Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: The Minotaur's Plate

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Fujio F Fujiko was one half of the team (along with Fujio A Fujiko) that created Obake Q-taro while living at Tokiwa Sou (the apartment block that Tezuka lived in during the early part of the 1950's). He also created Doraemon, and Fujio A assisted him on it until the two of them officially split up in the early 80's. Due to the influence and targeted audience of Doraemon, Fujio F has developed a reputation as a children's author. On the other hand, Fujio A left in part because he wanted to delve deeper into adult black humor, authoring Smiling Salesman among other titles. The reason for mentioning all this is that Fujio F did try his hand at darker "Twilight Zone" stories, which seems to have gone mostly under the radar. They're still fairly naive and light-hearted when compared to Fujio A's work though, but I think there is an attempt to address similar issues.

The Minotaur's Plate, by Fujio F Fujiko, (c) 1995, Grade B.
The Minotaur's Plate is a collection of 13 short stories that ran mostly in Big Comic and SF Magazine during the mid-1970's, and packaged together by SB Publishing. It's a bit much to summarize all thirteen stories, so I'll just mention a couple of them as representative works. On the whole, the artwork is very cartoony. The character designs resemble that of Doraemon, indicating that the audience is still mostly young teenagers. Many of the designs have the rounded facial features found in Tezuka's earlier works, showing his continuing influence on Fujio F's style even 20 years after Tokiwa Sou. While many of the panels have very stark or plain backgrounds, in the scenes in front of a mansion or in a park, the background art can be very elaborate and detailed. As mentioned above, the stories follow a "Twilight Zone" or "Night Gallery" pattern, with a set-up, a build-up and then a twist ending. But for the most part the twists are designed to not give children nightmares, unlike with Fujio F, or some of Tezuka's own psychological studies.

(Oyaji Rock)

The first story, entitled "Oyaji Rock", has a salesman strapping a large boulder onto his back and going outside to attempt to sell it. In the afternoon, exhausted, he sits down at a park bench, where he strikes up a conversation with a younger guy. Turns out that when the U.S. fell into the Pet Rock frenzy, a Japanese company decided to capitalize on the trend, and in typical Japanese tradition, over-engineered the gag to create "oyaji rock", or "old man rock". It's his job to sell it, but of course no one wants a big boulder in their apartment that does nothing. The second guy then replies that he's also a salesman, but that he pedals a time machine belt. The first one grabs the belt, verifies that it works by jumping ahead 1 hour, then starts placing phone orders to his home office for large numbers of the rocks, and he then moves into the past so that he can defer the actual sale order sheets. He creates a running Ponzi scheme until the time belt salesman demands his 70% cut on the profits. The rock salesman protests over the details, so the belt salesman grabs the belt and deposits the rock salesman 1 hour into the past, just before when the two of them met. When the guy recovers, he's sitting next to his rock, thinking that he'd just had a strange dream.

In "Jiji Nuki" (Exclude Old Man), an old guy living with his son and their family is starting to hate his life. He stays in his room alone, staring at the photo of his deceased wife. One day, the son and his wife are watching TV with the volume turned up, disturbing his rest. When he goes down to eat dinner, there's only four places set out because the daughter-in-law forgot about him. The grandson talks him into going out to fish, but it's raining and when he comes back, the grandson has taken over his room for a party with some punks. The old man decides to go fishing anyway, and in the middle of the cold downpour, dies. He goes to heaven where he meets his wife and they relax while watching TV broadcasts of what's happening on earth. He sees his own funeral, with his friends and neighbors crying over his coffin and relating stories of how great he'd been. The old man rushes to heaven's admissions room and demands to be sent back home. He awakes inside the coffin and that night everyone's happy to see him again. But, one month later, things are even worse than before, with the grandson's friends' garbage strewn all over his room. When the granddaughter comes in to play cards, she explains that her mother's description of the joker is "oyaji nuki" (remove the old man). Taking this to mean that the daughter-in-law hates him, the old man summons his son and kicks everyone out of his house. As he's laughing maniacally, he wakes up to find himself back in heaven's receiving room. The administrator explains that this had been a dream to let him see what would have happened if he returned to life again. He asks if the old man still wants to go back, and he grudgingly decides to stay with the ghost of his wife, while the still-living pay their respects at his grave.

"Gekiga ObaQ" (Dramatic Story ObaQ) takes place about 20 years after the end of the Obake Q-tarou series, with the incompetent ghost Q-tarou returning to earth and visiting his old friend Shou. Initially, Shou is happy to see Q, but he's married now and working in a deadend job, and his wife doesn't like having Q around. The rest of the gang have also grown up and gotten on with their lives in society, as office workers and the like. However, they get together for one more drinking party, and during the midst of it, Q gets Shou to give his wife an ultimatum. The next morning, Shou is attempting to shake off his hangover when his wife tells him that she also has something to say - she's pregnant. Shou is elated to be a father and he happily goes off to work. Realizing that Shou is no longer a child, Q flies off into the sky and disappears.

(Minotaur's Plate)

The title story, "The Minotaur's Plate", starts out with a spaceship filled with Earthlings roaring through a particular solar system. Inside, the crew has run out of food and water, and only one member, a young man, is still alive, He crashes the ship on the closest planet, and is rescued by a girl wearing a Greek-style dress. The boy recovers, and feeds himself at what seems to be a banquet. When he thanks the girl for the feast, she replies with "what, ok, you mean the pet food?" Initially, the two of them hit it off pretty well, but at one point she pricks her thumb on a rose bush, and her entire family panics, calling a doctor. The medic arrives, but he's got the head of a bull. Eventually we learn that on this planet, humanoid cows are the primary lifeforms, and the regular humans are raised as livestock. The girl has been chosen to serve as the centerpiece dish of the upcoming minotaur festival, and all the earthling can do is watch as she's wheeled into the main kitchen. Later, he gets picked up by another passing spaceship. Onboard, he's eating steak, but crying at the same time.

(1000 Year Reunion. The attention to detail here is very impressive.)

In "Hyon Hyoro", a young boy receives a letter from someone and takes it home to show his parents. It's a ransom note written in a childish scrawl, demanding the return of something called "hyon hyoro". The child says that he got the letter from a large rabbit, and his parents punish him for lying. Later, the rabbit teleports into the boy's room, and when he tries to introduce it to his mother and father, they over-react and decide that they've been working too hard and are hallucinating. The rabbit hints that it's from a parallel planet, and is planning on abducting someone if hyon hyoro isn't returned to him at the park at midnight. The police are summoned but they refuse to accept that the 5' tall rabbit is real, until they all injure themselves failing to arrest it. The rabbit demonstrates that, while it's very good-natured, it does have psychic powers that it's willing to use. The following day, the police stake out the park as expected, and the father brings a suitcase full of gold and cash to the phonebooth that the rabbit is waiting within. The father shows up 5 minutes early, and the rabbit is a stickler for following the rules, so they wait until exactly midnight. The rabbit opens the suitcase and asks what this worthless paper is in there for. The adults say that don't know what a "hyon hyoro" is, and the rabbit goes ballistic, answering that it's the most precious treasure in the world. The rabbit turns into a monster, and then suddenly there's silence. The next morning, the boy wakes up and goes through his toy box. He pulls out a pearl and yells to his mother that he hadn't been lying, that the hyon hyoro had fallen from the sky and hit him on the head a few days earlier. He runs outside holding the pearl, calling for his mother. Then he asks where everyone's gone.

(Tripping Over a Tree Stump)

In the final story, "Tripping Over a Tree Stump", a young editor is sent over to the house of a famous writer in order to get him to finish a manuscript by the deadline. The writer smokes several packs of cigarettes a day, drinks heavily, has a pet monkey that his wife bought him, eats raw fish, and has a toilet that smells of natural gas. During the course of the day, the editor watches as the writer puts off his work to play with the monkey, drink and watch TV. He also beats his wife mercilessly. He tries calling up a girlfriend to go on a cruise that afternoon, but the girl refuses, saying that she wants to go driving with her own boyfriend. The wife arrives with a packed suitcase and the writer attacks her again, saying that he'll be the one that decides if he goes or not. The girl comments that the writer s going to kill his wife one of these days, then she exits the house. The writer notices that his whiskey bottle is empty again, and the editor runs to get more alcohol to save the wife from another beating. He wanders through the house looking for the liquor cabinet and notices the wife's scrapbook lying out on the floor. It's filled with newspaper clippings of people that have died in various ways, such as from an explosion caused by lighting a match next to a gas leak, getting rabies from wild animals, mercury poisoning from raw fish, cancer from smoking, liver disease from heavy drinking, and tripping over a toy that had been left at the top of the stairs. As he returns to the den, he notices the wife carefully setting an empty whiskey bottle at the top of the stairs.

Summary: Fujio F tries his hand at black humor in the 1970's, and the results are collected here. The artwork is dated, and never really holds up to Fujio A's much darker tales. However, there are some interesting ideas mixed in, and most of the plot twists do work pretty well. Recommended if you like Night Gallery-type jokes.

No comments: