Faust 1

October 22, 2008

I’m going to be picky about this, because I’m a huge book geek as much as I am a manga geek, but let me say that I could not be more pleased with this collection.  I think it’s awesome that something like this is going to be coming out in the US, and I can only hope that it evolves and continues on the path it seems to be going down.  If this was just a taste, I can only imagine the depths of weird storytelling that Faust can reach.  I salute you, experimental fiction anthology.

It took me a long time to find out about this.  I actually only heard about it about a week before it came out, which is sort of unheard-of for me.  Perhaps it was just that it flew under my radar as fiction or something.  Anyway, it was the inclusion of Kouhei Kadono that made me decide to pick it up, because I thoroughly enjoyed the Boogiepop novels.  I didn’t really care about the rest of the content so much, and I initially skipped over the main hype piece, the XxXholic short, because I didn’t really want to read a fiction adaptation of a popular manga right now.  I read it anyway, but… well, there are better things in here.

First and foremost, I should mention that not only does the volume have a nice introduction, it also has brief introductions for every single one of the pieces in it placed before each story.  The introductions give all the stories context, and they also give background on all the writers.  It was a nice touch, and an immense help in reading and understanding all the stories.

The Kouhei Kadono story, while pretty good, had me sort of on edge about the rest of the content after reading it.  “Outlandos d’Amour” was the name, and it was about a boy who had an awkward, uncomfortable relationship with the girl he fell in love with at first sight.  There’s a reason he has an uncomfortable relationship with her.  In addition to this weirdness, there’s also the fact he can see… people’s deaths, or their mortal wounds, or see when something bad is going to happen to them.  Also, he’s got some sort of lightening power or something.  I kind of liked it because it was just such an awkward story, and there were a lot of cool ideas, but it left me feeling unsatisfied in the end.  So I didn’t have high hopes for the rest of the stories.

Then I read “The Drill Hole in My Brain” by Otaro Maijo.  This is one of the most weird, surreal short stories I’ve ever read, and it was worth the price of the book all by itself.  In it, a boy and his family are murdered right away.  Well, the boy isn’t so much murdered as he gets a screwdriver shoved into his skull.  While he’s laying on the floor with his little sister trying to help him, he begins to hallucinate creatures.  Then, for the duration of the story, he creates an alternate reality that goes on inside his brain where a different version of himself is a superhero, a superhero with a hole in his head.  In this reality, his girlfriend is played by Akana, a girl who has a unicorn horn coming out of her forehead.  Head-sex is described in surprisingly graphic, non-erotic detail.  The story then spirals out of control as weird, tangential things keep happening.  He keeps Akana’s kidney in his pocket, flowers grow out of his crotch, he tries to meet up with the real him in the next town over… and in the end, it all comes down to a beautiful love story, the most messed-up one I have ever read.  It succeeds because it is coherent surrealism, and while things are constantly coming out of left field that are described in amazing detail (at one point, I believe he runs into a girl with gorilla fingers coming out of her crotch, and the gorilla eventually turns the girl inside out to reveal that the gorilla was inside, or something), the plot thread is never dropped.  This is something the like I’ve never seen before, and I was totally blown away by it.  I can’t recommend this story enough.  There is a lot of sexual imagery in it, and I can see it putting off some, but… it is amazing.  Truly.  I also can’t believe it translated into English so well.  It’s totally flawless.  My hat’s off to you, Mr. Andrew Cunningham.

If that wasn’t enough, the next story, “F-sensei’s Pocket,” is also really good.  There’s a lot of self-referential humor in it, but it also tells a great story about what happens when two relatively normal girls get ahold of Doraemon’s fourth dimensional pocket and have access to all his fantasy devices in the real world.  Bad things, and it’s hard to keep them from the police, or other adults, especially when you begin to keep most of the town’s citizens in an aquarium in your living room.  It’s great all the way through, and I loved the jaded, prickly narrator.

Following these two, I was pretty excited going into Type-Moon’s piece, an excerpt from the much lauded “Garden of Sinners.”  I was initially confused, because the main character has the same name as a character from Type-Moon’s “Lunar Legend Tsukihime,” except Shiki here is a female, and the Shiki in Tsukihime is a male.  To make matters worse, the other main character here is a male, and the illustration that matches him makes him look like the Shiki from Tsukihime.  This confused me a great deal for a good chunk of the first part of the story, and I don’t think I ever recovered from it.  The story itself is okay, if a bit… wordy.  It’s about the characters trying to figure out why girls seem to be jumping from their deaths, and there seems to be a supernatural cause behind it.  The other problem I had was that the good guy characters, aside from my initial confusion, didn’t seem to fit together very well.  That was probably the point, but for some reason, I just could not get into this story.  Maybe it’s better as a full novel, though.  I like what I’ve read of Type-Moon’s other works enough to believe that maybe this just wasn’t the right context for this one.

The XxXholic story was okay.  I didn’t like it as much as reading the manga since a lot more analysis went into everything when written out in prose, and I also think it stalled a bit over-long on the key story points.  But it was okay.  I liked the non-manga insight into Watanuki, if nothing else, but it’s hard for me to dislike anything with Watanuki in it.

The rest of the essays and stuff were kind of hit and miss.  I only scanned the Type-Moon interview in the back since I wasn’t particulary interested in “Garden of Sinners,” but I was surprised to see how lively and relatively engrossing it was, especially since I had no interest in the subject matter.  There is another nonfiction essay that I just scanned about the mixing of American and Japanese comic culture, mostly just because I was pretty much done reading Faust by that point.

There are also a few short fiction pieces, less than ten pages long, that are sort of patchy at the end of the fiction section.  Some of them have bizarre senses of humor, and I couldn’t figure out if I really liked them for it or hated them.  For some reason, two or three of them focus on “hikikomori,” which is a term for an otaku so far removed from society that they are basically a shut-in.  I thought “H People” did a pretty good job portraying the thought process for a hikikomori, and I thought the “Guru Guru Counseling Session,” while too silly for my taste, offered pretty good honest advice for hikikomori (not the advice at the end), as much of a throwaway as I thought the rest of it was.  For some reason, one story was chosen which had a sense of humor based around a somewhat untranslatable pun, but it was only a couple pages long, and I liked the idea behind it. And I was really torn on the other advice column, “Yuya Sato’s Counseling Session,” because I kind of hated the humor, but I liked where it was coming from.

Much was made of the fact that special people illustrated these stories, but I have to say I was really disappointed with the number of illustrations each story contained.  The CLAMP story in the beginning has a total of one two-page illustration, the Takeshi Obata illustrations in “F-Sensei’s Pocket” are limited to three nice illustrations on the first three pages of the story, then two other illustrations that are weirdly cropped and don’t really seem to serve any purpose within the body of the story itself.  Takashi Takeuchi’s illustrations in the Type-Moon story include all of two very small ones together on one page.  The only two stories that had sort of a lot of illustrations were “Outlandos d’Amour” and “The Drill Hole in My Brain,” though I could have used a few more in both of those, and the latter had the illustrations grouped together strangely in the front, then only one or two included elsewhere in the story.  “Outlandos d’Amour” was the only one that did something close to what I imagined, which is unfortunate because I really dislike Hajime Ueda’s illustrations.

There were about a billion more pop culture references than your typical manga.  The only place I was really feeling it were in the shorter pieces at the end of the fiction section.  The references are heavily annotated in footnotes, but their meanings are sort of lost, even after being explained, and I felt like the sense of humor didn’t translate well in the shorter pieces… not because of a bad translation, but just because it seems like a lot of it just fundamentally doesn’t work in English.  Also, I was a little confused as to why a 3-page story based around an untranslatable Japanese pun was included, unless it was just to show the range of stories in the Japanese edition of Faust (I kind of liked the way it used illustration, actually, but I wished that technique had been used for another story).  “F-Sensei’s Pocket,” though based entirely around a series unheard of and without peer in America (Doraemon), was flawless since a simple explanation of the inventions the girls were using was all that was needed to understand what was going on.  XxXholic also had a ton of pop culture references, which is something Yuko does in the manga too, and they were 50-50 as far as me catching their meaning (though all were footnoted), but none of them were essential to understanding the story or its humor.

There was manga included!  Manga in color!  That wasn’t something I had expected.  They are all pretty short save for the You Higuri story that is entirely in black and white, but the short “Nikko Dance Party” by Vofan was by far my favorite.  It was a very simple story about a girl frolicking through light, and the play of light and shadow in the color illustrations was fantastic.  I also really liked the story “Maple Tree Viewing.”  I wasn’t entirely clear on what was going on, but it was a period piece set amid fall maple trees, there was possibly some sort of vampire (?), and it was very poetic.

The volume is worth it for “F-Sensei’s Pocket” and “The Drill Hole in My Brain” alone.  If you buy or borrow it just for those stories, you’d be doing yourself a favor.  The holic story is also okay, as is the Kouhei Kadono story, and the short manga in the back are a nice bonus.  I’m really happy to hear there will be at least one more volume, and I’m really hoping this finds a happy, solid niche.  Here’s hoping the next one won’t have a cover that screams “Teen read! You like manga, don’t you?!” as loud as it possibly can.