When Wet Moon came out in book form in February, I almost decided not to read it purely out of irritated spite, since my Twitter feed was basically full of Kaneko retweeting various compliments and excited anticipation from people who had read or were about to read the book. Seriously, Twitterers. Don’t do that. It is very, very annoying to the people who follow you. Maybe things are different in the Japanese Twitterverse (and it’s true that they are in some ways), but just enjoy the happy comments from fans all on your own and don’t feel the need to make all of your followers suffer through thousands of variations of “I just got Wet Moon. So excited to read it finally!”. It’s just basic Tweetiquette.
Fortunately, my love of Kaneko’s work, together with the very enticing cover, won out over petty spite. Although after the insane magnificence of SOIL, I really wondered what to expect and if I would be let down. Because, hey! Not everything you write is the best thing you write and maybe SOIL was it? These are things I worry about.
I shouldn’t worry. Not with someone like Kaneko, who apparently has some kind of tap out of which great ideas and interesting characters constantly flow. I looooooove the colour pages that act as the prologue. I was immediately invested: Who is the woman in the red coat? Why is the man in the trenchcoat chasing her? What’s with the scar on his head, clearly important to the story given the way the extreme close-up it gets? And then a beautiful parchment contents page overlaying a full page of our hero clutching his scar, and the moon a là Georges Méliès looming above him. Beam Comix always puts together the most beautiful books.
Kaneko’s still working with detectives in Wet Moon and still with a rookie as the main character, but this time, they’re all way back in the sixties when ties were skinny and making copies meant mimeographs! Sada is a young detective in Tatsumi, a seaside resort town that looks suspiciously like Atami. So much so that in some scenes I was sure I could pick out the apartment building I used to live in. (Fun fact: I lived in Atami for several years! And while this onsen/beach resort might be fun to visit if you are stuck in Tokyo or somewhere working all week, it is less fun to live there and see all the cavorting tourists in their yukata and bikinis when you are walking to work. It’s like they’re all taunting you with their fun.)
The detectives Sada works with are corrupt as hell and worried that the addition of young Sada will ruin everything. Because this guy is the straightest arrow. But after the (as yet) unspecified injury that gave him the scar on his head, Sada starts to change and those detectives take full advantage. This wouldn’t be Kaneko, though, if it were a straight-up story of police corruption. So naturally, the moon is oddly involved, and there are memory lapses and mysterious forces that are not revealed to us this early in the story. All we know is that Sada got that scar while chasing the woman in the red coat and that she is at the centre of something big.
And because of whatever happened that gave him that bump on the noggin, he lost the woman. She becomes something of an obsession; he needs to catch her in order to redeem himself. He mimeographs hundreds of Wanted posters in his own apartment, spends his free time going round and plastering the town with them. He is haunted. By her and whatever is going in his brain now.
Art-wise, there is some great stuff here. The titles for each chapter are amazingly sixties in an excitingly evocative way. I seriously went “Oooh!” went I got to the title page for Chapter One. It just set the tone for the story somehow. And the panelling is spot on, great use of angled panels for some scenes of drunkeness and confusion. Kaneko has such a great sense of timing, sizing his panels to increase tension or let things simmer. In Wet Moon too, he uses the full page of tiny panels to very nice effect, building up to the big escape while at the same time giving us a peek into Sada’s mind.
He also makes great use of the close-up, focussing not so much on faces, but on particular body parts or tiny squares of the big picture. He uses the close-up to tell his story so well that I wish other artists who haven’t quite mastered the technique would take notes.
And there are the many, many interesting denizens of this somewhat seedy world. Including a one-eyed showgirl with connections to the underworld, a fashionista working at a candy shop and constantly striking poses, a drug addict with a squid in his pocket, and the mayor, who has a giant tumour on the back of his neck! Which would normally be nothing to get excited about, but when I was living in Atami, I always used to go to this restaurant around the corner from where I worked, this place that was basically a leftover from the seventies (or sixties??). The food was not good and vegetarian was not a concept they really grasped, but the coffee refills were free and the place was populated by a colourful cast of regulars, including a man who always sat in the booth perpendicular to the one I always sat in who had an enormous tumour on the back of his neck. Maybe he was once the mayor of Atami??? (I probably shouldn’t take lessons on Atami history from Atsushi Kaneko.)