It is no secret that I love Shinichi Hoshi, even while I accept that his work may pose some fodder for difficult thought. (O ladies, where are you?) But I realize we cannot hold people of the past to the standards of the now, so I try not to let the blatant sexism of latter-day Hoshi ruin the delight of his tiny stories full of big ideas. (This is similar to the way I have read pretty much everything Robert Heinlein, by the way.) Hoshi’s short shorts are so magical and surprising. I love that there was a publishing industry in this world that was willing to just publish whatever he dreamed up, even if I don’t love the balance of ladies in them: space dog circus diplomacy, sneezes of bees (and those words don’t come close to rhyming in Japanese, eliminating one obvious source for that idea), whatever.
And these tiny stories of his really lend themselves to adaptation in pretty much any form. His prose is always slightly dispassionate, peeking in from a distance, and pared down to the truly necessary basics, leaving plenty of room for the interpretive eye of another artist. So I’m not surprised that someone decided to adapt them into manga; I’m just surprised I hadn’t heard anything about it. And it’s not just this one manga collection—it’s a whole series of manga adaptations of Hoshi’s work. And I only discovered that any of them at all exist because my honto.jp account was all, hey, you might be interested in this. And I was!
At first, I didn’t realize that the book was a collection of Hoshi stories. I figured it was just a regular anthology featuring Brain favourite Yumiko Shirai and up-and-comer Tsuchika Nishimura. Which was more than enough for me to order the volume and see what shook out. It was only when the book arrived and I took a closer look at the cover that I realized that the whole book is adaptations of Hoshi stories, and my interest in devouring it doubled. I haven’t read a lot of the stories these are based on, which is probably not surprising, given that Hoshi wrote over a thousand pieces (according to this collection), but I have read a couple of them before, including Tsuchika Nishimura’s piece, “Motenashi” (Hospitality).
To be honest, I expected a little more from Nishimura. This is pretty much a straightforward retelling, with little added interpretation from Nishimura. A young man down on his luck in pretty much all way is treated to drinks at a bar where he is drowning his sorrows. The man who treats him to those drinks makes a strange offer: wouldn’t he like to have fun every day, drink all he wants and just enjoy himself? Perhaps he would like to be Burugi? The young man doesn’t really question what Burugi is; he just wants to stop worrying about all the things in his life that aren’t going well. Once he pins to his chest the Burugi badge the older man gives him, he finds himself the recipient of amazingly good luck. Total strangers buy him drinks, food, plane tickets to other countries where he is wined and dined by strangers. And all of them act as though it is the greatest honor to be able to do such things for him. And of course, there is a price.
Nishimura has such an interesting take on the world, I honestly expected something more than a literal recreation of the text. It’s not that it’s a bad recreation; Nishimura’s art is always interesting, at least, the flat textures reminiscent of the Nishiokas. More interesting, though, was Shiho Suzuki’s “Hana to Himitsu” (A Flower and a Secret). Little Hanako loves flowers, and she dreams up a system where moles go around underground taking care of the flowers. The drawing she makes of this miraculously makes it to a top-secret research island of a certain country. Naturally, in true Hoshi fashion, all details of this mysterious facility are stripped away, together with anything resembling bureaucracy, so that when Hanako’s drawing arrives on their shores, they assume it’s an official order from the mainland and get to work on making moles that will take care of plants from below ground.
Suzuki’s style is sparse and retro, often a few tiny panels set in the center of pages with characters possessed of circles with thumb markers rather than hand-like protrusions at the end of their arms. It all works perfectly, with the story, the style, the era the story was written in.
In addition to the stories themselves, we get little notes from each of the authors, offering up their thinking behind their story choice/execution. Unsurprisingly, Yumiko Shirai, she of the delightfully farfetched science fiction, has been a fan of Hoshi’s work since she was in junior high. And her story is definitely one of my favourites in the collection, not just because she did it, but because it is also one of my favourites by Hoshi. “Hitotsu no Sochi” (A Single Device) is created by a certain scientist—at great expense to himself, both financially and in terms of his career—because the device is what the world needs. But the device, made of the strongest, most durable materials, does nothing but pull the button on its chest out when someone pushes it in. Shirai has clearly thought about the story a lot and imbues it with a melancholy that wasn’t quite there in the original.
One story I haven’t read that I’m very curious about is “Neratta Kinko”, adapted here by Masakazu Ishiguro. Two thieves break into a prominent scientist’s laboratory with the aim of stealing his new invention, which is bound to be extremely profitable. Although the story is, of course, quite good, what makes me want to compare adaptation and original is the fact that here, the two main characters are women. Is this the only one of the stories where the artist felt at liberty to play around with things? Hoshi’s stories are told in such a distanced voice that it seems like it would be a natural choice to flip gender and play with the originals in that way, but Ishiguro’s rendering seems to be the only one making such choices.
And I know only too well that a cover in Japan is more about faithfully reproducing the original than it is about adding one’s own personality. But I feel like Hoshi is one place where adding one’s own personality could be forgiven and even welcomed. I wish the artists or the editors had felt more comfortable venturing a little further from the barebones laid down by Hoshi.