August 13, 2010
Yoshio Kawashima – Digital Manga Publishing – 2006 – 5 volumes
only one volume was published in English
This is first. Absolutely. I’ve been trying to read this book for a year, a few pages at a time, and failing. I read the last 100 pages tonight, using Bad Manga Week as an excuse to get it off my nightstand. It’s not the worst manga I’ve ever read, but it was boring and infuriating to read.
The premise is solid, and interesting. Take a 4-panel seinen gag manga and footnote it with everything you can think of about Japanese culture. Gloom Party is pretty heavy on Japanese culture, and there are movie, television, commercial, and other references that even otaku would miss in the majority of the strips (in fact, a few Doraemon jokes and a bizarre Kamui-den gender swap are probably as close as it gets to manga-style humor). The strips are also printed untranslated, with a translation on the side, and a lot of notes about puns and specific meanings for words and explanations on phrases and expressions, so you can use it as a kind of aid for learning Japanese, too.
The problem is that all the strips are panty jokes. Over and over and over again. High school boys, office workers, old men, everyone loves looking at panties. I was pretty sure I was missing the joke most of the time, but then I realized it really was the same punchline repeated twice on every page. I could only read a few pages at a time because the jokes weren’t funny, and the notations and explanations as to what’s going on and why it’s supposed to be funny are both tedious (yes, I know that schoolboys apparently like to look at panties, but this is explained every time it happens) and bizarrely inadequate (I was looking for an explanation as to why there was only one type of joke here, but of course there wasn’t any). And after reading a hundred solid pages tonight, I don’t think I ever want to see another sudden gust of wind or See-Through Teacher or Flower of the Construction Site gag again.
It does get marginally better later in the book, though. It’s interesting that Kawashima was a fishmonger before (and possibly while) he drew manga, and strange out-of-context factoids show up on diary pages from time to time. And panty jokes give way to Sachiko strips later on, which is a series that starts off with an old man who has a “child bride” (that is actually a child) and develops into jokes about the young girl, who devolves into a baby, taking care of her sister-in-law and stepdaughter after the husband runs off. These were pretty cute.
There are also a lot of strips that rely on jokes about movies and TV shows that I have never seen or heard of. Explain all you like, but those will never be funny unless you’re familiar with the source material, which isn’t really the fault of this collection or the translator. For the double whammy, frequently these strips also include a panty flash joke.
To be fair, I liked a series of strips later in the volume featured schoolgirls idolizing a boy who suffered from… well, every panel he was in had his scrotum hanging out the leg of his shorts. This is completely ignored in favor of whatever cool-guy activity he is participating in. I thought those were pretty funny. Then again, there was only two or three of them, so the joke wasn’t driven into the ground.
The fact that this was the first volume in a “How to Read Manga” series makes the footnotes questionable. They are thorough, and very informative, and this is one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen… but is this really meant for someone who knows nothing about Japanese culture? Really? Is there any irony in it at all? I thought there was some at first, but then I realized that Gloom Party was not drawn specifically for this purpose. It… it’s not the best reflection of Japanese culture. Not even the naughtier side.
Honestly, I think this is why we don’t see more four-panel gag collections in English. I wonder if something like Utsurun Desu would be this tedious if translated into English, and it makes me sad. I thought Short Cuts was pretty funny, and that makes jokes about schoolgirls for two straight volumes, but then again, that was Usamaru Furuya, and took the joke into many different contexts. This really only has a few contexts, and makes the same joke in all of them. Then again, Gloom Party appeared in… Weekly Shounen Champion, I think, which is the only magazine I would forgive for this behavior since I still have yet to figure out what the editors are thinking when okaying things for print there.
Digital Manga Publishing cranked out some truly weird things before June took over, and this is another feather for their cap early on. I like that they gave this a try, as much as I hated the panty gags after the first few pages. It’s a shame that none of it was successful, but maybe I can blame Gloom Party. If I knew nothing about manga or Japanese culture and picked this up as a “How to Read” guide, I certainly would never go back.