Another delightful book shoved into my hands by The Beguiling. They are so good to me. And Nantonaku Pinpin taught me so much. For instance, I learned that trousers can stretch in unexpected ways to accommodate sudden extra flesh. Yes, it is that kind of book.
I had never heard of Ebisu before, which shows just how much I don’t know about alt-manga and the history thereof (or about Japanese film and TV, Ebisu also being accomplished in both). A quick search shows that he gets a few pages in Fredrick Schodt’s Dreamland Japan (a book which has shamefully remained unread by me, despite having been on my reading list for years), and there are pages and pages of info on him in both English and Japanese. I’m glad to be pulling myself out of the ignorance quagmire with Nantonaku, though, and have no trouble seeing just why this artist has garnered so much critical attention.
The first story in this collection of fourteen starts with a man in a suit running on a desolate road, reciting a list of complaints about modern society, passing Mount Fuji and a UFO on his way to a stand of skyscrapers. He encounters a naked woman in heels, the skyscrapers erupt like a volcano, and we head in to a close-up of the woman being shot into the air by the farts coming out of her ass. Which sounds totally crazeballs and it is. But in an intriguing way. I liked the social commentary I saw in the litany of modern ills, combined with a complete departure from reality. I’m not afraid to embrace the nonsensical.
But it did make me wary going forward, mostly because of the use of the female character as a tool for the male protagonist. And the second story, which focuses on a man who comes to rape a woman who is “good at getting raped”, only intensified that wariness. So much so that I really wondered if I wanted to keep reading. Because although I do enjoy the style of the book, and the nonsensical aspects combined with critiques of social mores, I have a real problem with manfiction these days. I’m just tired of reading things where ladies are nothing more than props, especially when they are props in their own destruction.
The lady in the story in question was not necessarily a prop, though, as worrisome as the title was, and the appearance of yet another UFO and the ridiculous details of the story (like the fact that the woman in question paints her vagina with butter, keeps a handiwipe behind her ear and gives her rapist two thousand yen without fail), plus the fact that the book was published in 1983, when I’m sure Japan was even more sexist than it is now, made me give the third story a try. A sort of tiebreaker.
Then I laughed out loud and the book was won. The third story, “The Worst Sex Ever”, is a hilarious encounter between a man and a woman (married to different people) who decide to have the most awkward affair. So awkward! And the more I read, the more I saw Ebisu’s focus on themes like the rigidness of Japanese society and his disdain for the world of salarymen and the modern focus on money and consumerism.
So I kept reading, delighting in Ebisu’s heta-uma style (and the previously mentioned search turned up the claim that he was inspired by King Terry, so I guess he is a direct descendant of the original heta-uma). At times, the art reminded me of something a junior high school boy would draw in a textbook (mostly in the older stories), but I was often struck by how his salarymen with their cheekbones nothing but slashes on their faces were so similar to the costuming and make-up on sketch comedy shows like Warau Inu (Oh, Handsome Samurai! I miss you!) and its bold black lines drawn all over the actors’ faces. It’s almost as if the lines are enough to prompt the reader to fill in the details for themselves.
Which is not to say that Ebisu is not detailed. He fills in the panels when the story needs it, towns, desk, houses, knick knacks. But he lets his characters stay in a kind of every-man land to great effect, in stories like “Jigoku no Salaryman Part 2” (Hell’s Salarymen) in particular. (There is no Part 1.) As the sales people (sweaty, sweaty, sweaty people like so many of Ebisu’s characters are) while away the day gambling, the salarymen are locked in a cage for eight hours each day. Not some kind of metaphoric soul prison, but an actual cage. Upon hearing that they will have to “work” overtime that day, the salarymen riot and break down the wall of their prison. But only because the overtime is only until eight instead of nine, which means that they won’t get supper. After busting out, they flood the streets, waving their hands and stepping forward delicately in a way that is reminiscent of Bon Odori, the dance done at the summer festival of the dead. But the song they sing as they dance insists that the status quo is fine as is and there is no need for anything to change.
The thing that completely won me over, though, was “Kinjirareta Asobi” (The Forbidden Game). A couple are walking along with their son when they come across a toy store. The kid begs to stop and look, and the parents agree. And then they hide from the kid. When the kid turns around and finds his parents gone, he starts calling out for them and running around crying. The parents hide behind buildings and pillars as they follow their son, giggling the whole time. And yes, this is something that I would do if I had kids. Which is why I guess it is a good thing I don’t have kids.