Saturday, December 5, 2009

Manga Reviews: Hotel, Ishinomori

Caution. Adult content contained below. If you're not considered an adult by your country's laws, or if you're easily offended, stop reading now.

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Of the ten artists that came out of Tezuka's Tokiwa Sou (Tokiwa Manor), three stand at the top: Fujio F Fujiko (Doraemon), Akatsuka Fujio (Tensai Bakabon) and Shotarou Ishinomori (Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider). All three are recognizable by name in Japan, and their works are still aired today. Understandably, since they were all born in the 1930's, none of them are still alive now. Yet, the anime based on their manga lives on, and their influence on subsequent generations of artists will be felt for decades. But, the question remains, who's number 1? And, did they supersede Tezuka along the way?

Shotarou (1938-1998) has at least a claim to the title. Fujio F Fujiko (FFF) and Akatsuka both created a dozen or so different series. Shotarou (according to one source) was posthumously awarded the Guinness World's record in 2008 for most comics published by one author. Not bad for a first start.

Initially, Shotarou was dinged for having an art style that mimicked Tezuka's too closely. Certainly the characters in Cyborg 009 looked like they'd stepped out of an Astro Boy page. But, over time, he developed his own designs, and his stories were at least as wide-ranging as Tezuka's ever were. We have detective stories, robots, masked fighters, ghosts, sports, medicine and social commentary. His "Introduction to the Japanese Economy (comic version)" was released in the U.S. as "Japan, Inc." (which I read years ago).



(Hotel, vol. 1, by Ishinomori. Used for review purposes only.)

Hotel, volume 1, by Shotarou Ishinomori, Grade: A
It's actually a little difficult trying to get the start date for this manga. My copy is a reprint and it doesn't give the dates for when the individual chapters each appeared in print. Most of the online references emphasize the TV drama that ran in the later 1990's. According to amazon.co.jp, there's at least one edition that came out in 1985, which is what I'm going to go with. I do know that when I first came to Japan in 1992, that I saw Hotel in Big comics, and that at the time I didn't want to bother trying to read it. Funny how time changes perceptions (and how much it helps being able to actually read the dialog...)

Hotel, as the name implies, is set in the Hotel Platon, a fictional location presumably in Tokyo. The design of the building slowly changes over the first volume, and in the first chapter, the marquee over the front door only says "Hotel". Later, the name reads "Hotel Platon", and that's what appears on one of the Do Not Disturb signs. However, in the last chapter of the volume, one of the veteran maintenance workers reminisces over the previous hotel in the same location, which was the Platon Hotel before being demolished to make way for the current Hillside Platon Hotel. However, the design of the building's facade is pretty much set by the middle of the book. Same holds true for the staff. In the first chapter, two of the front desk staff are introduced - a younger man with thick, curly black hair who later turns into the building manager; and an older man with graying hair who becomes that manager's assistant. With each new chapter, we get one or two new people, including a female on-call doctor, the lounge bartender, the maintenance chief, a few cleaning women and a handful of unsavory backstabbers working as floor managers. Platon is a huge building, with an olympic-style swimming pool, high end jewelry shops, presidential suites, computerized central air systems, wedding halls (one of which has been abandoned) and a top flight kitchen.

Each chapter is a standalone story, and the staff is not infallible. They do usually recover from their mistakes, but one of the appeals of this title is that the characters are human and they behave that way. However, equally, the stories look at many of the guests that frequent the hotel. And, since one of the reasons for going to a hotel is to have sex, that's a fairly common thread in the first volume, from a newlywed couple that needs their parent's help for their first romp, to actors and singers having secret flings, to an S&M session that requires the doctor's intervention for the one that passes out. In with these scenes we also have an author that's lived in the same room for years since his wife died, a snobbish couple that accuses an aging cleaning woman of stealing an expensive camera, and one couple that attempts to charge a wealth of jewelry to the room and then abscond with it before anyone notices that the room's been rented under a false name.

It's not reasonable to summarize all of the chapters from volume 1, so I'll only pick two. In the very first chapter, "Opening Story", we're told that a hotel is a living creature. It contains hopes and dreams, successes and betrayals. Then, we have three sets of people checking in. First is an old man and what looks like either his wife or an older son in disguise. Second is a famous actor, followed by a female singer incognito. The singer is recognized by a fan that follows her up to the room. And third is actually a party planner that's setting up an event in one of the ballrooms. The old man proceeds to buy various jewelry pieces and charges them to the room, then boxes them up to have them shipped elsewhere. The actor and singer meet up in the actor's room, and in the middle of sex are interrupted by the fan, who initially wanted the woman's signature on a poster, but then pulls out a big knife and ties the two lovers up with bedsheets and tries to understand how the woman of his dreams could let herself be sullied like this. And, the planner suddenly finds that his guest of honor refuses to stay at a hotel without an onsen (naturally-fed hot spring spa) and ends up with a big empty room and an equally big bill to pay off. The old man prepares to leave the hotel happily; the fan contemplates murder-suicide; and the planner just considers suicide. However. The hotel staff has gotten suspicious of the old man's room bill and opens up the shipping boxes prior to bringing in the internal security staff. The fan just ties the couple up in the shower and leaves them for the cleaning people to find. And, the planner is told by his manager to try to ignore the failure and move on with his life, which he does with a new event at the end of the chapter.



(Hotel, vol. 1, by Ishinomori. Used for review purposes only.)

In the story pictured here, "Over Booking", the manager okays accepting various reservations after the hotel has reached 100% booking. A rookie receptionist asks if this is ok, and is told that on average 10% of the bookings each day go unclaimed because the guests decide to not show up. So, as long as they stay below 110%, they'll be fine. And, of course, today just happens to be the one day when no one cancels. The manager faces the fury of guests that don't like hearing that there's no rooms left after having made reservations months in advance. To make things worse, one of the other hotels is also overbooked and they send their customers to Platon without calling first. Eventually, a third hotel is found to take some of the people, a few couples get free upgrades to the presidential suites, and most of the remaining people get shuffled to other rooms as well. Leaving a group of foreign campers standing in the lobby. The older reservations desk worker offers to put most of the campers up at his house, which they accept happily as a way of learning more about Japan in a kind of "home stay", but the big burly guy refuses to budge. He wants to stay in Platon. But. What he wants is a place to put up a tent, and to play his harmonica before going to sleep. By the last page, the manager is wading through reports that he has to write up because of this fiasco, and the burly guy is happily playing his harmonica outside his tent, up on the open roof.

Ishinomori has a way with ink. His characters are drawn with a variety of thin and heavy lines, and a mix of white and black space. His character's faces are distinct from each other (he doesn't rubber stamp his characters) and they don't warp and bend when going from full frontal view to 3/4 orfull profile. His backgrounds can be simple or detailed, indoors and outdoors, and aren't always just looking down on someone's bed. For some reason, though, he's not represented very well in English translations (mostly Cyborg 009, and Kikaider). And of course, Japan, Inc. He's definitely come a long way from his days as a Tezuka-wannabe in Cyborg 009.

Summary: Hotel is one of Ishinomori's more influential series in Japan, featuring the daily activities and mishaps of the staff and customers at Hotel Platon. The artwork is good, the characters don't all look alike, and the stories give an honest glimpse into how the hotel business operates. This is an "adult" title, so if you're under 18 you can't read it. Otherwise, highly recommended to those not offended by occasional displays of naked bodies.

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