Sunday, January 10, 2010

Manga Reviews: Yoshiharu Tsuge's Neji-Shiki

Indeed, it's amazing what a difference 13 years can make. Yoshiharu Tsuge debuted in '54, around age 17. As mentioned in the Early Works Anthology review, his initial art style is crude and amateurish, while his story ideas are naive, yet do have the makings of some potentially interesting plot twists. Fast-forward to 1965, and Tsuge is now apprenticed to Shigeru Mizuki, of "Gegege no Kitaro" fame, while Shigeru himself is running a historical manga through Garo magazine. Tsuge gets one of his own short stories published in Garo, "Uwasa no Bushi" ("Rumored Samurai") in the Aug., 1965 issue. He continues on with a number of other short stories up into the 1980s.

Initially, I only wanted to review one book each from a variety of early artists, in part to show the development path of manga itself, while also commenting on as many mangaka as I can within this blog. However, the Early Works Anthology doesn't really represent Tsuge's contribution to gekiga (dramatic manga). Then, I found Kunio Nagatani's "Aho-shiki", which directly parodies Tsuge's "Neji-Shiki", and I figured that I'd have to make an exception in order to understand Kunio's jokes better.

Neji-Shiki, by Yoshiharu Tsuge, Grade: A
"Neji-Shiki" ("Screw-Style") is a collection of short stories that appeared in Garo from '65 to '84. They run the gamut from historical fiction to the surreal, tales of the working class poor and autobiographical accounts of visiting an onsen. While not necessarily exploring the darker reaches of the mind, there is a strong "Twilight Zone" element in most of the chapters. The character artwork also varies significantly with each story, going from the crude to the refined, and back. In most cases, the background artwork is very detailed and contributes to the overall sense of the macabre, or mundane, as needed. A lot of the character designs show Shigeru's touch, but it's not so blatant as to be distracting.


The title chapter was later used as the basis for a live action movie, also called "Neji-Shiki" in Japan, but "Screwed" for the western release. While I haven't seen the movie, the description on IMDB bears little resemblance to the manga. "Neji-Shiki" is a surreal, rambling tale of a boy that appears on a beach after having had the artery in his left arm severed by a jelly fish. He wanders through a fishing village, asking for directions to the nearest doctor, getting angry that no one is trying to help keep him from dying. Eventually, he finds a female doctor who runs through the motions of having sex with him as part of the repair work. Using a wrench, she attaches a spigot valve to his arm, and he is last seen being driven away on a speedboat, holding his arm up to show off the screw valve (hence the name, "screw-style"). (June, 1968.)

(Ondoru Koya)

In "Ondoru Koya" (Korean Floor Heater Hut), Tsuge himself is out taking a vacation trip to an onsen (hot spring spa). He finds a place with a fairly spacious wooden hut, where his trip is suddenly disturbed by three boys that loudly play cards in the sleeping area and otherwise act like jerks, getting into fights and hitting Tsuge in the head with a seed-stuffed pillow. At one point, the youngest boy tries shaving his head to look like one of his friends, and manages to scrape off a patch of hair on the back of his head. He then tries to pick a fight with Tsuge, accusing the author of laughing at him (shown in the page above). Eventually, Tsuge leaves, completely unsatisfied with the way his vacation went. The artwork here shows Shigeru's hand very obviously. What's interesting is that his self-portrait gets used by Kunio in "Aho-Shiki". (April, 1968.)


Next, we have a young artist and his wife, who works as a hostess at a bar. The wife sees a small bird at a pet shop near the train station and talks her husband into buying it for her. Unfortunately, because her job involves plying male customers with alcohol, she comes home drunk afterwards and the two get into a fight. The husband ends up taking care of the bird, which the wife names "Chee-ko". At one point, the husband draws Chee-ko's portrait, and when the bird fails to remain motionless for him, he puts it into a paper tube and throws it into the air. The first time, Chee-ko flies free, so the guy tries it again, hoping that Chee-ko will escape again. Unfortunately, the bird hits the ground hard and the impact kills it. Guiltily, the husband buries Chee-ko in the back yard, and tells his wife that it flew away. Suddenly, she calls out that she found it and the husband receives a shock, until he realizes that he's looking at his drawing, stuck in the bushes. Then a gust of wind blows the paper away, as the wife calls "Chee-ko, Chee-ko" after it, crying. (March, 1966)

(Aru Mumei Sakka)

"Aru Mumei Sakka" (That Exists Nameless Artist) tells a tale of three struggling manga artists who suddenly find themselves leaving an established studio and trying to make ends meet. It gets a little surreal, as Okada, the less structured of the three, gets into killing flies with a swatter, and turning into a worm. In fact, Okada's unable to focus on drawing, and ends up getting a job as a bartender and is beaten up by unruly customers. He then marries a Turkish woman and they have a son, but she leaves him a year later. Time goes by, and he decides to visit Yasui, the artist that has been able to make something of a living in manga. After reminiscing, they notice that Okada's son, now 4 years old, has gotten lost. The two adults panic trying to find him, then discover the boy wandering along a small road a ways away. Yasui buys some iris plants and gives half to Okada, and then they go their separate ways. The story ends with Yasui putting the iris leaves in the bath, and suddenly having a bad memory from when he was a child. (September, 1984.)

I decided to translate "Daiba Electroplating Company" in my Nihon-go Hunter blog. And, the main character, Yoshio, reappears in a second story that is also placed in a plating company. But, they seem to be otherwise unrelated.

Overall, I like Neji-Shiki. It's weird while being banal at the same time. It's definitely an improvement over the "Early Works Anthology". However, Tsuge eventually drifted away from manga, and hasn't created anything for quite some time. Everything coming out now are reprints and reissues. Recommended to anyone that likes RAW.

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