Monday, April 8, 2013

Afternoon Dinosaur, review

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

When I was a teenager, one of the more common kinds of books on the SF market was the anthology collection. Essentially, some editor would select a group of short stories, often with no connecting theme, and reissue them under one title. It's been a long time since I've read an anthology, but it turns out that such collections also exist in the manga world, in a way, kind of.

Shinichi Hoshi was a prolific novelist and SF writer who lived from 1926 to 1997. According to the wiki entry, at least one of his stories was translated into English, in 1963, for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1968 for Delusion Bank. Comic * Hoshi Shinichi is a collection of his stories as reinterpreted by various josei manga artists (artists specializing in manga for the women's market). The title of this particular volume is Afternoon Dinosaur, which is also the 5th story in the book. On the whole, the artwork is good, but it does have a heavy shoujo feel. Things start out a bit bleak, which is fine if you like tales in the Alfred Hitchcock vein.

Bokko-chan, art by Jun
A stand bar owner builds the perfect waitress robot - Bokko-chan. She looks human, and echoes whatever the customers say. She can pound back drinks, encouraging the patrons to drink more, and the alcohol can be poured back into the bottle at the end of the night for her reuse the next day. The bar becomes very popular, which makes the owner quite happy. Unfortunately, one of the customers falls in love with Bokko-chan and gets frustrated when both his wife and the owner get in the way of "their love". Then, it looks like Bokko-chan is in love with the owner, so the customer tries to poison her by pouring something into her drink. When she fails to keel over, the customer runs out of the bar vowing to kill everyone around her. A few minutes later, the owner recycles the alcohol in Bokko-chan's holding tank for use by a large group that's there to celebrate his birthday. At the end of the night, there are bodies all over the floor, and the TV in the corner continues to air the late evening news. The news anchor wishes everyone a good night at the end of the program, and Bokko-chan calmly parrots, "good night".

Gold Pin, art by Madoka Kawaguchi
Two women are staying at a hotel for a class reunion. An old woman in the room next door drops by and offers to sell a gold hairpin in order to raise enough money to pay her bill and return home. The blond, Yukiko, decides to buy the pin and is intrigued when the old woman says that it had entered her family a long time ago when one of her ancestors had traveled to Europe and purchased it from a gypsy. The pin supposedly has the ability to summon whoever you want, if you use it to cast a spell. Yukiko had been dating a nice young man by the name of Sone, but he'd stopped calling her. So, Yukiko follows the old woman's instructions, while her friend, Fumie, tells her to stop. When there's a knock on the door, Fumie breaks down and confesses that she'd lured Sone out to a mountainside and poisoned him out of jealosy. He's been dead for a year. She grabs the pin and throws it out the window, and the knocking stops.

A Study of Angels, art by Kiki
Michael and Gabriel are slacking at their jobs of collecting the souls of the dead in Heaven, so God issues an ultimatum. All the other angels are to form into two rival groups, headed by Michael and Gabriel. The group that collects the fewest number of souls will be punished. So, the various angels search out ways to find souls the fastest, such as hanging around bridges with a high accident rate, or following gangs and urging them into bloody turf wars. Finally, there's a big accident and the number of dead is so great that the two teams have to band together to avoid missing any souls. At the end of the day, both archangels are happy with having done good jobs, but they do ask themselves why they're doing this. As they walk away, God goes into a special room, where he tasks storks to carry the newly scrubbed souls back to earth for reincarnation.

I am a Murderer, art by Kazuhashi Tomo
Two school friends grow up to be presidents of bitter rival tech companies. G is constantly winning bids away from M, driving the president of M company to the brink. One day, a young woman shows up at M's vacation home and offers to kill G in such a way as to leave no traces. Initially, it looks like a scam or a bogus magic spell, but G announces a new product ahead of M's release and the old man figures he's got nothing to lose. He calls the woman and she tells him to deposit a certain amount of money in a bank account and then wait. After 5 months, nothing's happened and M is really feeling the pinch. He suddenly collapses from the stress and is hospitalized. Turns out that G has been checked into the same hospital, and he dies within a couple of days. Feeling relieved, M recovers and goes back home. Meanwhile, the woman, with her disguise off, turns out to be a nurse. She scans the doctors' reports for patients suffering terminal diseases who have been given less than 6 months to live, and then seeks out rich people that have a grudge against them to offer her services as a "killer".

Come out!, art by Tamayumi Saba
One day, a typhoon hits a small village, causing a mud slide that destroys a small shrine. A group of villagers discover a hole where the shrine had been. One of them, in an attempt to find out how deep the hole is, yells "oy, detekoi" (hey, come out) and throws a rock into it. There's no sound of the stone hitting the bottom, and the next day a geologist visits the site with a modified sonar kit. When the machine fails to work, the geologist pretends that this is normal and walks away without answering questions. Another group attempts to lower a weight on a rope, but when they try pulling it back up, the rope is severed at about the 15' point. Finally, some guy offers to buy the land around the hole and build a new shrine for free closer to the village. While a couple of the villagers have objections, the mayor can't turn down the money. The company uses the hole for dumping trash, which finally allows the surrounding area to be cleaned up. Along the way, other people start throwing in things like a diary following a love affair turned bad, and a bloody knife - murder evidence. Some months pass and the company starts erecting what's probably an apartment complex on the land around the hole. One of the workers walks out on the superstructure to take a lunch break. As he's sitting down, he hears someone yelling "oy, detekoi!" Then, a rocks falls out of the sky from nowhere.

Afternoon Dinosaur, art by Hiroko Shirai
A young man wakes up late one morning, and is greeted by his wife and son. And the dinosaur in the living room that attempts to eat the boy. Turns out that the dinosaur is some kind of an illusion, or living ghost, but that there a lot of them showing up in Tokyo. Simultaneously, the navy is attempting to locate a sub equipped with nuclear missiles that has suddenly gone missing. During the course of the day, the dinosaurs come and go, and the news stations report that no one knows what's going on. Then, they're replaced by cavemen ghosts. The navy bureaucrat tasked with finding the sub is told by a researcher that the ghosts are following what appears to be an accelerated timeline, and that if they're right, it'll reach the modern age in 24 hours, start to finish - the exact amount of time the sub had been gone when the alarm went out. The husband stands out on the balcony, watching the sunset, knowing that something bad is going to happen. It's just like when someone dies and their life flashes before their eyes. He pulls his wife and son closer. Elsewhere, every nuke on the sub explodes at once.

Present-Day Life, art by Kei Arita
A young man lies in bed in his room, unable to sleep. He lights up another cigarette, but stubs it out complaining it tastes bad. Suddenly, a blond-haired punk in sunglasses breaks into the room and pulls a knife on him. The burglar ties the first guy up and then ransacks the apartment looking for valuables. After a while, the burglar gets disgusted with his "victim's" gloomy behavior and asks what his problem is. The victim answers that his girlfriend had broken up with him because he was broke. The burglar laughs, saying that you can't change the past and you have no way of knowing what the future will bring, so you might as well live for the moment. A little later, there's a knock on the door - it's a police officer on his rounds. The victim tells the burglar that he's feeling much better because of the advice and that he's willing to help the guy out by hiding in the closet and letting the burglar pretend to be him. The burglar unties the victim and then goes to the door. There are three cops waiting, and when he gives the fake name, is quickly surrounded, handcuffed and charged with murder. The "victim" changes clothes, preparing to escape and "live for the moment", having recently killed the girl that had tried to break up with him.

Living Maintenance, art by Takako Shimura
Two government bureaucrats drive around the city looking for people whose names have been written on slips of paper. Because of the current peace and prosperity, the country has gotten overcrowded and it's now up to the government to keep the population under control. They arrive at a specific house, and tell the mother that her daughter's name has been selected for culling. For the good of the public welfare, she's to give 2 pills to the girl to kill her, and then they drive off. They take a break, and are just about to switch turns driving. The morning driver asks what the next name is. The passenger looks at the piece of paper and goes silent. The morning guy offers to continue driving for the rest of the afternoon, if that will help him feel better about having to be culled.

Incident of Night, art by Hideji Oda
An alien ship lands on earth, and the occupants spill out in preparation for the upcoming war. They spy a girl standing next to a gate entrance in front of a long brick wall. The lead invader tries to threaten the earthling, but gets no response. The group is trying to figure out what to do next, since this situation wasn't covered in their battle briefing. Suddenly the girl bows and says "welcome". The aliens jump back in surprise and then threaten the girl some more. Again, silence, followed by "thank you". The leader orders "shields up" and shoots the earthling in the head with a laser pistol. The girl continues to just stand there, so one of the other aliens pulls the trigger to see if the pistol is misfiring, killing himself. The invading force realizes that it's out of its depth, pledges to follow the path of peace, and blasts off the planet to return home. The girl eventually says "please come back again". The next morning, a maintenance worker gets surprised when the girl suddenly calls out "good morning". He checks behind her and sees that her power switch had been left on after hours. He rubs the burn mark on the robot's forehead, complaining about vandals. Then he goes inside the amusement park on the other side of the wall as the place opens up for the day.

Box, art by Hideji Oda
(Side note, Oda has a very sketchy art style, with thin lines that look a bit like woodblock carvings. However, the art on Box is much better than in Incident of Night and I initially didn't realize they were by the same person.) A young girl is suffering from a bad fever, and her parents are concerned that she may not recover from it. In the bedroom, the girl is visited by a boy with glittering blond hair. He gives her a beautiful gold box, saying that if she opens it, she'll be granted any wish that she wants, but that she can only do it once. The girl, Retsuko, refuses to open it right away for something as trivial as recovering from a fever. Miffed, the boy disappears. Retsuko gets better and the years pass. Finally, she's about 23, married and with a young daughter. The child is crying, but she can't figure out why. Her thoughts go back to the box, but again she refuses to use the wish right now. However, the thought occurs to her that there's never been a "right time" for opening the box. Not when she failed her school exams. Not when the rich boy she was dating turned around and married someone else. Not even when her father was killed in a car accident. In fact, her life was one dull, monotous blur because she never wanted to "cheat" by using the wish. She married a friend simply because he was there when the rich boy dumped her. They have a small house and a little money, but nothing like what she could have gotten otherwise. Then, she gets a phone call - her mother has collapsed and is in the hospital. The old woman needs some simple surgery, but there's no absolute guarantee there won't be complications. On the spur of the moment, Retsuko asks if they'd had a foreign neighbor when she was young, about the time of her fever. Her mother says no, but that they were so worried by the severity of the problem that they prayed to god to save her. Retsuko decides that now "is the time". She races home to get the box, but when she returns to the hospital room, is told that her mother had died suddenly while she was out. More time passes. Retsuko is now a grandmother, with one grandchild. She falls ill and is placed in the hospital. When it's just her and her husband in the room, she asks if he ever wished that his life could be different. If he only had one wish, what would it be? His answer is very trivial, so she reaches under her pillow and pulls out the box. However, her husband just sees her empty hands, and when she starts coughing, he runs to the hallway to get a doctor. Retsuko opens the box and an angel arrives, complaining that it's taken her long enough. He'd been convinced that she'd do what most terminally-ill children do in the same situation - open the box right there, which would have killed her and he'd have been able to take her straight to heaven. Retsuko is livid at learning about the lie, but the angel defends himself, saying that if you're going to die anyway, what's the problem? She relents, then asks for the one thing that she's always wanted to try - and that is to touch his glittering gold hair. When her husband returns with the doctors, Retsuko has stopped breathing, and her hands are cupped as if she's holding a box.

Summary: Overall, the stories are pretty dark and depressing, which makes them perfect for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As I mention above, there's a strong shoujo feel to the artwork, but not so much as to completely alienate western male readers. If you have an interest in influential Japanese authors, then you'll want to learn about Shinichi Hoshi, and this book is as good an introduction to his writing as any. Recommended.

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