Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review: Weekly Masayuki Ishikawa

Weekly Masayuki Ishikawa, by Masayuki Ishikawa, 2003, 230 pages, 514 yen, Grade: A-

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Ishikawa is best known for his Moyashimon series, and is getting some attention for Chaste Maria. But, before both of these titles, he had a gag series called Weekly Masayuki Ishikawa, which ran in Morning magazine in 2002. This particular volume collects 11 stories, each identified as "week 1", "week 2" and so on, and each one is stand-alone. The artwork is very good and the backgrounds highly detailed throughout, while the characters have their own personalities and are easy to tell apart. There is some inconsistency with character designs from one panel to the next, but often this is intentional, rather than being an artistic flaw, since Ishikawa has a tendency to caricaturize individuals for humorous effect. His designs are still rather rough compared to his later works, but he doesn't really recycle his characters much - mostly they're unique designs from story to story. There are tantalizing hints of Moyashimon's Haruka, Aya and Misato that show up from time to time, but mostly these are rare cases.

Week 1: A Woman's Confession
A husband and wife await the arrival of their son, who's been at a university in Tokyo for 3 years. They expect that he's changed in that time, but are unprepared when a beautiful young woman walks in through the door. This story was turned into a short film.

Week 2: Mask Dance
A wife, her son and her mother-in-law are at home waiting for her husband to come back from work to celebrate his mother's birthday. Each one notices something referencing a mask - the wife receives a spam email for a "masked sex club"; the son is reading a manga about a masked thief; and the mother-in-law is watching a masked stage magician on TV. Then her husband calls to say he's going to be late again and asks her to get something from his desk for him. She discovers a bag containing a mask, and all three of them imagine the obvious, with the wife prepared to accuse him of being a cheating philanderer, the son terrified that the police will arrive at any moment, and the mother-in-law hoping that he'll do some magic for her. When the husband does finally get home, he's forced to show his true identity.

Week 3; The Two Men Who Believe in Themselves
Two guys that have found that they are invisible to others band together to use their "power of being ignored" for evil. One starts groping girls on the crowded trains, and together they decide to grab some money and walk out of the bank unnoticed.

Week 4: Just That
A woman who is tired of her empty job, working with people that get her name wrong, and meaningless sex with a married man, has a chance encounter at a flower shop with someone that gets her name right on the first try.

Week 5: Taste Time
Four guys working as part-timers go to a coffee shop and get into a friendly argument over what's the best part of the female body. Two are leg men, while the other two are breast lovers. However, while looking out of the window trying to find examples of their favorite shapes, one of them seems to be responding only when the street is devoid of women.

Week 6: Wild Boys Blues
This story was actually turned into a live-action drama under the name "Killer Joe".
Twenty years ago, a young, good-looking kid called "Killer Joe" ran up against two gangsters called the "Tanner Brothers". The Brothers sent a beautiful female assassin to rub him out, but instead he seduced her, then went on to rough up the Brothers. Fast forward to the present day, and Joe is an old, fat, bald salaryman. The assassin is his dowdy wife, who has to go out to visit family for the night. Finding himself on his own, Joe decides to visit an outdoor food cart for udon and a beer, and suddenly discovers himself sitting next to an old, withered Tanner. The older Tanner is in failing health, so Joe goes with the younger brother to visit the hospital and relive old times. Later, still imagining himself when he was 20, Joe goes to his regular hostess bar, where he's introduced to a new hostess. The new girl wants to come up with a nickname for him, and as Joe starts saying "They used to call me 'Killer..'", she blurts out "I know, 'fatty'!"

Week 7: TV Show
Tanya and her older brother, Mikhail, are two Russian scam artists that have come to Japan to get on a TV show investigating psychics with the expectation of making a quick fortune. With coins taped over her eyes and blindfolded, Tanya easily copies a hidden picture of a sunflower. The judges aren't convinced that she's a clairvoyant, and one of them breaks out a deck of his own design. The selected picture is a very complex image of a bird. Mikhail cracks and says that they're cheating - he just can't handle something this elaborate. The host demands to know how they're communicating secretly with each other and Mikhail answers "we're using telepathy". The judges respond with "Fakes! Frauds! No, wait a minute..."

Week 8: Go Quickly, Hayabusamaru
In feudal Japan, a local lord at war with his son tasks his loyal ninja retainer, Hayabusamaru, to rescue his daughter and bring her back before the next dawn. Hayabusamaru has the skills to easily complete the task. The problem is that the lord, the lord's jealous son, and the princess all simply talk him to a point near death. Note that the artwork for this story is really superb.

Week 9: France's National Bird
A school girl, Hazuki, has an argument with her farmer father over whether he's allowed to eat the chickens they're raising. Hazuki makes the old man promise to leave the birds alone and then goes to school. The rooster tells one of the chicks that he's heard that in France chickens can live freely, so the two of them are going to make a break for it. The rooster decides that France is far away, probably at the base of that mountain over there. Along the way to the mountain, they encounter some white rabbits in a hutch. The rabbits have never been outside their cage, but they've been told that long ago some of their ancestors went to the mountain, where the enemies were so fearsome that they'd turned white from fright. Then winter came and they couldn't find each other in the snow. After many days two of the rabbits stumbled on each other and cried so heavily from the experience that their eyes turned red. Which is why they look the way they do to this day. Then, a fox comes up, referred to by the rabbits as "the assassin", and tries to eat the unprotected chickens. But, he's chased off by a falcon who tells the two birds to go back home. The rooster and the chick head for the road, with a little bridge in the distance, when Hazuki comes out of the school next to the rabbit hutch and sees the chickens in the parking lot. Thinking that they came all the way out to greet her at the end of classes, she puts them on her bike and promises again that she won't let her father eat them. The rooster is amazed at how fast they're traveling now, and says "you know, if we'd just been able to get across that bridge, I bet you we'd have made it to France."

Week 10: Yokatta, ne
(The title doesn't really translate well to English. Probably the closest meaning is "That's good, isn't it" or "That's for the best, isn't it".) In feudal Japan, the members of a small village catch a massive octopus and pack it into a covered wagon to show off at the regional "Tako" festival. But, when they arrive at the spot overseen by the regional daimyo (lord), they realize that "tako" here doesn't mean "octopus", but "large kite". They try to sneak back home unnoticed, but the daimyo comes over and says he's got great expectations of them. The village elder is stuck in a tight spot, so he tells some of his men to try to steal another village's kite, and some of his other men to return to the village and try to find something to make a kite with. By night fall, the best they can manage is a small kite, which could possibly be used to make everyone think it's really far up in the sky. The would-be thieves come back empty-handed and the leader suggests that they try to present the full moon to the daimyo as their present of a kite to him. With no better options, that's what the village elder does, and the daimyo threatens to kill them for their impertinence. They're forced to open up the wagon, and everyone is in awe of how big the octopus really is. Then there's a weird sound, a UFO appears to beam up its captain, and the octopus waves saying "arigato" before being whisked off by the craft. The daimyo, stunned, asks "what was that?" The village elder shrugs and answers "our flying tako". Later, as the villagers return home with the food and sake they'd won, they tell each other "I don't know what happened, but that ended well, right?"

Week 11: Bus Stop
A man and a woman meet around noon at a bus stop out in the countryside and start talking. They go their separate ways, but that night run into each other at the same stop. The woman is having an argument with her father about getting into an arranged marriage, and the guy is trying to avoid being pressured by his older brother into seeing his sick grandmother in the hospital. They talk each other into doing the right thing, starting with taking the bus the next morning. But, with the rush hour traffic, there's too many people at the bus stop and they never talk to each other again.

Summary: Weekly Masayuki Ishikawa is a collection of 11 short stories which are mostly gags in one form or another. The artwork is good, the characters are generally likable, and most of the stories are really funny. My favorites are "Wild Boys Blues", "TV Show" and "France's National Bird". Highly recommended.

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