Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fujio A Fujiko

("Black Humor")

Fujio Fujiko may best be remembered as the manga duo that created "Doraemon" before breaking up in the 1980's and going their separate ways. So, it may seem odd that one half of the team would draw manga that's the polar opposite of the big, blue robot cat.

(Fujio A's book cover featuring some of the Tokiwa Manor members.)

Fujio F Fujiko, and his partner Fujio A Fujiko, both lived and worked at Tokiwa Manor as Tezuka's assistants in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, they'd decided for one reason or another to start ignoring their deadlines and the manga magazines refused to carry them any more. Later, they did make a come back, which ultimately led to the development of "Doraemon". But, that title pretty much belonged to Fujio F. Fujio A went on to create "Ninja Hattori-kun", "Smiling Salesman" and a number of other macabre works.

Which brings me to "Black Humor". This is volume 1 of the series - a big 376-page collection of manga and written short stories all in the "Outer Limits" vein. With the exception of the 2 "Hitler" stories, these are all stand-alone 20 page one-shots that are indeed "black humor" pieces. The artwork is largely crude and cartoonish, interspersed with the occasional high-quality sketch, or a touched-up photo. There are recurring character designs, similar to Tezuka's "star system", but the characters themselves are unrelated across stories (which were printed between 1969 and 1972).

(A young man falls under the influence of Rene Magritte's "Stone Castle" painting in a collection of Magritte's artwork, then becomes incensed when the bookstore owner sells the book to someone else.)

Most of the stories have at least one person die in some strange way, and although Fujio A manages to avoid being gruesome, his twist endings tend to border between being funny and just being sick. Some of the stories are: A Japanese tour group visits a restaurant that serves Peking duck, and later learns about the off-menu item "Peking human". A young businessman being bullied by a co-worker has a crush on a beautiful woman that really likes "water flowers"; both the bully and the woman meet the same fate. An office worker develops a crush on a random woman that he accidentally sees on the street, and turns into a stalker (back before there was a name for this behavior). A man that looks a lot like Hitler, but isn't, comes to a small town in Japan and turns the townsfolk into black-jacket wearing followers. A man who fails his driver's test 20+ times decides to get vengeance on the driving instructor who still can't get his name right.

(Smiling Salesman)

Smiling Salesman was turned into a late-night TV anime back when I first came to Japan. It was a weird show, and it's only now that I'm starting to understand it. Black Humor is even more twisted and off-the-wall. Which is interesting, because Fujio A, Tezuka and Jirou Tsunoda all published similar stories at about the same time (Fujio's "Black Humor", Tezuka's "The Crater" and Tsunoda's "Kyofu Shimbun"), although Fujio A was the only one that really got carried away with knocking off his victims with such regularity. I have the vision of Fujio routinely sitting in his room with the light off, watching "Sweeney Todd" and reading Edgar Allan Poe before breaking his inks out.

I think that of the manga that I'm familiar with right now, I'd recommend "Smiling Salesman" over "Black Humor". The main reason being that "Smiling Salesman" has two continuing characters that lend some sort of consistency to the stories, where as "in "Black Humor" the stories are all unrelated somewhat hit-or-miss.

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