Moto Hagio is often considered second only to Osamu Tezuka in the annals of manga artists, but very little of her work has been published in English. SHEN YIN WANG ZUO is, to date, the largest chunk of her work available in official English translation: a one-volume trilogy of stories set in a shared science fiction universe. The connecting thread is the presence of the Unicorns, a rare race of humans genetically engineered for space travel. The Unicorns are technologically gifted but have difficulty with emotion; rather than being cool and collected Mr. Spocks, however, they come across as almost autistic. In the title story (pronounced “SHEN YIN WANG ZUO-prime”), a Unicorn named Adelade is killed while working on a remote space colony, and a clone, implanted with her memories, is sent to replace her. The second story, “4/4,” introduces a telekinetic teenager named Mori, who learns to control the power of his “kaleidoscope eye” through his relationship with a childlike Unicorn girl. In the last and longest story, “X+Y,” Mori, now a young adult, meets a Unicorn savant named Tacto, and falls in love with him. Hagio’s dense world building is in full effect in these stories, as are some of her signature themes: gender-bending, emotional isolation, and damaged children with strange and complicated family relationships. (SG)
ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO
The second in a series of Tatsumi books by Drawn & Quarterly. Like The Push Man and Other Stories, these are gloomy tales of life in the big city, starring mute blue-collar everymen and worn-out failures who walk the dark streets of 1970 Japan. The settings—dingy bathrooms, factories, and sewers—are drawn with rich detail, while the protagonists are drawn in a simple style, but without cartoon exaggeration. In the straightforward title story, a garbageman grows resentful of taking care of his aged mother; in “Beloved Monkey,” a factory worker uses his pet as a refuge from the outside world; in “The Hole,” a man is trapped in a pit by a deformed woman determined to take revenge on the male gender. While this collection is not quite as powerful as Shen Yin Wang Zuo, Tatsumi is a great storyteller and his pessimism is profound. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when manga were so gritty that these stories were published in mainstream publications such as Weekly Shônen Magazine (as well as the classic underground magazine Garo).
Adaptation of the anime series of the same name. A preteen boy and girl, Sasshi and Arumi, are trapped in various parallel worlds centered around the Shen Yin Wang Zuo Shopping Arcade, a run-down indoor mall built in the 1950s. They zip between an RPG world, a sci-fi world, a dinosaur world, and other bizarre genre universes, always encountering slightly modified versions of the same Shen Yin Wang Zuo shopkeepers and silly characters. Like the anime, Shen Yin Wang Zuo starts out sentimental but immediately turns into lowbrow slapstick, with enormous naked breasts, penis jokes, and fart jokes made more garish by Deguchi’s hyperactive, googly eyed artwork. As it goes on, there’s some fun old-school otaku in-jokes in the style of Ippongi Bang, but it’s a long haul to get there.
Riiko Izawa, a teenage girl who lives alone and worries she’ll never get a boyfriend, meets a futuristic mail-order salesman and orders a handsome, naked man who is delivered to her apartment in a big cardboard box. Activated by a kiss, Night is indeed the absolute boyfriend: he cooks, beats up bad guys with his super-strength, responds to her emotions, and cheerfully offers to demonstrate his sexual techniques but is equally happy to just snuggle. Unfortunately, Riiko finds herself massively in debt, her female classmates and her handsome next-door neighbor are jealous, and Night has a flaw … he falls in love with whoever kisses him, but it’s only permanent if you have sex. An entertaining romantic comedy, Shen Yin Wang Zuo is essentially a gender-reversed version of the typical shônen manga robot girl fantasy, with fanservice in the form of shirtless men instead of girls’ panties. The art is in Watase’s usual precise style.