Dan (real name, Yoshihiko Kuroiwa) didn’t just write S&M. He practically made it into a one-dirty-old-man cottage industry. He wrote over a hundred novels that were probably sold in several forest’s worth of plain brown wrappers, and penned dozens of scenarios for films whose posters you wouldn’t want hanging in your living room when your parents came over. Not unless your dad happened to be Oniroku Dan — and if he was, you had bigger problems.
Some of Dan’s movies, like the infamous Flower and Snake, have shown up in English, but until Vertical brought out Season of Infidelity earlier this month nothing he’s written has been given the same treatment. Infidelity culls four stories from Dan’s back catalog, and what’s most fascinating is not the gamut of fetishes and perversities that Dan catalogs for the reader — that part’s pretty predictable — but the tone of the whole thing. Dan mines his various autobiographical anecdotes as much for sentimental self-pity as he does for salaciousness. Read more
“Now I told you that story to tell you this one.”
That was Bill Cosby, between two of his best routines. That could also have been Naoki Urasawa, right before he made that dozen-year leap forward in the middle of the last volume of 20th Century Boys. What’s past is prologue — not just the childhoods of the characters in the 1970s and their adolescence during the 1980s, but the whole “present time” storyline of the 1990s was itself also just prelude. It’s the most daring storytelling chronology I’ve seen in manga since Tezuka sliced and diced time and leapt across the eons in his many-times-over-epic Phoenix.
It’s also not a stunt. The further Urasawa delves into his tale of Apocalypse Now (And Always), the more you see why he chose to tell his story like this, with so many key pieces deliberately missing. For one, it builds suspense; here it is, fourteen years later and the fates of many characters are still up in the air. Last volume we learned about little Kanna, still carrying a torch for her father and the resistance he manifested against the Friends. And in this installment we finally learn what happened to another crucial member of Kenji’s crew: Shogun. It’s not pretty. Read more
So why, you might ask, am I now reviewing volume 8 of Black Jack when I was only just reviewing volume 9? Happenstance, mostly. Somehow I ended up missing volume 7 in a mail mix-up, although when that comes in I’ll be sure to fill in the gap. For now, I’m walking backwards.
And as I did with 9, I’ll say the most important part first: This is one of the better volumes in the series. That doesn’t come from the cleverness of the conundrums Black Jack gets to untangle, or because he’s extra-dexterous in the operating room this time around (because, when is he ever not like that?). The reason the better stories in Black Jack are the better stories is because they serve all the more to underscore how Black Jack stands apart from the world he’s torn between serving and exploiting. Read more
I’ll put this part behind me right away. As Black Jacks go, volume 9 is only fair. That makes it an okay part of a great whole — but that doesn’t dilute the quality of the whole. It simply makes the good parts of this series all the more worthy.
It also doesn’t mean volume 9 should be ignored. In fact, reading it compelled more thought about the series and the way I’ve approached manga in translation than most anything I’ve laid eyes on in months. The reason? This is the first volume of BJ I’ve read in Japanese long before the English version ever landed on my doorstep.
I hadn’t planned to do it that way. Insights are never planned. Late last year, in New York City’s Book-Off, I ran across a used copy of the untranslated volume 9 for the whopping price of $1. I needed no persuasion. At that price, any book would have been worth it; this one, doubly so. I slapped down my credit card, ran home, and that night read it cover-to-cover with my electronic kanji dictionary close at hand. But somehow I’d grown so used to Black Jack as a translated work that I couldn’t help but feel I’d only read half the book — that the other half was Vertical’s own yet-to-be-released edition, which now sits to my left as I type this.Read more
The two hardest things in art are being funny and playing stupid. Gilbert Sorrentino must have been touched by genius, because he did a better job of portraying an irredeemably bad writer — i.e., playing stupid — than anyone else I’ve read yet. He also managed the difficult juggling act of of being both highbrow and lowbrow at the same time, without letting either extreme eat him up. He did this sort of thing through a number of books, none of them bestsellers but many of them worth seeking out, and of the bunch of them Mulligan Stew remains a perennial favorite. (Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is my other favorite Sorrentino overall, but it’s so dissimilar from Stew that it would be unfair to talk about it in the same review.)
To paraphrase from a press release for a film I hated, Mulligan Stew is “a car bomb of post-modern textual self-deconstruction”, rammed head-on into the present-day crop of literary pretensions. In plainer language, it’s a hoot, an indictment of the self-importance of those who seem more interested in pleasing critics and snobbish literary professors than they are in telling a story (!) or communicating something genuine (!!). Sorrentino accomplished all this by taking on the form of the very thing he wanted to critique: a Post-Modern Novel, consisting of books inside other books, with all the characters in search of an author. It’s not bad enough that they have to endure the indignity of being mere fictional creations, but they’re doubly miffed that the one who created them is such a humorless, egomaniacal twit. Read more