Thursday, May 17, 2012

Abandon the Old in Tokyo



Recently released in a more affordable paperback by Drawn & Quarterly, Abandon the Old in Tokyo is a collection of short stories by gekiga pioneer, Yoshihiro Tatsumi. In case you are wondering what "gekiga" is, it is a term coined by Tatsumi used to describe the type of comics he drew. You see, "gekiga" means "dramatic pictures" and "manga" means "irresponsible pictures". I can see why he and others involved with the movement wouldn't want their work being referred as "irresponsible. It's not unlike how some call western comic books "graphic novels". I previously became introduced to the world of gekiga by Tatsumi's other short story collection, 'The Push Man, and Other Stories'. Fascinated by what I saw within, it wasn't a hard choice to buy his second collection.

This collection of gekiga contains eight short stories. Written in the early 70's, these shorts tell of the down and out lives of every day people of Japan. Those private thoughts and problems that you don't want anyone to see. They are featured in the pages of this book. It's a quick look into the weird, shameful, pathetic, disgusting, and realistic life issues that plague average Joe's.

I found this collection to be an improvement over 'The Push Man, and Other Stories', which was quite interesting, but not always entertaining. In my favorite short in the bunch, "Beloved Monkey", we follow the protagonist as he struggles with the monotony of work and the loneliness of life. The only time he doesn't feel alone and does feel human is when he is with his pet monkey. Things briefly start to look up for him when he meets a woman. He decides to make a change in his life and writes his letter of resignation, but before he can hand it in, an work accident causes him to lose his arm. And on top of that, he realizes his lady friend only wanted him for his money. Literally sick by life, he decides release his beloved pet monkey into the monkey enclosure at his local zoo to be with his fellow simians, only to have the zoo monkey's beat his pet to death as an intruder. With no luck finding a new job due to his missing arm, and no more beloved pet, he feels more isolated from society than ever. With visions of his dead pet, the story ends with him letting out a paranoid scream, surrounded by the judging eyes of his fellow citizens.

I honestly have trouble describing why I like these stories, especially this one. I don't feel like "entertaining" is the right word to describe these shorts. "Fascinating" might be a better word. It's like I'm getting to look at something I'm not suppose to. Or kind of like stopping to look at a car accident. You don't get pleasure from looking at the car accident, but you can't look away. What is that appeal? Whatever it is, this short story gave me that feeling. I didn't enjoy seeing this poor guy's life falling apart, but I enjoyed the ability to see into his life. That sounds weird, I know, but that is just how different I find Tatsumi's gekiga. They are unlike any of the manga I have ever read or any other form of media I have experienced, so I can't properly describe why exactly I found this book good. All the stories in this book are like that. All downers. Some shocking. The thing is, I know I'm not reading it for the shock value, because if I wanted that, I could find things much more shocking to read. If nothing else, I like this book because it is a welcome change from the usual, mainstream stuff that gets licensed here in the states.

The art may best be described as "old school". I personally don't gravitate toward the older art styles, but I can't say that the art is bad. It's a bit cartoony and has a comic strip type feel to it. At the same time, it has mostly realistic and detailed backgrounds. In this day and age, it stands out because it looks old. Some may even say it's dated, but it is very effective for telling these short, gritty stories.

Having enjoyed this book, I can say that I recommend it, but I would only recommend it to a specific group of people. I can't see most casual manga fans enjoying this or even identifying it as manga(they'd be right since it is gekiga haha). People who have experienced and enjoyed alternative comics(like Drawn & Quarterly's other books) from the western world would be more likely to appreciate this book. Or people who are just looking for something a little different to read. The great thing about it is that it is only a single volume, so there really is no harm in trying it out. I actually found 'A Push Man, and Other Stories' at the library, and that's why I bought this one. Checking it out at the library is even lower risk. The worst thing that will happen is you don't like it and waste an hour of your time. If you have an hour to waste, go give this book a read.

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