Sunday, July 15, 2007

Where to Begin?

The odd thing is that so many of those people who profess to dislike Manga, seem to think that 'Manga' means some kind of generic drawing and writing style. So whilst they are aware that all around them the world is changing, they believe that young, and old, Japanese cartoonists are still drawing Marine Boy, which usually just means bigger eyes, despite the fact that they must be aware that few nations on Earth are subject to such rapid change as Japan. It's all very strange, especially so, because a lot of these people are themselves cartoonists. It would be fair to say then, that the creeping worldwide popularity of Manga has sneaked up on them and they think that they can think that popularity away by adopting the Ostrich-Approach.

So, in addition to making this blog for me, I am also making it so that I can point those misguided souls here and I won't need to say 'look, Manga is stories and stories differ and some Manga, like the Manga I read, MPD Psycho, Death Note, Soil, Seizon, Monster, Pluto, YKK, The Walking Man, et al, is some of the most beautifully illustrated, daring and adventurous literature around'.

So, again I ask, where to begin? Well, I think we'll begin with MPD Psycho. The shock of the new, to us in the West anyway, might be the best approach to take.

You can buy MPD Psycho here now, well, in the US at least, these scans here were all taken a long time ago, before the title was optioned and Band of the Hawks and Omanga, who put in all the hard work, removed the title from the internet as soon as some shrewd Western publisher cottoned on to how popular MPD Psycho is. The scanning and the translation (I tweaked the graphics a little for the web) are courtesy of Gatsu, Zyph and Myyah, who did an outstanding job.

Here's a note from the author:

So, yeah, there are some dead bodies in MPD Psycho, but then the title must have given you some sort of clue; Multiple Personality Detective Psycho, it is a slight understatement, I think, to call it a strange title, but then some Manga, like Sexy Voice and Robo, have titles that positively beg you to misinterpret the content of the stories, so what is MPD Psycho really about?

Well, I'm afraid it really is about a detective with multiple personalities, one of whom is a psycho, the protagonist, MPD Psycho himself, Yousuke Kobayashi, was a detective working for homicide and was involved in tracking down a deranged serial killer who mutilates his victims. When the killer sees Yousuke on television he claims an affinity with the detective and mutilates his wife. The grief-stricken detective eventually tracks down the killer but something inside him snaps, and reveals a new personality, Shinji Nishizono, an arrogant and callous psychopath, who shoots the killer dead. From here on in, the personality of Yousuke (or Nishizono the psychopath) is replaced by yet another personality, that of Kazuhiko Amamiya, a brilliant, cool-headed and deeply-analytical criminologist. From here on in, the story gets a little complicated, with the killer that MPD Psycho killed apparently returning from the dead.

That's enough of that, there are plenty of sites out there with brief, and confusing, plot details, already. What I want you to gather is that the thing is such a visual feast, such a complicated array of signs, symbols and images that it is difficult not to be transfixed and spellbound by the sheer virtuosity of the work. In fact, it can wash over you so quickly that you fail to notice that much of the content of the story is extremely disturbing.

The covers alone though (which are strange and beautiful), should have informed the alert reader of this:

The artwork, don't worry I'm not going to subject you to the more grisly of the images that would be your choice if you buy the title, is excellent throughout. The use of black as a colour is stunning and the artist, Sho-U Tajima, is never afraid to fill a full page with a single eyeball if the story calls for it:

Writing this complex narrative can't have been easy, and Eiji Otsuka unravels his tale at a blistering rate, relying on the intelligence of his readership, and those readers have rewarded the author by making MPD Psycho one of the most popular Manga ever written.

The narrative is changed somewhat with the 6-part live-action series, which is now available on DVD. Although the series follows Manga closely, it unravels the narrative at a different pace, and stands alone as an artwork - however, I would strongly recommend reading the series before watching the DVD; unless you are just a huge fan of Asian movies and Manga adaptations (clearly the people who bothered to comment on were neither).

At its heart, MPD Psycho is a search for justice, truth, and identity, I suppose. But it's okay to just revel in its strangeness. It is an intense and often disturbingly surreal journey that both mocks and glorifies violent manga itself, and its influence on the young and on society itself, a point that is repeatedly made, but not laboured, by the excellent direction of Takashi Miike:

Now I've been giving the popularity of Manga a lot of thought recently, and I have come to the conclusion that our post-literate society, the section of it that does consume literature, responds better to the multi-layered, character-driven aspect of some Manga titles, the more voluminous the better, than it does to the short, sharp, neatly encapsulated work we produce here in the West in our comic books, graphic novels and comic strips. That is why, I believe, that the popularity of our comic strips and comic books is declining, whilst the larger and more satisfying genre of cartoon art that we call 'graphic novels' becomes more popular.

For sure, the Manga method of making the story available as a weekly couple-of-pages serial, over a year or so, helps to build up a fanbase, or a community, of readers, but that doesn't explain the loyalty and enthusiasm of the new readers who are introduced to the titles not by the likes of Shonen Jump, but by Scanlators like Band of the Hawks and Omanga - it is often these groups who build a willing audience that Western publishers like Dark Horse then exploit. Hopefully, the fact that readers are actually buying a serial with intelligent content that stretches for volumes won't be lost on the likes of Dark Horse when the submission come in from cartoonists/writers from the West.

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