Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 1

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Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 1, by Michiharu Kusunoki, Grade: B+
Kusunoki started drawing manga professionally with Aitsu to Lullaby in 1981 ('81-'89, Weekly Shonen Magajin), and is probably best known for his street racing manga, Wangan Midnight ('93-'08, Young Magazine). Several of his titles feature street punks and fast cars. With Tokubetsu no Egoist ('15- , Big Comic Original), the story turns more to low-key psychic battles, with people occasionally driving around in Porsches and Land Rovers. The character designs are reworked from his previous titles, making Egoist pretty recognizable if you've seen his other works. Egoist is on hiatus right now, though, as Kusunoki reports having medical problems.

(Kaneki meets the old fortune teller after 23 years. She's sleeping.)

There's pretty much nothing on Egoist on the net in English at the moment, and nothing on wikipedia. The full title, "Tokubetsu no Egoist" can be translated as "The Special Self-Centered Person." It comes from the title of the break-out novel written by the protagonist, freelance writer Tooru Kaneki. When he was younger, and just out of university, he'd encountered a street fortune teller (just referred to as "Old Woman") who told him to get a cell phone, and have 100 business cards printed up with his name and phone number. He was to then hand the cards out to people that he'd meet, telling them that if they ever needed his help, to contact him. 23 years later, on his 45th birthday, he meets the woman again, and she takes the last remaining yellowed card from him, saying that his job now is to wait for people to contact him, and put them in touch with the one with actual psychic powers that is the really special one. Kaneki's only real ability, other than as a writer, is that he can see people's auras, and he'd given the business cards to those that had the stronger auras around them.

(Kaneki, Reiko and Mari meet Jin, the famous writer.)

In the first volume, Kaneki is bemoaning the fact that he's celebrating his 45th birthday alone. He meets an old lover, Reiko, who had dated him when she was 18, and she's now a stock manager and wildly wealthy (she's the one that owns both a Porsche and a Land Rover, and has a penthouse floor at the top of an exclusive condo in the heart of Tokyo). Looking at her, Kaneki starts wondering just what exactly it was that he'd been doing with his life all this time. Soon, he gets a call from the agent for the famous novelist, Jin Kitamura. Kaneki and Reiko visit him, and he looks like a wreck. Back when he was still an unknown, Kaneki's editor had offered him work ghosting on one of Jin's novels. The two had met at that time, but Jin hadn't known who his ghost writer was. Jin claims that he's the victim of a psychic attack and that the attacker must be one of 5 people on a list he's made. 4 are individuals Kaneki doesn't know, and the fifth is "that ghost writer." Reluctantly, Kaneki takes the job against his own best interests. Reiko puts him in contact with a powerful psychic that she'd accidentally bumped into with her car, the 16-year-old high school girl, Mari Misaki.

(Kaneki and Mari try to track down Reiko, who's currently at Bird, with Jin.)

Things build up slowly, with both Mari and Kaneki mentioning that they'd been born in small countryside villages (as had Jin), and that their powers may be rooted in that. The two of them meet the others on Jin's list (a hostess bar owner, the hostess of a cooking show and owner of a food research kitchen, an illustrator and a book editor). They all act friendly at the start, but turn viciously hostile when Jin's name is mentioned. At the end of the volume, Reiko meets up with Jin and they go out for a night drive, before the writer invites her to his favorite jazz coffee shop - Bird - in Ginza. Kaneki and Mari get alarmed that Reiko has disappeared on them from her apartment and Kaneki is forced to learn to drive the Porsche on his own. Mari keeps telling him to "look within, from behind his stomach" to try to determine where Reiko might be right now. On the last page, Reiko is looking like she's in distress for some reason.

(Jin tells Reiko that she's in the way.)

Summary: Egoist builds up slowly. It's not an action story per se, in that while there is some racing around in cars, it's just a carefree pastime and not part of a desperate chase sequence, and there's no real combat ever. Things are more cerebral, with a lot of clever dialogue throughout. The artwork is good, with light, thin lines and a fair amount of background detail. I've got the first three books, so I am going to read them all, but it is time-consuming since the story is so text heavy. Recommended.

I should mention that imagined and remembered sex features kind of heavily in this story. There's some female upper nudity, but nothing overly graphic. One of the key elements is that someone with psychic powers loses them if they get too "worldly". That is, having sex, drinking, smoking, all contribute to one's psychic abilities getting weaker. It's one of the reasons Kaneki is abstaining from sex now.

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