November 30, 2009
Taiyo Matsumoto – Viz – 2009 – 1 volume
Wow. Now, you may notice this book retails for $27.99 (and if you didn’t… well, it retails for $27.99). I knew this would be a hardcover, and long, but wow, that’s quite a sum for a hardcover. But let me tell you, this is one of the nicest presentations I’ve ever seen on a volume of translated manga. Possibly the nicest, period. The book is a slipcased hardcover, and the slipcase is a heavy cardboard sleeve rather than a box. This is to show off the fore-edge, which has the pages dyed red and decorated with a monster design similar to the color artwork on the cover. All the page edges are dyed red, but only the fore-edge has the designs on it. It’s not something I’ve ever seen on a book before. The book itself is a glossy hardcover, and the illustrations on the sleeve are the same as on the cover, except instead of the color image of two boys, there is only a black and white drawing of Yuki, an interesting detail given the nature of the story. No volume summary can be found on either the sleeve or the book itself, which is a little unusual. Also unusual, but something I found to my liking, is that the story starts on the endpapers of the inside cover, the first page of story is the page glued to the inside front cover. There is no preamble whatsoever. There’s a single, non-glossy color page that comes in after the introduction.
I just had to get that out of my system. It really is a lovely book. The story is no slouch, either. I love Taiyo Matsumoto based solely on my limited experience with Tekkon Kinkreet, Blue Spring, and the first couple volumes of No. 5. Mostly I love his art in general, and Tekkon Kinkreet in particular. His stories can be a bit out there and somewhat hard to follow, but they are always rewarding in the end. This one walked the line between sense and nonsense, but that appeared to be the point and themes of the piece, and it was quite an amazing read.
Yuki, a third grader, is the only one at his school that can see and hear them. They inhabit the school and cause minor mischief, and he plays his harmonica for them on the roof and is friends with their leader, Super Star. Them live on the other side, but at the beginning of the story, Yuki tells us that the others have come and will upset the balance between this side and the other side. The others are more malevolent than them, and their appearance heralds a change for the worse in the student body at the school. But again, Yuki is the only one that can see them and the others, and over time, they eventually stop talking to him all together. Because of his insistence of the existence of them and the others, he is made into an outcast at school, and has no friends.
At the beginning of the volume, a transfer student named Makoto sits at the desk next to Yuki, and spends the entire story trying to be friends with him. As conditions at the school get worse and worse while Yuki continues to incessantly describe the takeover of the others, Makoto sits through his talks patiently and tries to spend as much time with him as he can. There is a third boy, named IQ, who wears a box on his head. He is highly intelligent and, similarly, an outcast because of his box, and he begins talking with Yuki, insisting that the others is simply a metaphor for his own loneliness and the world closing in on him, and them is a substitute for the friends he doesn’t have.
The story gets increasingly surreal while we try to figure out whether IQ or Yuki is right, and whether or not Makoto will finally get through to Yuki. The story is ultimately about friendship and the supernatural, as well as maturing and growing up. The entire last quarter of the book is a bit difficult to follow as Yuki and IQ disappear and take a journey together, but it never crosses the line into uninteresting or completely incomprehensible, and there’s always Makoto anchoring everything back into reality.
There are several storytelling devices that lend themselves later to the surreal narrative, including the graffitti and broken glass that permeates the school, Yuki’s fondness for gardening, and IQ’s obsession with the rabbit hutch. There’s also the changing of the seasons and the school year that factor into the narrative, and the changing of IQ’s box based on how… sane he may or may not be at the time.
The thing that makes this story succeed is the way that we are given almost no detail or insight into the situations at hand. We are told what Yuki knows, which isn’t much about what’s going on. There is a quiet to the way the characters deal with one another and unspoken things sit between them, and the same quiet goes along with the surreal trip through the end of the story. We are never really told what is going on, and many events are left up to the reader’s judgement and interpretation. I love stories like this, particularly since many manga are too saturated with details, and nothing is really left up to the reader to even infer.
The art is incredible, as we would expect from Taiyo Matsumoto. It’s not quite as good as in Tekkon Kinkreet or No. 5, but to be fair, there is less to work with here since the story never once leaves the school grounds, so we are left with the school, boys in school uniforms, and flowers and rabbits to work with. Even with such mundane subject matter, however, Matsumoto uses his eye for detail, abstraction, viewpoint, and panel layout and design to enhance the work further. The story would likely be mundane and uninteresting in the hands of another artist, but Matsumoto’s art really brings everything to life.
In the end, I still prefer Tekkon Kinkreet, but I don’t mean that to take away from this book at all, because Tekkon Kinkreet is probably one of my favorite books of all time. GoGo Monster is an absolutely fascinating read, and while it is almost too strange towards the end, there is enough of a balance between what the reader knows and what is left up in the air that it leaves you desperate to discuss the story with someone after you finish, which is always the best kind of story. Matsumoto always delivers an experience that differs from most manga out there, and his work stands up well with the best of any comic series from any country you could come up with, really. I would dearly love to get my hands on more of his series.