Genesis: Sumireko Hoshizono

I know I can (and very often do!) order books from Japan and get my Japanese reading fix, but it is kind of like going to a bookstore vs picking something up on Amazon. Ordering stuff means knowing the titles that I want and getting exactly those, while being in bookstores means I can noodle about, pick up things I’ve never heard of and maybe find someone new to love. Both have their place, of course (I actually got a shipment from my favourite online bookstore this morning), but when it comes to random encounters, nothing is better than the casual noodle of an unfamiliar bookstore.

The books ordered and delivered this morning were all things I knew the names of, books I needed for work and didn’t want to lug home from the bookstore. But my love affair with bookstores has given me some happy treats, just because I spent the time in the shop pulling books I’d never heard of off the shelves. So in answer to everyone who thinks it’s fine that physical bookstores are going out of business all over the place: sure, we can still get books, but our ability to discover new things is going to be severely limited. So, you know, go to the bookstore already.

I want to be able to discover new things. I am always checking in with friends and acquaintances about what they are reading in the hopes of discovering something new to love. But really, the best way is to just go to the bookstore and hold things in your hands. One of those things will just feel right and then you can take it home and love it the way it deserves. (Wow. That sounds way pervy-er than any post about books has a right to be.)

I live in Nakano right now, in a very convenient furnished apartment allowing me easy access to that mecca of manga, Mandarake. But Manadarake is no island, sharing the Nakano Sun Mall building with so many other shops as it does. And one of those shops is the indie-oriented Taco Che. Which is where I happened upon Sumireko Hoshizono. (And that is basically the most longwinded introduction to a book ever?)

Taco Che is a place you should visit if you read Japanese and want to find stuff you never knew existed, but that you would totally fall in love with if you came across it. I’m pretty sure that’s the store’s motto. I also picked up signed copies of a couple of Akino Kondoh’s books, so you know I am in heaven over here in my tiny, tiny, easy-to-clean apartment. And Sumiroko Hoshizono is someone that I should have already been aware  of, being published as she is in Ax, that alt manga heaven.

As soon as I finished Genesis, I was online trying to find out if she had any other books or anything else I could read. Because holy smokes! There is so much going on here that I love. First off, obvious to anyone who is keeping track of the kind of drawing I like, is the hard, firm and so distinct lines that Hoshizono uses. I could drown in her lines. And there is a real connection with Naoto Yamakawa and his obsessive, compulsive page-filling detail. In the same way that he shies away from shading in favour of crosshatching and other painstaking detail, Hoshizono fills her pages with thick lines and careful darkness. There is a lot of ink in this book.

Content-wise, though, she is worlds away from Yamakawa. Yamakawa’s stories wander around the every day featuring the every man, but Hoshizono tends to focus on the terrible things that happen to women. The really terrible, awful things that happen to women in the minds of serious misogynists and serial killers. The first story “Picnic at Mount Fuji” has a group of uniformed schoolgirls horribly strangled by nature, after a few pages of innocent frolicking. In “Tower”, a group of girls are held hostage by a madman, with nooses around their necks, tightened at random by some working of the gears in the titular tower in a sadistic game. The colouring book style pages of “Girl Colouring Book” have said girl accidentally jumping off a cliff.

All of these girls, though, have the same face. For real. Hair styles differ, but the faces are the same. Which is an interesting stylistic choice. And one which makes me wonder if that is the only face she can really manage or if the sameness confers extra meaning. I tend to think it’s the latter, especially given that the protagonist also has the same name (and hence, is likely the same character) in several of the stories. But I would really like to see some other work from her where all the ladies did not have the same face. You know, because I like to compare.

But either way, I devoured this thing. I love the way she juxtaposes Japanese junior high school girls with the Bible and other Western themes and stories. There is so much religion in this book, but in a way that sort of highlights the ridiculousness of the entire adventure. Like in final story “Genesis”, where a girl gets sucked through the bathtub drain and finds herself surrounded by animals with her face. She leads the animals onto an ark right before the torrential downpour of the floods, only to find herself face to face with the original ark. Which she sinks of course. It is that kind of book.

(As always in the scannerless Japan days, forgive the poor image quality.)


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