Monday, January 18, 2010

Early missteps

Viz published a collection of Taiyo Matsumoto's short stories titled Blue Spring a few years back, most likely to cash in on the release of the live-action adaption of one of the shorts after fumbling around in the dark, uncertain of how to sell Matsumoto to North American audiences after apparently lackluster sales of Black and White (later rectified in 2007) and the abysmal performance of No. 5. All of the stories in the collection are relatively straightforward -- one of which featuring characters that appear in Tekkon Kinkreet (Black and White) -- except for one that deals with the disappointment of baseball players as they play mahjong during a hot summer day. Another short story collection, Brothers of Japan, repeats this style of storytelling even more abstractly.

The material here is from the mid 90s -- I'd call it his transitional period -- with shades of the fantastical that Matsumoto would later use in No. 5. There's no real logical sense to the stories, so they end up as thematic vehicles -- a tale of an old man reflecting through three or four different stages of his life -- or indeicpherable, atmospherical oddities. Even the more convential pieces like the 500cc race between two animals, a gorilla and bear, seem to spin off into their own universe before the reader is able to grab hold of them. If there is a success, it's the title story where Brothers Sun and Moon attempt to dig to the otherside of the world -- a fantasy directly contrasted by the more realistic reflections of a woman returning to visit her father as attempts to adjust to a new stage of motherhood. There's not a radical difference between it and the other shorts, but Matsumoto's favorite theme of yin-yang and all of its facets provides enough of a familiar hook for readers to grab onto.

Disappointing as it may be, the collection is a nice reminder of Matsumoto's consistently excellent art, and makes me look forward to finally reading GoGo Monster.


  1. "Shades of the fantastical" is an interesting euphemism for "increasingly incoherent."

  2. I would argue that there is a distinction between the incoherence of the first story about the social misfit with a bike fetish and the more dreamlike stories where there's no real expectation of logic.

  3. I'd argue that there should always be an internal logic at work, even if you can't quite perceive it; if there is one, things feel RIGHT. I think the period of work Viz is bafflingly concentrating on releasing here is the point at which his works either ceased to have any internal logic, or his abilities to convey that logic faltered to the point where I was no longer capable of discerning it. I'm really not sure why books like this, No. 5, and Go Go Monster are being brought over instead of his outright masterpieces. If it's working out for them, fantastic, but my instincts suggest it will lose whatever audience the reprint of Black and White may have gained them.

  4. The works here definitely fail to gain that sort of coherence, or at least feel like it; the title story and the desert battle (with look-a-like villains from Tekkon Kinkreet) perhaps being the exceptions. What I read of No. 5 was alright, but in retrospect almost feels like autopilot. Will have to see about GoGo Monster.

    Considering Viz is going with accessible, "safe" works for the likes of Inio Asano and Daisuke Igarashi, I definitely agree that it's bizarre that they don't pick up, say, Hanaotoko and release it all in one go; same thing applies even more with Ping Pong, except done in two volumes.