There’s got to be a way to talk about Tanpenshu #2 without scaring you all off.
Think about it from my side, that’s all I ask. I’ve beentrying to get this review written for two days, and I’ve shot moreblanks than a whole class full of third graders with cap guns. “Just goget the book,” I was tempted to write. “Just go and expose youselves tothis fire-eating, heart-unclogging piece of power, because it burns theb.s. right out of the soul, and anything that does that in this world is something to cherish and defend.”
That’s why I had such great things to say about Apollo’s Song and MW and Abandon the Old in Tokyo, which all hurt.Hurt like being slapped by someone you loved, right after you’d blurtedout something unbearably careless and hurtful to their face. So—and youcan see the dilemma by now—Q: Why then would anyone want to subject themselves to it?
A: Because of what you are when you come out the other side.So goes the theory, anyway. In practice, most people are notinterested in giving themselves an aesthetic scourging that they’re notbeing tested on later. This is why Merzbow does not routinely outsellShakira, and the first volume of Tanpenshu didn’t hit the New York Times bestseller list (which is a crying shame).
What they’re missing is that they’re always being tested onthis later. We don’t read about heartbreak only so we can vicariouslyexperience heartbreak (although that’s one reason for it). We readabout heartbreak and self-destruction and you-name-it so we can be thatmuch more prepared for the real thing when it does hit. Maybe thatstrategy doesn’t always work, but that’s why these things are createdin the first place—not to gouge you in the eye, but to talk to yourheart.
The second Tanpenshu volume does about an equalamount of gouging and talking, sometimes both at once. It also shows abit more of Hiroki Endo’s taste for science fiction as a deliveryplatform for stories about human nature—the sort of thing he’s donemost excellently in his longform series Eden (also available in English courtesy of Dark Horse).
Endo does that very thing right in the first story, “Hang,”which combines dystopian SF concepts with the kind of grim, mercenarysexuality that also figured into the first volume of Tanpenshu.A young man and his girlfriend wander to the edge of Japan with thegirl’s “brother”—nothing more than a brain in a box—in tow, sharing sexand a particularly ugly secret. Japan itself, by the way, has beensuspended over the planet by an array of guy wires, like a giganticsuspension bridge, and even though this is fully revealed in the lastpanel we never do see what’s at the other end of those wires, holdingeverything up. The construction of their world is like a Greek choruscomplement to their own equally absurd lives, and after reading ityou’ll feel a bit like you’ve been dangled over an abyss yourself.
Then comes “High School Girl 2000,” which is eitherautobiography or auto-idolatry, or maybe a bit of both. It’s allegedlya story about Endo himself (all bets are off, I think) in the fullflower of his shamelessness—talking dirty to his assistants, leering atgirls from the balcony of his apartment studio, and fending off middleage with the sort of narcissistic horror that you’ll either laugh atbecause it’s just utterly pathetic or identify with completely. BothEndo-the-creator-of-the-story and Endo-the-character flash back to highschool and remember better times, when you could make plans for thefuture—like how becoming an artist would be the best revenge againsteveryone who ever beat you up. If most of the rest of Tanpenshuis meant to puncture our own heart, Endo uses this story to puncturehis and show what comes bleeding out. Too bad the results are moremerely lurid and uncomfortable than actually compelling, but the restof the book more than makes up for it.
“Platform”, in two parts, is the book’s other masterwork(apart from “Hang”), and is so radically unlike the first two that ifyou’d started reading Endo’s works with this book you might haveassumed he was simply a hired gun with someone else taking over storyduties each time around. A simple synopsis does not do the full impactof this story justice—it leaps back and forth through time, from whenyou could glance at a girl on the other side of a train station andfeel like you were in touch with everything perfect in your world allthe way back to the present, where your father’s a gangster and youdespise everything about his life and has that exact same girl as hislover. And she’s attracted to that kind of power and strength, all ofwhich you do not have, and when you try to emulate his strength all youget is pain and trouble. I read this story with Van Morrison’s Astral Weeksplaying in the background—not by any design, just by accident—and tosay that it all made for an unsettling, soul-devouring experience is alittle like saying that’s a mighty big night sky up there.
Maybe Endo couldn’t bring himself to close this book offon such a monumental note of rage and loss, and so at the end we get“Boys Don’t Cry” (Robert Smith, call your office). It has all theflavor of someone capping off a Nobel Prize acceptance speech with aknock-knock joke. But the way I see it, after all the heartbreak he’sput us through, he’s entitled to try and make us giggle.
Translation: My comments about the translation for Volume 1were based mainly on a comparison of the fan-translated story “ForThose of Us who Don’t Believe in God” with the version that showed upin the actual published book. The translation’s as readable, poetic,and occasionally flat-out vulgar as it needs / has to be. Dark Horsealso did the smart thing and kept the original right-to-leftformatting; flopping a title like this would have been like colorizinga black-and-white movie. FX are annotated directly on the page, in areserved and undistracting way.
The Bottom Line: Here’s what you do. If you’re feeling like life just walked in and kicked your nose in, go buy both volumes of Tanpenshuand read them back to back and see if that doesn’t give your soul alittle electroshock therapy. And if you’re in a good mood, go buy bothvolumes of Tanpenshu ANYWAY and save them for a day when you’re not. It never hurts to have a contingency plan.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind