Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Before Katsuhiro Otomo squandered his talent and career directing anime movies, he was foremost a comics artist. Having made over 100 short stories in addition to his serializations, Otomo's body of work remains largely unrepresented in the English fandom. I've read two of the four titles that Dark Horse brought over: his most well-knowned and well-received series, Domu: A Child's Dream and Akira. The other two -- Hipira and The Legend of Mother Sarah, both drawn by different artists -- never caught my eye. Until 2007, I was unaware that there were any other titles of his available in English, and it would not be until late 2008 that I'd finally find it: Memories (Jp. Kanojo no Omoide..., lit. Memories of Her...), published in England by Mandarin Paperbacks.

The collection contains some of Otomo's other critically-successful titles, Memories (which would be later loosely adapted by Koji Morimoto and Satoshi Kon), Farewell to Weapons and Fireball, supported by other lesser-known endeavours that range from creative to forgettable. Rather than attempt a rough summation, here's a blow-by-blow:

Sound of Sand - Otomo remarks that he phoned this one in and can't remember anything about it. Ends with a B-horror twist, but doesn't really do anything for its allotted eight pages.

Hair - A parody of one of the later shorts in the collection, Fireball. Set in a utopia with throwbacks to the 60s and 70s hippie movement and riots, with hard, psychadelic and progressive rock references aplenty. Otomo tosses in a few interesting twists in the climax.

Electric Bird Land - Almost a thematic and tonal continuation of Hair. Provides a nice chase scene and ending.

Minor Swing - One of the stand-outs. The protagonist, a fisherman, falls overboard and gets separated from his friends, left alone to swim through the tar-like waters. Can only be described as a comical horror tragedy. Also manages a rare feat in anime and manga: establishing an environmentalist stance without useless and meandering finger-wagging.

That's [sic] Amazing World, Parts I-IV - Otomo's hilarious takes on Western stories. Tackles Aladdin, the finale to Noah's Arc, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Knights of the Round Table -- the latter two appear as the final shorts in the collection.

Memories - Radically different from the segment in the film, bearing only superficial similarities in the setting. More of a straightforward sci-fi thriller than the surrealist take that Morimoto and Kon developed. Still manages to flow well in spite of not measuring up to its adaption.

Flower - The first story Otomo created after reading Moebius. Painted. Only appeal is the design of the isolated technology amidst the desert.

Farewell to Weapons - War story set in a seemingly deserted city, eventually growing into a life-or-death struggle between humans and an enemy robot. Ends on one of the most absurdly funny notes possible.

Chronicle of the Planet Tako, Parts I and II - The book bizarrely puts the sequel ahead of the original story. Both detail the development of the title planet's history. Cute placement of evolution and revolution, but nothing terribly creative.

Fireball - The centerpiece and most important tale here. Otomo states that the idea for Domu came while writing this, and it's easy to see how; many of the elements that epitomize that masterpiece are seen here, with psychics, tightly-designed infastructures, characters driven by more base desires rather than for the greater good, and lots of discourse and explosions.

The Japanese edition is sadly out-of-print -- though a quick check on eBay shows two copies up for grabs -- and the English version (which was also apparently released in Australia by Random House) is difficult to obtain without coughing up ridiculous amounts of cash. For those interested, I'll leave the ISBN numbers here:

ISBN-10: 0749396873
ISBN-13: 978-0749396879


  1. Damn, I saw this in France a few weeks ago (not in English, though) and flipped through it. Now I wish I'd bought it, because it sounds really interesting.

  2. Bunch of Otomo books I picked up in Tokyo last year:

    Also: great site. Intelligent discussion of anime - I thought I had the monopoly on that shit ;)

  3. I've seen issues of bits that Marvel/Epic released at available at spots like
    It's been years since I looked at my copy, but I think it's colorized, like their Akira release.

  4. Fairly certain that Mandarin uses the colored Marvel/Epic release, so yeah, check those individual issues out.