Yoru no Taiko: Naoto Yamakawa

Yoru no Taiko cover

Okay, okay, I know I am always talking about TCAF, but that is only because it is so much fun. And because it often keeps me so busy. Even when I am not actually interpreting for and taking care of our amazing Japanese guests, I’m getting ready to by reading their books, watching interviews with them on YouTube, randomly stalking them online, etc. Which means that a lot of the stuff I read tends to wind its way back to TCAF in some way. Especially now that we’re exhibiting at the Kaigai Manga Festa every fall. There’s actual TCAF in the spring and then Tokyo TCAF in the fall, so you can see why half of the stuff I post here mentions TCAF. Don’t hate me. Just come to the festival and it will cast its spell on you too!

And this year while interpreting for the Canadian artists and selling Canadian books and fun things (like this Kate Beaton tea towel! So adorable!) to the Japanese public, I slipped away to check out Comitia around us and see if I could find any fun doujinshi (I did and you’ll be hearing about those once the boxes of books arrive!), and get great Comitia 30th anniversary goods. Natsume Ono sake set! So adorable that I still haven’t been able to bring myself to drink any of it! I also wanted to hunt down Yumiko Shirai and some other artists who had mentioned on Twitter that they would be there. I found the other artists, but for the life of me could not spot Yumiko Shirai. Where did she go?? Was I just blind? Maybe. The program insisted she was there, as did the big map for the Comitia thirtieth anniversary anthology. So maybe my eyes were broken, because I could not find her.

But! In my staggering hunt, I found someone I love even more than Shirai, Naoto Yamakawa. I walked down to the end of one aisle, and there he was, just sitting there! It kind of made my head explode a little. Only one person was in front of his table, buying a book and getting it signed, which also made my head explode a little. He should have had one of those long, snaky lines with a Comitia volunteer standing at the end to let you know where the end even was. But no. Just one person. So I stood behind that one person to make a tiny line and peered at the arrangement of books and goods on his table. I was relieved to see a new book there, i.e., one I didn’t have, so I could buy it and get that signed, but I won’t lie: I would’ve bought another copy of a book I already owned just to get him to sign it.

And then finally, the one person was done (after asking for the usual handshake, something I never can quite figure out. Why do Japanese people seek to shake the hands of manga artists/famous people? Let me know if you know the reason why this is so predominant among Japanese fans) and it was my turn. And of course, I gushed like a teenage fangirl. Which must have been kind of startling for him. I mean, this foreigner suddenly starts babbling about how much she loves your work and will you please sign your new book for her in fluent Japanese. He looked a little disconcerted, but he was super nice and did indeed sign my book with a little drawing. And I ran back to the TCAF booth to tell everyone. And everyone was very nice and very happy for me, but no one had any idea who he was (since he is not published in English), so it was sort of a hollow moment.

Aaaaaaanyway. All that is to say, I bought Yoru no Taiko from the artist himself and he was super nice about me being super weird. That is not the only reason you should buy the book (if you read Japanese), but it is a good one. Another good one is that it is a pretty solid book. Not that I was expecting anything less, so you know, there’s my bias in case you were still wondering how I really felt about Yamakawa’s work.

Yoru’s made up of three stories, the first of which “Esper Shugyo” is the longest. The title translates as “ESP Training” and that is essentially the gist of it. Sayori is an ambitionless, friendless high school girl who wonders at how very different the life of high school girls in manga and TV is from her own. And then one day, she sees an “ESPer” on TV and that decides it for her. She is going to be an ESPer. So she trawls the Internet and digs through libraries looking for information on how to do that, but naturally she finds nothing of any value. Just as she’s wondering how on earth she can fulfill this impossible dream, she meets a woman who offers to introduce her to a master she can apprentice to.

Esper

Given that it’s ostensibly about the supernatural, I kept waiting for something supernatural to happen. And the story kept turning in new and unexpected directions that somehow pushed back at this expectation of something weird and also invited it at the same time. Yamakawa uses all his standard tools to the fullest to keep the reader on a slight edge, even in deeply mundane daily life moments. His sound effects, which always pop off the page a little as if they are actual objects themselves, so perfectly convey the frantic panic of an earthquake while his love of angled and concave panels are a great foundation for those sound effects, increasing the sense of total disorientation.

earthquake

The second story is an adaptation of “Bartleby the Scrivener” while the third story, the titular “Yoru no Taiko”, is a bit more grounded, at least at first, and more reminiscent of his earlier work with Kohi mo Ippai, given that the bulk of the story revolves around a cafe and an unusual encounter. “Bartleby” reminded me of Naoyuki Ii’s insightful essay from Monkey Business 3, making me see Yamakawa’s Bartleby from more of that Japanese salaryman perspective. Yamakawa’s busy lines and paneling strangely complement this perspective, surrounding the blank Bartleby with the frantic pace of modern life. After this and his adaptations of Akutagawa’s stories in his biography Chokodoshujin, I really hope he does more adaptations of literary works. He really seems to be able to get to the heart of the story and bring new insight to it in manga form.

Bartleby

“Yoru no Taiko” is, for the most part, a sweet, mellow story that keeps skewed panels and perspectives to a minimum. Which is basically perfect for this kind of boy meets girl story. Every time I read new work by Yamakawa, I’m impressed by how he manages to retain his own very defined style and yet grow and push into new/different modes of expression, expertly putting to page the stories in his head. I love getting this long view of an artist’s career, watching them mature into their own unique voices and then keep pushing to further hone those voices. It’s like auteur theory from cinema, only I don’t have to wait as long to get new works from Japanese manga artists.     

Yoru no Taiko

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