I was looking at this awhile ago because of the Moyoco Anno story (let’s not get into my fanatical love for Anno), but the story was only 6 pages long, and this collection costs $25. I saw it in a comic shop over the weekend and noticed it also had a Taiyo Matsumoto story in it, but the art wasn’t as good as his usually is. I hesitated, but then flipped through the rest of the comic essays. It was definitely $25 well spent.
This is a collaboration between a number of artists, half of whom are French and half of whom are Japanese. The French artists were mostly imported and drew about their trips to Japan as tourists, though I think a few of them may actually live there (Frederic Boilet in particular). The Japanese artists often draw little folk tales, stories of the past, stories reflecting their childhood, and things like that. This gives the collection an interesting split between outsider and native perspective, and it does just what it says on the cover quite well.
I didn’t really like that many of the French stories were about the artists traveling to Japan and what they did there. On one hand, that’s probably what they were supposed to do, but on the other hand, I would have rather seen focus on one aspect of the trip or a feature of the area more often. My annoyance is allayed by the fact that they all traveled to different parts of Japan and did different things, so you don’t have to hear about nine people’s trips to Tokyo. The other thing that makes it better is the fact that a few of them approach the travel writing technique differently. One story isn’t about the artist’s trip, but about a mascot trying to figure out what he wants to be by soaking up all the design and advertising he runs across in Japan. This device takes awhile to unveil itself, and you don’t actually see what the formless mascot looks like until halfway through the story, so it works really well. One story is told from the perspective of an old man the artist may or may not have run across, and the old man has a story of his own to get through. Yet another of the essays is about being taken around the city by a Frenchman who lives there and being given a grand tour of the social nature of the area, told from an outsider’s perspective. It’s kind of interesting, and the local Frenchman is cranky and pretty funny.
The two that read most like travel journals are different not only for the obvious reasons (personality, style, the area they traveled to), but it’s interesting that one is male and one is female. The male artist, Fabrice Neaud, is famous for doing volumes of frank journal comics (called “Journal”), so a journal piece is what he would do anyway, but his story is much more detailed as to what he did and there was definitely a very personal perspective attached. The woman, Aurelia Aurita, notes in her essay that the Japanese women in the public bath would have known she was French if they had noted that she had tan lines around her bottom for her underwear, but not on her breasts.
Not all the French stories are travel narration, though. There were two that stuck in my mind in particular because they were pretty good. One was about a pair of shoes walking away from a house and going to the land under the sea, like Urashima Taro. This story is also notable for having a few pages of random imagery stuck in the middle. The other was a strange perspective of Osaka told in news-ish stories about the popularity of a bug in the near future.
The Japanese stories, as I said, are not so much travel writing, and run the gamut as to their subject matter. Two are about loves in an old hometown, one is a wordless story involving a sunflower, one is a folk tale about an artist, one is the meaning behind a festival, and one is about traditions on a mountain. Moyoco Anno’s story is about buying crickets in the Tokyo of the past. It is by far the most lavishly illustrated in the collection, and looks like it could be a side story from “Sakuran.”
My favorite story in the collection was probably Jiro Taniguchi’s story of young love. I really enjoyed its quiet, subtle nature, and his art is fantastic. My favorite story on the French side… hm, probably Fabrice Neaud’s detailed tour of Sendai. He also had an art style I really liked.