English, Please!: Palepoli

January 27, 2012

I know I promised Eroica content this week, but I had to switch my schedule for the next license request when I found out that the Manga Moveable Feast for this month featured Usamaru Furuya. It’s hosted by Ash Brown over at Experiments in Manga.

Usamaru Furuya is an infinitely interesting artist. I like what I’ve read of his stories, too, but his art gets me in every single book that I’ve read by him. Be it the surreal pencil sketches that Picasso enters in Genkaku Picasso, the occasional random but elaborate 2-page nonsequitor illustrations in Short Cuts, or the amazing throwback work unlike his usual style in Lychee Light Club, every single one of his books is interesting to look at. He’s constantly using unusual imagery and a plethora of styles to convey the story visually, and there’s nobody quite like him when it comes to this. It’s fine art in manga form, and I wish like nobody’s business that more of his work would be licensed.

Palepoli is his first published volume of manga, and the best showcase for his visual vernacular. He also has a knack for elaborate visual puns and gags, and breaks the fourth wall constantly. Not with dialogue, but with image. It’s something one rarely sees.

You can read a handful of these in the compilations Secret Comics Japan and Japan Edge, but even with no knowledge of Japanese, Palepoli is worth owning. It’s just so much fun to look at. Still, I would dearly love to see a full English translation of it.

I’ve always really liked the cover to this book. It has as much to do with the inside content as anything, really, but the attention to visual detail starts here. The subject matter, and painting technique in particular, is meant to imitate a fresco. Even the title is webbed with cracks, like the plaster underneath is cracking.

There is a nice hardcover of this available, but I didn’t know that when I bought my paperback copy. Mine’s in bad shape, and will fall apart if I scan it, so I’m going to take photos of this one. Click on them to make the images larger, they’re worth looking at.

Palepoli is a collection of unconnected 4-panel strips. Normally, I hate 4-panel compilations, but Palepoli is the exception, largely for the reasons I mentioned in the introduction. Though there’s no ongoing narrative, there are several different “types” of strips scattered throughout the book. I’ll talk about some of the series below. They usually don’t run in a row, and there’s no pattern to them, but it’s always nice when you turn the page and see another surreal face strip, or yet another classroom bonding scene. The one above is… hmm. They are all night scenes that contain nostalgic-type dialogue longing for the mysteries of childhood, but there’s usually something slightly off about it. In one, a boy reflects on what his mother says about getting older, then looks up and decides he won’t be able to see ghosts anymore. In this one, it’s rabbit children that want to join their mother on the moon by jumping up to see her.

One of the more lengthy series of strips in the book is this one, which is about a man that witnesses a murder through his peephole, and the culprits that try to convince him to come out. Frequently the culprits will get run over by other murderers, and the methods for getting the man to come out are increasingly elaborate. Some strips includes angels, bands, threats about throwing out the wrong type of trash (a gag I’ll talk about later), and a variety of other methods of persuasion, but we never break from the first person fisheye perspective through the peephole. The jokes are funny, but it’s even more interesting that the unique perspective never wavers.

I can’t believe I forgot to take pictures of the Ghost of Rejection strips, another one of the more lengthy series in the book. They are all Furuya drawing a strip, interrupted by a specter that destroys the drawing somehow. The damage is reflected on the page that the strip itself appears on in the book, the implication being that the ghost is destroying that very strip (the strip is also clearly the same one that is being drawn in the strip itself). If the ghost crumples the page, the comic page itself is crumpled. If he lays a hand on it, the handprint appears over the fourth panel. sometimes the ghost’s finger will be shown pointing at the strip, hovering over and blocking out the art. He frequently draws graffiti on them, and one of my favorite instances is where several strips in a row appear with arbitrary numbers in their titles, then you get to the Ghost of Rejection strip where it’s revealed that the ghost is grading the strips. At the end, the ghost reveals itself to be Tezuka. I guess he would know.

This is a series where a young boy often stumbles upon life’s mysteries, unbeknownst to others. Here, it’s ants parting a puddle like the red sea. Sometimes he gets sucked into elaborate mandalas. In one, he can see every cell in his hand, which is of course lavishly illustrated, and in complete contrast to the weird and cartoony style he uses for children. He often meets gods from hindu and other faiths, and is eventually granted the power to destroy the world. If anyone can coax the peephole man out of his house, it’s Takashi!

Kuma-chan is also a popular strip subject. Kuma-chan is a cute but murderous bear that wields a butcher knife. Usually he appears in strips that are parodies of police shows (for whatever reason, I think the detective is frequently Colombo), but he pops up in all sorts of murder scenes and other places he shouldn’t, usually creeping out from behind something in the background. Here, the joke is that Kuma-chan only kills beautiful high school girls, and this girl gets a little over-excited when she realizes she suits Kuma’s taste.

I believe the record will show that I love any manga that deals directly with art history (see also: In the Walnut). Furuya also has a few strips where he uses famous Renaissance paintings directly… in various ways. One of my favorites is one that uses a portion of Primavera by Botticelli, giving the goddesses teenage girl dialogue that eventually spirals into an ill-mannered fight. Another one of the goddesses from Primavera appears frequently to offer troubled souls a tough choice in various strips. I suspect the choice she offers might be a reference to similar dialogue found in video games like Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past or Harvest Moon, or whatever inspired similar moral choices (though the axe choice is almost directly from Harvest Moon, perhaps by coincidence). This one is Dead Christ, by Andrea Mantegna. The grief is interrupted by Hiroshi from Dokonjo Gaerou, a Shounen Jump manga from the early 70s. The plot of the manga is that Hiroshi trips and falls on a frog, who gets crushed into his shirt and offers advice. Here, he trips and falls on the head of Christ instead.

Furuya also likes to pay homage to older manga styles and popular titles. I mentioned Dokonjo Gaerou before, but there are more elaborate visual examples as well. In the above example, a Golgo 13 joke is never not funny, and not only do I like the terrible pun of Golgo 31/Baskin Robbins, I also like that the cute girl is sniped for the sin of embarrassing him. This one was in Secret Comics Japan, thus the English translation.

There’s an entire series of “garbage day” strips, named after the days of the week, and each one covers a different topic. Sometimes the topics are more general, like “cute trash day” or “existential trash day,” but they are also sometimes parodies of particular manga genres. He nails the styles pretty well in all these, and the completely unimpressed businessman in the corner makes them that much more surreal. Of course, my girly shoujo heart prefers the Heart of Thomas parody above.

I’m also up for invisible garbage day, if you are. I love that this was something that he was allowed to turn in. The joke is still funny, too.

Here, Furuya is taking the dialogue and… uh, the gist of Red-Colored Elegy. The homage here is all in the dialogue, though, as Furuya’s cartoony children stand in for the regular characters. The cartoony children are a throwback style to 50s shounen manga, I believe. I’m not sure if he’s parodying a particular artist’s style or not (sometimes I think they lean heavily towards early Tezuka), but I think that general style was a very popular look in the late 50s. Here’s the best example I could come up with in five minutes, from a pre-horror Kazuo Umezu volume.

And here’s both Kuma-chan and a panel that appears to be lifted directly from a Kazuo Umezu manga, or Furuya did a perfect imitation of one. They compliment each other well! These “chapter break” pages appear infrequently, and usually just use a theme from one of the strip series. As far as I can tell, they don’t really divide anything up in the book itself.

Manga isn’t the only area of pop culture that appears in this book. I think I’m probably missing out on a lot of the Japanese pop culture jokes, but it’s hard not to recognize Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in these creepily realistic portraits. They’ve tied a man up and are playing a word game with him. There are two strips to this one, and the second one is the man losing the shiratori game, but this one, for whatever reason, is more about the perspective from the cartoony man and the mirror behind the two actors.

My hands-down favorite series, visually, are these surreal portrait strips. I always associate these types of images with In Voluptas Mors, by Dali, but I wonder if there was a tradition of them before that. I think the Dali piece might be a direct influence here, because many of these are erotic. The one above isn’t, and is a rather contrary strip that forms the faces of Christ and Buddha using figures of death and destruction.

The erotic images are saved, of course, for the portraits of the characters from Doraemon. I love that they’re singing the theme song. But, I suppose, what else would they be doing? In this case, the lyrics to the Doraemon theme song… sort of compliment the erotic figures better than they do Nobita et al.

This one is a reference to Tensai Bakabon, although I have no idea whether or not the dialogue relates to the series. I suspect it doesn’t, I think the joke is some sort of pun on the name of the deity in the last panel. You can also see more Botticelli on the page opposite this one, because I didn’t bother to edit the image.

And if you can think of a better way to end things than John, Paul, George, and Ringo… well, then I don’t know what to tell you.

I am completely and thoroughly obsessed with this book. Not only is the humor the kind of surreal, spot-on variety I enjoy, I can’t get enough of the hugely varied drawing styles and visual puns, and I feel like every time I crack it open, I find more cultural references I missed the first time around. I would dearly love to see a version of this book that is as thoroughly footnoted as Short Cuts was. I always hold out hope for this to be translated into English, because it is so unique and wonderful, and because we’ve already seen part of it. Maybe Viz somehow had to license it for inclusion in Secret Comics Japan, so maybe they’re the ones that have to publish it? Vertigo would be a good choice too, though, and somewhat more likely.

6 Responses to “English, Please!: Palepoli”

  1. Wow, that looks awesome. I’d totally buy that in English!

  2. Ash Says:

    The more I see of Palepoli the more I want it. Thank you so much for posting this!

  3. Connie Says:

    Thanks! It’s a really awesome book, I had forgotten how much I liked it before I wrote it up here.

  4. […] The Usamaru Furuya Manga Moveable Feast has wound up, and Ash Brown posts roundup posts for day two and day three, as well as a final roundup, at Experiments in Manga. Over at Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith devote their latest Off the Shelf column to Furuya’s No Longer Human, and at Slightly Biased Manga, Connie explains why Palepoli should be translated into English. […]

  5. […] at, and there’s a ton of content over there. I did contribute to the feast with a look at Palepoli, but since I had the second volume of this laying around, I thought I might pick it up while in the […]

  6. Felneymike Says:

    Well my list of things to buy when I go to Japan just got another item

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