Ax is an anthology of alternative manga stories. I don’t really read enough manga, so I figure anthologies are a good way to help me find new things. There were a bunch of stories I didn’t like, because they were too crudely drawn or too much florid art/language (which might have been better in Japanese). But there were a few I did like.
Love’s Bride by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A guy gets possessive about a girl he knows so she tells him to fuck off and he goes to the zoo and falls in love with an ape who truly understands him. I’ve read a bunch of Yoshihiro Tatsumi books before so maybe it’s just familiarity with his straightforward style, but the story was well-done.
Conch of the Sky by Imiri Sakabashira: This one was way more metaphorical and weird, with squids crawling into the sick guy’s futon and then going off on a chase through the dark. The narration and the sinuous but not overdone art really sold it for me. It felt like a fever dream. In a good way.
A Broken Soul by Nishioka Brosis: The art in this story was what I really liked. It felt kind of cubist as the main character discovered his soul was broken.
Enrique Kobayahsi’s Eldorado by Toranusuke Shimada: This is the story of an Eldorado motorcycle found in an uncle’s garage. Toranusuke Shimada draws in a style reminiscent of Joe Sacco and tells the history of these Brazilian motorcycle manufacturers who turned out to have gotten their skills from Nazis. This one probably felt the least like what I think of as manga of the book.
My second Yoshihiro Tatsumi book in a week, Abandon the Old in Tokyo is a collection of short stories in manga form. In the afterword, which is a Q&A between Tatsumi and Adrian Tomne, Tatsumi talks about how these stories came to be. The idea that Tatsumi is sort of the Japanese equivalent to Robert Crumb or Art Spiegelman. Gekiga comics were like the equivalent to “underground” comics elsewhere. Which answered a bunch of my questions on how these things were received. It turns out they were published in adult magazines and yeah, weren’t the hugely popular kind of manga we see today.
This book had less political stuff in it and more about sex and conflicted obligations. One story is about a nagging horrible mother who the protagonist finds an apartment for so he can bring his girlfriend home. Another is about a man who gets trapped in a pit as a representative of all men. Another has a ruined businessman surrender his human dignity looking for some sort of acceptance by fucking a dog. It’s all kind of depressing.
Good-bye collects some Yoshihiro Tatsumi comics from the early 1970s. Now, I don’t know a lot about manga, but I’m really interested in how these were received at the time. They’re very sad stories. One is about a man who’s about to retire and knows his wife cheated on him in the past and feels useless and decides to cheat on her and spend all their savings doing it. Another is about a hostess at a club who’s faithful to the man who took her virginity and then went to jail for four years, who tells her he’ll be her pimp when he gets out. Another is about a daughter being pimped by her father to an occupying American soldier. None of them are happy at all. They don’t make you feel good reading them (though not to the extent that Requiem for a Dream makes you feel terrible). But man, I’m glad they exist.