. I bought manga and rock CDs next to a little temple, where Oda Nobunaga had made his last stand. I ate noodles near the spot where Yasuke, the black samurai, had overwhelmed his traitorous enemies. Of course, I was going to be a historian, so that others could see what I could see.

In a tea-house, a girl all in grey with shining eyes told me that we had been married once before, in “a smoky room”. The next day, she shaved her head and became a Buddhist nun.

Nobody ever stole my pants from me in a dark alley, though.

Blood Will Tell

The nosebleed, long a sign of suppressed lust in manga, has taken on a whole new meaning, in a controversy that has now been running for five years, and left a stain on what should have been the triumphant ending of a successful series.

Tetsu Kariya’s Oishinbo (“The Gourmet”) has been running for three decades in the pages of Big Comic Spirits, drawn by Akira Hanasaki. “Thirty years,” wrote its author ruefully, “is long enough for anything,” and there were rumours afoot that with failing health and entirely reasonable weariness, he was planning on bringing the story to a close. However, Oishinbo bowed out suddenly and unexpectedly, after a May 2014 storyline about reporters covering the nuclear accident at Fukushima.

Oishinbo was one of the most successful manga in Japan, running to 111 compilation volumes, every one of them a million-plus best-seller. It is one of the last hold-outs of the “gourmet” trendiness of Japan’s 1980s bubble era, and an encyclopaedic introduction to the world of Japanese food and society. But Kariya’s final storyline before a sudden (and apparently planned “hiatus”) featured a character who suddenly develops a nosebleed after coming home from a Fukushima fact-finding mission, despite claims by the authorities that there should be no side-effects. “I myself began to have nosebleeds suddenly at dinner next day when I came back from coverage in Fukushima,” wrote Kariya on his blog, also citing sudden and inexplicable fatigue: “It felt like someone was trying to drag my spine to the ground.”

Kariya, who has lived in Australia since 1988, is a Japanese opinion-former with a large audience, but he seemed to make a lot of enemies. All twenty phone lines at his publisher, Shogakukan, were jammed for a solid fifteen hours – he blamed “pro-claimers”, a term for thugs hired to disrupt corporate activities. He subsequently got into a mud-slinging match with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, who called his comments irresponsible and defamatory after Japan had received the much-needed economic boost of the 2020 Olympics. Last month he published an update on his blog, detailing further incidents of harassment and stone-walling directed against him and his publishers over the last five years.

“This was not a thing I heard from someone,” he wrote. “nor me repeating some rumour. This is something I experienced for myself.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #190, 2019.

Last and First Idol

Over at All the Anime, I chronicle the controversial debut of Gengen Kusano, who recently snagged his second Seiun Award for science fiction.

“Mere months before Last and First Idol was nominated for the Seiun, it had previously appeared in an amateur press publication called School Idol Fictionally, where its true colours were revealed as a work of Love Live! fan fiction. Kusano’s original took a degree of icky glee at describing the sudden death of the idol Nico Yazawa, a gruesome operation to salvage her organs, and her subsequent transformation into a super-being with godlike powers.”

British Museum Manga

“As the exhibition winds down, its catalogue is going to form much of its historical footprint. On shelves and coffee tables in years to come, this hefty 350-page book is going to transform into a resource and an aide-memoire, a place for people to remember and revisit what they saw. Undoubtedly, it will form the germ of some new fans’ first appreciation of what manga is.”

Over at the All the Anime blog, I examine the heritage and likely legacy of the British Museum Manga exhibition.