Friday, June 29, 2018

Mugen Shishi, vol. 1 comments

(Image from, used for review purposes only.)

Mugen Shishi (Fantasy Gentleman) by Yousuke Takahashi, Grade A
Somewhere about 3 weeks ago, I wrote up a commentary on volume 1 of Yousuke Takahashi's school horror series, Gakkou Kaidan. At the time, I said that I'd first encountered him when I found a used copy of Mugen Shishi, vol. 1, at Mandarake in Akihabara around 2010, and that Shishi is a light-hearted detective adventure set in the Showa Era (1926-1989), in kind of a Doc Savage vein, but still heavily laced with the macabre.

Maruzen Bookstore has wide edition volumes of both Kaidan and Mugen, and after reading the first title, I decided to get the wide version of Mugen. The wides are shorter and narrower than regular tankoubon volumes, but have at least twice as many pages. Vol. 1 of Mugen is a whopping 398 pages, but it's also close to $10 USD, including tax, so it's not exactly a bargain, price-wise. The thing is, because I'd already read vol. 1 of the tankoubon, I knew that the first half of the wide volume was going to be duplicated. On the otherhand, my Japanese is getting better and I was hoping that I might pick up more of the story the second time around.

As mentioned above, Mugen Shishi is a light-hearted adventure series that revolves around boy detective Mamiya Mugen, set in the early 40's. The chapters can be between 20 and 50 pages long, and are generally stand-alone stories, but there are a number of recurring characters, and there is a sense of past adventures building up and influencing later ones, even though there's no true on-going story thread linking them together. In the first chapter, we're introduced to Mugen, police detective Edogawa (which may be a tribute to Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Rampo, which in turn is the katakana reading of Edgar Allan Poe), and the incompetently evil Doctor Lao. Later, we get Mugen's faithful man-bat servant Alucard, his flighty but understanding mother Yuki-e, and his mad scientist father. Additionally, we get mermaids, time-traveling wells, submarines hidden under Tokyo city, Indian curses, giant grasshoppers, killer girl robots and love-struck assassins. One additional theme is that Mugen's father used to dress him up as a girl when he was very young, and he still ridicules his son for being so good at female disguises. Having his mother call him "Mami" (a girl's name) doesn't help. But, Mamiya is very convincing as a Chinese restaurant waitress, even when he has his full suit and wide-brim hat on underneath the China dress. So, yeah, it's complicated.

The last chapter is a reprint of the illustrated text-based short story that ran in the first tankoubon volume - "Neji Otoko" ("neji" = "screw" or "bolt", but in this case it refers to the fact that the villain is a windup machine version of Frankenstein's monster). The literal translation would be "Bolt Man", but that's not really very evocative. "The Wind-up Man" or "The Tick-tock Man" might be better. Anyway, the story is a very silly recounting of when Mugen went up against a mechanical monster whose main crime is that it turns its human victims into windup minions. The final battle is played for laughed, although the monster is destroyed in the end.

Anyway, Mugen Shishi ("mugen = dream" and "shishi" can be treated as "gentry+man", or "gentleman") is a lot of fun and it doesn't take itself seriously. It's not all that easy to find, unless you order it off Amazon, and you probably won't be able to get it in English. But, if you understand a little Japanese, it's definitely a good way to improve your reading skills. Otherwise, the artwork is still great (airy lines, lots of detail; very good character designs in a retro-60's style, and fantastic monsters and backgrounds). Highly recommended.

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