Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Faust is worth calling "cutting edge"

There's an immense gulf between how Japanese is spoken, and how it's written.
While I'm not going to go write a thesis on it, it often feels like each major literary revolution in Japan has been accompanied by a group of writers who have taken their writing one step closer to the colloquial speech they and their peers use.
Haruki Murakami owes the bulk of his success to this; his writing cut through the calcified formalism of Noble Prize winning pretense with stories that evaded literary importance by not really being about fucking anything in particular, written in a jazzy conversational tone that felt and still feels like a breath of fresh air to anyone who's struggled through a recognized literary masterpiece. (Not to knock those masterpieces unduly; some of them are genuinely worth the slog.)
But Murakami is an old man. He's my parents' age. He stays relevant, but there is a generation gap there, and he doesn't sound like people my age talk.
Light novels are more colloquial, yeah, but often with an artificial anime filter; the gap between anime voice acting and actual acting, if you will.
It often felt like the writers in Faust were the only people writing in modern voices, in the language as it was lived and used. There may have been others, but I never found them, and these guys banded together and put out a magazine that effectively is the voice of their generation. It may lack the literary pretensions of two generations ago, and it may not have the polite disdain to be about nothing at all, but to these writers, genre writing feels more relevant.
Full House probably didn't turn every Japanese man into a pedophile the way Nisioisin claims, but he's also admitted Eva single handedly ruined him for life, and there are probably a dozen other writers and manga artists who bear equal responsibility. He's a writer who reaches through truth by exaggerating it, the magnifying glass of his ornate writing style, bizarre plots, and deranged characters letting him capture something about the collective imagination of his generation that is fucking important. The instinctive grasp of character nuance in Kadono Kouhei's character-study-as-action-horror body of work; the incisive way Otsu Ichi reaches out and places his finger right on an emotional tremor; Tatsuhiko Takimoto's desperate attempts to keep himself from going insane on page; and Maijo Otaro, sadly left out of Faust 2, whose single-minded pursuit of reckless rage-fueled surrealism makes him a literary movement in himself...
Each approaches their work in a different fashion, each reads and feeds off the others voices, and without them, Japanese literature would be dead in the water.


  1. Sounds good. At my Japanese level most of it will be totally lost on me but I want to pick it up.

    Are those authors you listed featured on a regular basis?

  2. They've all been in there at one point or another, and four out of the five have been in each volume of the English release. Takimoto's the only one I didn't get to translate.

  3. How cutting edge is Megatokyo then? :p

    Sounds like you're recommending the originals? Seems like they're not really publishing the early volumes anymore though, at least not that they can still be ordered through Kinokuniya. Bummer. It sounds like as someone who likes to translate it'd be worth it to read the original since colloquial Japanese is pretty different from colloquial English. I'd guess you had to go through a good amount of localization to get the same kind of feeling in English that you are describing it had for you in the Japanese.

    Are the English releases following a similar order as to how they were released in the originals or are they mixed and matched? Should I try to find some way to get the original mooks or should I just go and buy your translations :P

  4. I am ignoring Megatokyo's very existance, just as I always have. I did managed to get someone to whisper a few words about Scott Pilgrim to the Faust editor, but nothing's come of it yet.

    I recommend both, obviously; the Japanese ones are padded out with a lot of shit, frankly, and the English ones have distilled that down a bit, even if they aren't exactly the stories I'd have picked. They've been doing stories up and down the length of the Japanese edition.

    The original mooks go in and out of print. Vol 2 was out for a good long while when I was initially trying to get caught up on it, and it did eventually resurface.
    But it's more the authors than the magazine itself that matter; while some of their Faust contributions have not been reprinted and may not be printed, they all have a large body of work available. Except Takimoto, who seems to be eternally revising and never releasing.

  5. The other post concerning Faust was spot on. Drill hole was like an mind-image-gasm of mango yogurty goodness. I can't even imagine the flow of it in the raw. Do any of the other English volumes feature works by Otaro Maijo as well? I think I need to go pick up some of his other works. Jesus Christ. Thanks so much for the heads up.

  6. Unfortunately, Drill Hole's the only Maijo work translated.

  7. I went to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku (the one near Takashimaya) this weekend, but no luck. Where can I find this, and where would it be shelved?

  8. Japanese edition?
    It would probably be in the ノベル section, with the Kodansha Novels line.
    The only place in Kyoto that kept it well stocked was Book 1st.