July 14, 2013
Suehiro Maruo – Last Gasp – 2013 – 1 volume
Here’s a new release for you! I read this as soon as it arrived in the mail. I’ve been waiting on this for years. I love Suehiro Maruo’s art, so I was thrilled to get a chance to read some of his work that was less than 20 years old. It’s so rare we see his stuff in English.
This was a departure from the other work I’d read by him. It starts off (predictably, in about 1920) with a novelist named Hitomi who is failing badly at his career. He dreams of bigger and better things, and has trouble conveying his visions in novel format. He soon gets news that his wealthy friend from childhood, Genzaburo, has suddenly passed away. The two were always very close, but more importantly, they also looked identical. Hitomi concocts a “miracle” where Genzaburo comes back to life and he steps into his shoes. Not for a terribly sinister purpose, as you might imagine from that situation, but because he wants to use Genzaburo’s vast wealth to construct a pleasure island the likes of which the world has never seen. He pulls off the deception perfectly, save for Genzaburo’s wife, whom he later dedicates the island to.
And… that’s about it. It’s a very simple story, with a very simple progression. It has a slightly creepy vibe throughout the beginning, but nothing ever comes of that. Compared to Maruo’s other work, Hitomi’s deception is child’s play, and not much sinister happens in this book save for a quiet murder towards the end (well, and the very last thing that happens, which is a little gross, but nowhere near the levels you’d find in Maruo’s other books). Hitomi’s quest for wealth doesn’t come across as very greedy at all, since it isn’t the wealth he wants so much as it is the means to make his dream come true.
The best thing about this book, however, is the artwork, as you might imagine. Maruo’s sequential artwork has gotten much better, and this book is also a good entry point for people who want to check him out, but were to grossed out by the other books available (as you should be, as Ultra Gash Inferno is horrifying). While the story is a bit bland and feels like it never takes off, the real payoff in this book is seeing Hitomi’s island. It’s lushly illustrated and ingeniously laid out. I can’t describe to you how wonderful this island actually is. Landscapes that wind up and around, visual illusions that make things seem much more vast and monumental than they really are. An underwater glass tunnel that magnifies sea life and has an ama diver to frolic with them. Past that is amazing sculpture gardens, which are sometimes sculpted and sometimes people posing. He uses several real sculptures that Hitomi has reproduced on the island, and they are amazing. There are mechanical gardens, vast fields, towering staircases, and just about every kind of luxury you can imagine. It’s an adult playground, although there’s only one panel’s worth of the orgy you might be expecting, and that only happens when things unravel at the end. Hitomi explains the island can look limitless because of the panorama visual effect, and goes on to describe the history of the panorama, a popular kind of sideshow exhibit from the late 19th and eary 20th century. From above, the island looks like a flower. When Maruo draws all this, you will believe it possible. It is beyond amazing to look at.
And as bland as the narrative is, one of my favorite things about this book is that Hitomi and the book itself starts off looking bland and boring, and the art gets more detailed and extravagant the further into the book you get.
Strange ending, though. An unexpected appearance from Rampo Edogawa’s detective Kogoro Akechi at the end felt wrong, and the ending was rushed through for some reason. Possibly because it didn’t have anyplace else to go. But Maruo did what he wanted to do, which was to draw the Panorama Island.
And that, my friends, is well worth the price of admission into this (very nice hardcover!) book. It was worth the wait. I hope this does well, and we can see more of this somewhat mild Maruo work in English.