Review: Boku-tachi ga Yarimashita, by Muneyuki Kaneshiro

Four stars.

The title of this manga series translates to “We Did It.” It follows a group of three hapless highschoolers who happen to attend a high school right across the one that houses the worst youth gang in town. Students from the first high school are routinely tormented by thugs, but weak as they are, they have no choice but to stew in their rage and frustration.

These highschoolers are forced for whatever reason to spend most of their afternoons doing after-school activities, which in their case translates to playing around in a shipping-container-like space on the roof. They are always joined by a graduated older student that although he has been warned by teachers to stay away from the school, he doesn’t have anything else going on. Because he happens to be rich thanks to his absent father, and eager to buy friendships through spending that money, the main trio of highschoolers enjoy fucking around doing more or less expensive activities that this paisen (how they call him; a looser way of saying senpai) bankrolls.

One afternoon, as the protagonist and one of his friends are leaving the school, his pal (who ends up becoming the most obnoxious character in the story), shouts at the thugs gathered outside the opposite high school that they should all die. This guy tried to make sure that he didn’t shout loud enough, but unfortunately for every main character, some of the worst thugs were hanging out close by, behind the duo.

Later, these gang members attempt to kidnap the protagonist for being associated with his friend, but he gets saved by his romantic interest. The thugs do manage to kidnap the guy who wished them to die. They bring him to their hideout, and force him under threat of torture to fight another hapless student they had kidnapped. In the end they beat the protagonist’s friend unconscious, then send him back to his friends in a cardboard box.

The main group, including the rich graduated guy who buys their friendship, is infuriated. But the rich guy has a plan to get back at the high school across the street and its delinquent students: he has procured some explosives that are bound to give them a good scare. At night, clad in animal masks, they break into the opposite school and plant the explosives.

On the next school day, the main group gathers on the roof as they set up the detonators. The thugs that assailed them, as well as a couple hundred of other students, are present as our guys cheerfully blow up the explosives.

Turns out that detonating explosives in a school has concerning consequences for our main characters: one of the explosives blows up the propane tanks, and they witness how ten students or so burn to death. Others are injured to extents that will ruin their lives.

Their stunt got recorded. Some of their teachers and people in their life suspect them. They point fingers their way. The leader of those thugs survived despite his injuries, and is looking to murder the main guys. After their graduated benefactor gets arrested and charged with mass murder, the trio of high schoolers decides to flee. What follows is an anxiety-inducing tale in which the main trio’s friendship will get tested, and they’ll learn to navigate a hostile world that will force them to make some troublesome concessions to survive.

It’s a well-plotted story with plenty of twists and turns, and that in general reminded me of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: the four characters involved are eaten up to different extents by guilt due to the crime they committed. The protagonist wonders if he has any right to be happy when he was responsible for ruining so many people’s lives. A moment summarizes this grim manga for me: when a person stalks the protagonist to murder him, the protagonist is overjoyed that someone is about to free him from the guilt and the regret; he gets on his knees, rips open his shirt, and begs the would-be murderer to stab his heart. The would-be murdered gets freaked out and runs away.

My favorite character ended up being the rich older guy. He’s the ugly sort without prospects other than being rich because his absent father keeps sending him money. One of the most interesting sequences of the story involved this guy trying to track down his father to figure out if the old man loved him, with devastating results for his sanity.

Most of the first act of this story annoyed me. The author was trying to set up the main group as carefree, spending their time in silly activities that pictured them as empty-headed idiots. It was mostly done to sell as believable that they wouldn’t contemplate the consequences of planting explosives in a high school, but until then they annoyed me enough that I considered dropping the story. However, it became a compelling tale worth the effort.

Review: Stella Maris, by Cormac McCarthy

Four and a half stars.

This book is the companion piece to McCarthy’s latest (and likely last) novel The Passenger (link goes to the review I wrote of it). Stella Maris consists entirely of fictional transcripts of therapy sessions set somewhere in Wisconsin during the early seventies. No narrative prose of any kind.

According to the ratings, most people, including me, seem to have found this book more compelling than The Passenger, and it’s mainly due to the patient involved: Alicia, the fabled sister of the other book’s protagonist; in that narrative, his sister has been dead for about ten years. Alicia is extremely intelligent, a synesthete, a math genius. Since puberty, she has been receiving the visits of strange people that may or may not exist. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and autism by different psychiatrists. She’s hopelessly in love with her brother, who during the period recorded in this book is considered brain dead as he lies in a coma after a car crash. Alicia also wishes she had never been born and is currently planning to kill herself, a fact that her therapist suspects but didn’t manage to prevent.

In my review of The Passenger, I blasted Alicia’s brother, named Bobby, for gallivanting around the world instead of being there for her unique, hopelessly vulnerable sister who loved him. I have no clue how I missed in that other book that he had ended up in a coma; if Alicia hadn’t considered him brain dead, as the Italian doctors who tended to him assured her, she wouldn’t have returned to the States and committed herself to a sanitarium, from which she wandered into the cold of the woods to die. However, Bobby did decide to spend his inheritance on a Formula One car, which he eventually crashed. So Alicia’s fate is still mostly on you, buddy.

Alicia is one of those people who are born too different, too strange, and intelligent enough to know it. She never belonged anywhere. She worked tirelessly to make it as a mathematician, but although she managed to attend college as a teen, she never presented her thesis: her probing of the fringes of mathematics had led her to question the discipline itself. Her mind forced her to contemplate the limits of reality on a daily basis, and she was tormented by the lack of answers.

Despite her clichéd name and a couple of points she made that I found dubious (I won’t specify, because I don’t want people to annoy me about them), I found Alicia enthralling. She was the first fictional character in a long time with whom I would love to talk on a regular basis, and whose death hurts for real. There’s a part in which she describes that after returning from Italy she travelled to Lake Tahoe with the intention of rowing away from the shore, attaching a weight to herself and sinking to the depths. Her mind-simulation of how that would play out made me physically ill not only because of the extreme detail, but because I wanted her to keep living.

I don’t know if I would recommend such a book to anyone; I suspect that McCarthy wrote these therapy sessions as character work to understand such a complex character, but that he eventually realized he had achieved something important, so he polished it for publication. In any case, if you are the right person for this book, its blurb alone should convince you to read it.

Here are the quotes I highlighted:

The world has created no living thing that it does not intend to destroy.

Nobody comes with names. You give them names so that you can find them in the dark.

That there is little joy in the world is not just a view of things. Every benevolence is suspect. You finally figure out that the world does not have you in mind. It never did.

We’re here on a need-to-know basis. There is no machinery in evolution for informing us of the existence of phenomena that do not affect our survival. What is here that we dont know about we dont know about.

If a psychosis was just some synapses misfiring why wouldnt you simply get static? But you dont. You get a carefully crafted and fairly articulate world never seen before. Who’s doing this? Who is it who is running around hooking up the dangling wires in new and unusual ways. Why is he doing it? What is the algorithm he follows? Why do we suspect there is one?

Sites that have been host to extraordinary suffering will eventually be either burned to the ground or turned into temples.

The simplest undertaking is predicated upon a future that has no warrant.

People are interested in other people. But your unconscious is not. Or only as they might directly affect you. It’s been hired to do a very specific job. It never sleeps. It’s more faithful than God.

If you have a patient with a condition that’s not understood why not ascribe it to a disorder that is also not understood? Autism occurs in males more than it does in females. So does higher order mathematical intuition. We think: What is this about? Dont know. What is at the heart of it? Dont know. All I can tell you is that I like numbers. I like their shapes and their colors and their smells and the way they taste. And I dont like to take people’s word for things.

There’s data in the world available only to those who have reached a certain level of wretchedness. You dont know what’s down there if you havent been down there.

There seems to be a ceiling to well-being. My guess is that you can only be so happy. While there seems to be no floor to sorrow. Each deeper misery being a state heretofore unimagined. Each suggestive of worse to come.

Animals might whimper if they’re hungry or cold. But they dont start screaming. It’s a bad idea. The more noise you make the more likely you are to be eaten. If you’ve no way to escape you keep silent. If birds couldnt fly they wouldnt sing. When you’re defenseless you keep your opinions to yourself.

The rage of children seemed inexplicable other than as a breach of some deep and innate covenant having to do with how the world should be and wasnt.

Rage is only for what you believe can be fixed. All the rest is grief.

[The unconscious has] been on its own for a long time. Of course it has no access to the world except through your own sensorium. Otherwise it would just labor in the dark. Like your liver. For historical reasons it’s loath to speak to you. It prefers drama, metaphor, pictures. But it understands you very well. And it has no other cause save yours.

If the world itself is a horror then there is nothing to fix and the only thing you could be protected from would be the contemplation of it.

The void has no stake in the world’s continuing existence. It’s home as well to countless millions of meteorites. Some of them enormous. Trundling across the blackness at forty miles a second. I think if there were anything to care it would have cared by now.

Leonardo cant be explained. Or Newton, or Shakespeare. Or endless others. Well. Probably not endless. But at least we know their names. But unless you’re willing to concede that God invented the violin there is a figure who will never be known. A small man who went with his son into the stunted forests of the little iceage of fifteenth century Italy and sawed and split the maple trees and put the flitches to dry for seven years and then stood in the slant light of his shop one morning and said a brief prayer of thanks to his creator and then–knowing this perfect thing–took up his tools and turned to its construction. Saying now we begin.

The dream wakes us to tell us to remember. Maybe there’s nothing to be done. Maybe the question is whether the terror is a warning about the world or about ourselves. The night world from which you are brought upright in your bed gasping and sweating. Are you waking from something you have seen or from something that you are?

What seems inconsequential to us by reason of usage is in fact the founding notion of civilization. Language, art, mathematics, everything. Ultimately the world itself and all in it.

[My brother and I,] We were like the last on earth. We could choose to join the beliefs and practices of the millions of dead beneath our feet or we could begin again. Did he really have to think about it? Why should I have no one? Why should he? I told him that I’d no way even to know if there was justice in my heart if I had no one to love and love me. You cannot credit yourself with a truth that has no resonance. Where is the reflection of your worth? And who will speak for you when you are dead?

Those who choose a love that can never be fulfilled will be hounded by a rage that can never be extinguished.

What is the inner life of an eidolon? Do his thoughts and his questions originate with him? Do mine with me? Is he my creature? Am I his? I saw how he made do with his paddles and that he was ashamed for me to see. His turn of speech, his endless pacing. Was that my work? I’ve no such talent. I cant answer your questions. The tradition of trolls or demons standing sentinel against inquiry must be as old as language. Still, maybe a friend must be someone you can touch. I dont know. I no longer have an opinion about reality. I used to. Now I dont. The first rule of the world is that everything vanishes forever. To the extent that you refuse to accept that then you are living in a fantasy.

Sometimes in the winter in the dark I’d wake and everything that smacked of dread would have lifted up and stolen away in the night and I would just be lying there with the snow blowing against the glass. I’d think that maybe I should turn on the lamp but then I’d just lie there and listen to the quiet. The wind in the quiet. There are times now when I see those patients in their soiled nightshirts lying on gurneys in the hallway with their faces to the wall that I ask myself what humanity means. I would ask does it include me.

The arrival of language was like the invasion of a parasitic system. Co-opting those areas of the brain that were the least dedicated. The most susceptible to appropriation.

The unconscious system of guidance is millions of years old, speech less than a hundred thousand. The brain had no idea any of this was coming. The unconscious must have had to do all sorts of scrambling around to accommodate a system that proved perfectly relentless. Not only it is comparable to a parasitic invasion, it’s not comparable to anything else.

There were times I’d see [my brother] looking at me and I would leave the room crying. I knew that I’d never be loved like that again. I just thought that we would always be together. I know you think I should have seen that as more aberrant than I did, but my life is not like yours. My hour. My day. I used to dream about our first time together. I do yet. I wanted to be revered. I wanted to be entered like a cathedral.

It’s certainly possible that the imaginary is best. Like a painting of some idyllic landscape. The place you would most like to be. That you never will.

Review: Yogen no Nayuta, by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Tatsuki Fujimoto, chainsaw dude and master of levitation, who got banned from Twitter recently for impersonating his little sister, has become my fourth horseman of the Apocalypse after Inio Asano (Oyasumi Punpun, Solanin), Shūzō Oshimi (The Flowers of Evil, Inside Mari, Happiness, Blood on the Tracks), and Minoru Furuya (Buko to Issho, Wanitokagegisu, Himizu, Ciguatera, Saltiness). I loved Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man and I’m having a blast with the anime adaptation, but I don’t dare to get into his Fire Punch yet, so I’m going through his one-shots.

So yes, this Yogen no Nayuta is one of his short stories. In an alternate Earth where magic is real but not particularly powerful, some prophecy prophesized that a horned baby would be born and she would be the harbinger of the end of the world. This Nayuta girl is born with horns, which rip her mother apart on the way out. Her remaining family are aware of the prophecy. Her father gets killed shortly after for being responsible for this abomination, so only Nayuta’s brother remains to take care of her. Although her brother suspects that she may indeed bring forth the Apocalypse, because she keeps murdering animals for no apparent reason and her attempts at verbal communication are solely composed of ominous words, he’s her big brother, damn it, so he’ll take care of his precious imouto.

If this one-shot is making any point at all, it may be that even if you were born to bring forth the Apocalypse, as long as someone loves you enough, perhaps you’ll be able to channel your homicidal instincts into some activities that don’t involve mass murder. I suppose that’s as good a point as any other.

Curiously, Fujimoto reused this Nayuta girl, but hornless, in Chainsaw Man, although I can’t say in which way because it would be a massive spoiler.

Four stars for this one.

Review: The Passenger, by Cormac McCarthy

Four stars.

Cormac McCarthy is the old man who wrote No Country for Old Men. He also wrote some other stuff. His Blood Meridian remains the best written book that I have ever read, and in general I don’t think there is any writer that I have respected more than McCarthy.

This book I’m reviewing, as well as the accompanying novella Stella Maris (that I’ve yet to read), may be the last books that McCarthy will be able to finish; the guy is eighty-nine years old. And throughout this text I got the sense that this was an extremely lucid man, who knows that he’s not long for this world, musing about the fringes of human experience and of existence in general.

The book starts with the protagonist, who at that point is working as a salvage diver, becoming embroiled in a mystery, but that’s only an excuse to push the guy further towards the edge. We are presented with dialogues about seemingly disparate stuff such as the Vietnam war, the conspiracy that killed the Kennedys, quantum mechanics, schizophrenic hallucinations, the depths of bodies of water, life on an offshore platform, etc.; the extremes where darkness reigns, where our ability as human beings to come to terms with anything becomes muddy. And I’m guessing that McCarthy chose to delve into these topics because he’s about to face the greatest darkness himself. I don’t know if I’d prefer to be so lucid when/if I grow that old.

The story follows a man for whom life stopped ten years ago, when his little sister, the love of his life, killed herself. We find this out in the first few pages, if I recall correctly. The young woman, clichédly named Alicia, was a haunting beauty and the kind of anomaly that makes you feel a hole in the world when she’s gone, whether or not you were involved in an incestual relationship with her: besides being a striking beauty (and beauty disappearing from the world is always a tragedy), she was a math genius who, for example, was consulted by experts at thirteen because she could determine which violin designs would sound best. Unfortunately, at puberty she started receiving visits from penny-dreadful characters who insisted on bothering her. One of them, the most insistent one, had flippers for hands. The scenes that feature them were the most un-McCarthy stuff that I’ve ever read of his, who’s usually centered on matter-of-fact matters. Suffering such detachment from reality, knowing herself so different from everyone else, this Alicia girl eventually failed to put her tremendous talents to use. She ended up in a sanitarium, from where she decided to walk off to a watery death.

[The notion that this book featured the adventures of a peculiar, sort-of-schizophrenic woman who received the visits of bizarre entities that may or not be real (we are told that the psychiatric tests that usually pinpoint schizophrenia failed on her) was what attracted me to read this book when I have been in a string of DNF-ed novels; I’m currently writing a novel that features one such character.]

McCarthy did a great job cementing this Alicia as a mythical presence in the past of the narrative. You want more glimpses of her, and you mourn the loss of her peculiarities. Like the protagonist, you wish to retain her exact words and come to figure out how her mind worked. I guess that Stella Maris, which is focused on Alicia’s experiences in the sanitarium, will prolong that appeal. This character in general, and the protagonist’s mourning of her, made me wonder if McCarthy based the grief on a real person.

Anyway, our protagonist failed to protect his little sister, who had frequently stated that she wanted to disappear, that she would have preferred to never have existed, and that she was doomed to kill herself. After she drowned, the protagonist thinks and/or says in a variety of ways that life no longer has any meaning now that everything that he had loved in it is gone, and yet back then he found every excuse to go gallivanting around the globe instead of being tangled in the sheets with this hot little sister of his. Although the protagonist himself wonders why the hell he wasn’t there for her, it feels more like a plot hole to me.

I liked the protagonist, and in plenty of ways I understand him; he can’t figure out why he even bothers to keep going, yet he’s supposed to care about his present circumstances and the possible consequences to come, nevermind the world around him. You shouldn’t go into this novel expecting a compelling plot or even resolutions, because in general it’s a “why oh why does anything have to be.”

The most memorable secondary character of the many that come and go was a certain John Sheddan, an eloquent, debauched acquaintance of the protagonist that shows up as if we are supposed to know him. He was probably a self-insert for the author to speak directly to the protagonist as well as to us, someone whose talks we found interesting and we’d miss once he disappeared from the world.

Apart from the characters, how about the prose? Does it reach the heights of Blood Meridian? There are long stretches of extraordinary, carefully crafted prose, and that alone is worth the price of entry, but some scenes are sparse in that regard.

McCarthy refuses to use an apostrophe for “can’t,” “don’t” and the likes. I’m fine with that, and I wouldn’t mind if its use in such contractions disappeared officially. But I regard his refusal to use quotes for dialogue as a mistake; often you can’t tell not only who’s speaking, but even if what was written was supposed to have come out of someone’s mouth. I’m all for confusing the reader when the POV character is supposed to be confused, but I think that you shouldn’t confuse your readers unnecessarily.

EDIT: now that I’ve read the companion book Stella Maris (link goes to my review of it), I have realized that during the period when Alicia committed herself to a sanitarium and afterwards killed herself, the protagonist of this novel was in a coma after a car crash. I have no idea how I missed it in this narrative. So the protagonist, who had been eluding his sister’s amorous attentions for years because he hadn’t come to terms with his own love towards her, got into a car while her sister presumably attended the race, and after he woke up from a crash-induced coma, he found out that his sister had killed herself because she believed him to be brain dead. Even worse: Alicia suggests in Stella Maris that if her brother ever died, she would die as soon as possible to find him in the dark.

During the events depicted in The Passenger, its protagonist wanders through his life aimlessly, unable to care about the future or any consequences, because nothing matters anymore after his sister died. However, having read the companion book, I don’t know how he stopped himself from walking into traffic the moment he realized what had happened to her due to his own decisions.

Here are the quotes that I highlighted on my Kindle:

Beauty makes promises that beauty cant keep.

The truth is that everyone is under arrest. Or soon will be. They dont have to restrict your movements. They just have to know where you are.

A calamity can be erased by no amount of good. It can only be erased by a worse calamity.

I know that to be female is an older thing even than to be human. I want to be as old as I can be.

People will go to strange lengths to avoid the suffering they have coming.

You think that when there’s somethin that’s got you snakebit you can just walk off and forget it. The truth is it aint even following you. It’s waitin for you. It always will be.

We might have very different notions about the nature of the oncoming night. But as darkness descends does it matter?

The world will take your life. But above all and lastly the world does not know that you are here. You think that you understand this. But you dont. Not in your heart you dont. If you did you would be terrified.

You’re a pack of mudheaded bigots who loathe excellence on principle and though one might cordially wish you all in hell still you wont go.

Real trouble doesnt begin in a society until boredom has become its most general feature. Boredom will drive even quietminded people down paths they’d never imagined.

The horrors of the past lose their edge, and in the doing they blind us to a world careening toward a darkness beyond the bitterest speculation. It’s sure to be interesting. When the onset of universal night is finally acknowledged as irreversible even the coldest cynic will be astonished at the celerity with which every rule and stricture shoring up this creaking edifice is abandoned and every aberrancy embraced. It should be quite a spectacle. However brief.

You have to believe that there is good in the world. I’m goin to say that you have to believe that the work of your hands will bring it into your life. You may be wrong, but if you dont believe that then you will not have a life.

In the spring of the year birds began to arrive on the beach from across the gulf. Weary passerines. Vireos. Kingbirds and grosbeaks. Too exhausted to move. You could pick them up out of the sand and hold them trembling in your palm. Their small hearts beating and their eyes shuttering. He walked the beach with his flashlight the whole of the night to fend away predators and toward the dawn he slept with them in the sand. That none disturb these passengers.

If imaginary beings die an imaginary death they will be dead nonetheless. You think that you can create a history of what has been. Present artifacts. A clutch of letters. A sachet in a dressingtable drawer. But that’s not what’s at the heart of the tale. The problem is that what drives the tale will not survive the tale. As the room dims and the sound of voices fades you understand that the world and all in it will soon cease to be. You believe that it will begin again. You point to other lives. But their world was never yours.

The abyss of the past into which the world is falling. Everything vanishing as if it had never been. We would hardly wish to know ourselves again as we once were and yet we mourn the days.

I don’t know what to tell you, he wrote. Much has changed and yet everything is the same. I am the same. I always will be. I’m writing because there are things that I think you would like to know. I am writing because there are things I dont want to forget. Everything is gone from my life except you. I dont even know what that means.

I’m not sure what the adaptive advantage could be to share an innate and collective misery.

I suppose in the end what we have to offer is only what we’ve lost.

The world’s truth constitutes a vision so terrifying as to beggar the prophecies of the bleakest seer who ever walked it. Once you accept that then the idea that all of this will one day be ground to powder and blown into the void becomes not a prophecy but a promise. So allow me in turn to ask you this question: When we and all our works are gone together with every memory of them and every machine in which such memory could be encoded and stored and the earth is not even a cinder, for whom then will this be a tragedy?

To prepare for any struggle is largely a work of unburdening oneself. If you carry your past into battle you are riding to your death. Austerity lifts the heart and focuses the vision. Travel light. A few ideas are enough. Every remedy for loneliness only postpones it. And that day is coming in which there will be no remedy at all.

He knew that on the day of his death he would see her face and he could hope to carry that beauty into the darkness with him, the last pagan on earth, singing softly upon his pallet in an unknown tongue.

Review: Boku to Issho, by Minoru Furuya

“Whether you’re an idiot who’s watching or an idiot who’s dancing, if you’re really an idiot, you might as well dance.”

Throughout my reading of Minoru Furuya’s Saltiness, Ciguatera, Himizu, and Wanitokagegisu (the links go to my reviews of those titles), this author became my third favorite mangaka after Inio Asano (mainly because of Oyasumi Punpun and Solanin; unfortunately the guy seems to have lost his drive since) and Shūzō Oshimi.

Furuya’s stuff tends to be similar: character-driven tales of outcasts forced to deal with bad luck and troublesome compulsions. Plenty of weird sexual stuff. Although the characters endure harrowing experiences that would have traumatized most people to the extent of ruining their lives, Furuya’s characters get used to trauma. However, the commitments between the characters tend to be equally temporary. His stories rarely include neat resolutions: unless the character in question dies, the issues that person had been struggling with throughout the story are likely to continue beyond the conclusion. The author also has a fantastic sense of the absurdity of life, so his plot points and character interactions are often unpredictable and hilarious.

This manga series I’m reviewing was made in the late nineties. A different beast to his later works, Boku to Issho is an extremely caricaturesque comedy slice-of-life. While the extreme behaviors of the characters put me off initially, as well as the author’s talent to depict ugly faces, Furuya ended up turning the caricaturesque nature of this story into an art form. It became one of the funniest series I’ve read in a long time.

The story follows two brothers (about fifteen and twelve respectively) in awful circumstances: their mother just died, and their violent stepfather booted them out. They find themselves homeless, penniless, with no talents that they can put to use. The big brother acts as a father figure to his younger sibling, but he’s lazy and delusional: although he believes that he’ll become a pro baseball player the moment he applies himself to it, he’s mainly focused in protecting his ego from the damage that testing his delusions in the real world would cause.

They quickly meet one of the other main characters of this tale: a glue-huffing orphan who makes a living by theft and petty grifting.

Later on they also get together with a pretty boy runaway teen. After the glue-huffing guy steals a cellphone, they start selling their services as gigolos. Their naïveté quickly clashes with the real world when one of their first customers turns out to be a young woman with a penchant for toy-assisted domination.

Most of the characters we meet struggle at least with their self-esteem, but often with poverty, and in some cases with compulsions and fetishes. They are rarely sure of their place in life and where they’ll be in a few years.

As mentioned, I’ve been exposed to plenty of Furuya’s works, so I already expected this story to “just end”. The author attempts some circularity, which mostly serves as the thematic point that not much in our lives gets resolved, and we’re left to figure out how to keep going.

Another winner by Minoru Furuya, as far as I’m concerned.

Review: The Last Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski

Three and a half stars.

A collection of poems from when Bukowski was an old man, and I’m talking up to his deathbed; he died of leukemia. Long gone are the grueling jobs to which he showed up hungover and that he tolerated by drinking the hours away. Long gone are the days when he returned late from work to find his apartment in a ruinous state and his seemingly interchangeable girlfriend of the day drunk and ranting. Old man Bukowski spent his last couple of decades living in peace with a probably very accommodating wife.

In a couple of poems he mentions that he’s ashamed of all the whoring and mayhem he indulged in up to his forties; he now feels like he had been controlled by an overwhelming force that even convinced him that he was in control, and that if he had known better, instead of searching for his next alcoholic girlfriend he would have spent far more time sleeping.

Some of the included poems are made of still images from Bukowski’s past as if they came randomly to his mind (you’ll recognize plenty of those moments if you’ve read his other books). Some recall how much of a fucking bastard his father was: he beat him and his wife regularly, and spent his days unreasonably angry. Some are related to how much dealing with fans and fan-adjacent people annoyed him. One mentions the gentle molestation that he suffered at the hands of a pretty female teacher of his, if “suffered” can be used given that he remarks enjoying the hardest hard-ons of any eleven-year-old kid in LA at the time. Another poem mentions that he acted like a drooling retard at school, because that way he hoped that people would leave him the fuck alone. Some despair at the state of the world and the increasingly ruinous society he found himself living in compared to how it used to be even during the Great Depression. Other poems thank the act of writing in itself for having allowed him to escape a life that felt like an unending nightmare.

Bukowski dreaded the possibility that any random person could approach him because they had read his books, and I can’t blame him: nothing anyone can say about the art you produce could approach what it means to you, and to an extent, it even devalues and banalizes it. But it went beyond that: some fans brought their entire damn families (“even the aunt”) to Bukowski’s house to introduce themselves, and later on he found out, thanks to the manuscripts he received in the mail, that those fans were aspiring writers that wanted help getting in the industry through him. Some of the fans seemed to believe that his alcoholic past (and to a much lesser extent, present) was part of a cool guy persona that Bukowski was trying to cultivate, instead of his escape from an unbearable reality. A wannabe journalist harassed him in the streets and figured out his landline number to sign him on to an obnoxious project (“I interview you and you interview me”). It all sounded infuriating.

As Charles (or Hank Chinaski, as he preferred to call himself; I’m guessing he hated being associated to his father’s last name) goes on at length in my favorite book of his, Ham on Rye, even as a child he wanted to sign off from the horrifying world he had found himself in (“I felt like sleeping for five years but they wouldn’t let me”). Only when he discovered great books, and therefore people he could respect, he found the solace he needed to endure for a bit longer. Once he figured out what writing could provide for him, he found the way to endure until the natural end of his journey.

Bukowski kept it real to the end; that’s a big part of why I’m usually up for reading his stuff even though I DNF most of the other books I come across. He didn’t write because he wanted to be famous, to make money, or to impress people; he wrote because it saved his life.

The most memorable moment for me in this collection of poems was one of the most memorable for Bukowski: he recalled a day back at his parents’ when his father must have run his mouth at someone stronger than his teenage son or his wife. Bukowski’s father was seated at the toilet, and his face was disfigured from the beating he had received. Bukowski stood at the doorway and merely stared at the son of a bitch who had fathered him. His father yelled at him something like, “What the hell are you looking at?!” Bukowski kept staring. A few seconds later, he walked away. Bukowski adds that three years after that moment, when he was sixteen, he knocked his father to the ground with a single punch. That same day he moved out, or became a drifter anyway. The moment was depicted in his novel Factotum.

Here are some fragments I highlighted (they were in poem format, but whatever):

We stop at a signal. I watch the red light. I could eat that red light–anything, anything at all to fill the void. Millions of dollars spent to create something more terrible than the actual lives of most living things; one should never have to pay an admission to hell.

[Writing] has saved my ass from the worst of women and the worst of men and the worst of jobs, it has mellowed my nightmares into a gentle sanity, it has loved me at my lowest and it has made me seem to be a greater soul than I ever was.

Young or old, good or bad, I don’t think anything dies as slow and as hard as a writer.

Review: Factotum, by Charles Bukowski

In this novel, Bukowski forces us to follow his alter ego Henry Chinaski, an alcoholic drifter whose personality can be summarized by the following quote from the book: “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

For half of the book or so, Henry travels from place to place hoping to land any job that would allow him to pursue his two goals: getting drunk and fucking women. Through the protagonist we meet curious people and we learn some intricacies, as much as he needed to know to survive there, of the jobs that Henry landed and that usually lasted him less than a week before he quit or got fired.

Henry daydreamed briefly about becoming an author, and even wrote a few pieces, but above that he hoped that some wealthy woman would take pity on him and become his sugar mommy. At some later point he also hoped to land a Japanese wife because he considered that they have the wisdom of the ages or some shit. Henry failed to luck out; the two women who made repeated appearances were 1) a barfly who, along with two female friends of hers, had a sugar daddy of their own, an aging millionaire who alternated between paying the women to receive some affection and berating them for cheating on him; 2) a woman named Jan, the female version of our debauched protagonist. She drank about as much as he did, but cheated even more. Their relationship was reduced to Henry bringing home, if they were lucky, enough money to buy food and alcohol, then fucking while drunk. Jan is present throughout most of the story, yet for Henry she barely seems to matter more than someone who is home when he returns from work.

I’m guessing that this novel is mostly autobiographical. We are presented with accounts of the protagonist’s attempts at finding a job that will last, or that at least won’t make him wander off in the middle of his shift to get drunk at the nearest bar. We go through twenty-five or so of such experiences. Even the most memorable people from those microworlds end up disappearing as if Henry had never met them, and that transience extends to his personal life. People come and go; he can only rely on the pleasure and oblivion that either a bottle or sticking his dick in someone else provide.

If Henry had cared about his future or his well-being throughout the events depicted, the story would have been a harrowing nightmare in which a broken, alienated man can’t relate to people on a human level, and can only tolerate his responsibilities for about three or four days at a time before he self-destructs. In any case, the guy is a piece of shit who can’t help himself: he steals from his jobs, he cheats, he sort of rapes, he drags other people’s wives out of bed in front of the husbands and French-kisses the wives (only happened once, but it bothered me), casually murders, and plenty of other dubious stuff I’ve already forgotten.

The most memorable moment for me was the following, otherwise minor one: Henry had gotten off a bus somewhere during the height of his drifter period. He rents a room at some inn owned by a couple. The woman tells him that her husband is on his last legs, and Henry can hear him wheezing as the man struggles to breathe in a nearby room. The next morning, an attractive female guest, who had been told that Henry was some sort of writer, approaches the protagonist, informs him that the sick owner had died, and asks him to give her some money for some gift or a memorial. Henry informs her that he isn’t actually a writer, that the dead owner is none of his business, and that the living are the ones who need to be pitied, starting with Henry himself, so what she should do is strip down and offer him some affection. The woman, disgusted, turns around and leaves. The author describes how she walks to the end of that hallway, enters her room, and disappears from Henry’s life forever. And in a way the whole story is like that: he gets pressured with some societal demand (including the basic ones of having to earn enough money to keep existing), he clashes with people in usually self-destructive ways, then those people are gone only to be replaced by the next group of people who will quickly be gone as well, including the few ones that Henry would have preferred to keep around.

Bukowski was an honest guy, someone who saw clearly despite his boozing, and who managed to keep going in style despite the hopelessness of it all.

Review: My Broken Mariko, by Waka Hirako

Four and a half stars for the titular story, three and a half for the other one.

When I bother to read fiction, I usually look for well-constructed mirrors. In the titular story from this manga, because it features two, the protagonist is a high-strung failed adult with a dead-end job that pays her rent but otherwise just grates on her nerves. On the very first page of that story we learn that her best friend, only friend, the titular Mariko, has committed suicide.

Along the way we learn that Mariko was as broken as they come, and little of her true nature had a chance to come through given that she suffered a childhood, up to her twenties, full of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. The only person Mariko approached for help was the protagonist, who in school was already a delinquent from a broken home.

Ever since they met, the protagonist had always been heartbroken because she couldn’t find a way to save Mariko both from her father and then from herself. Now that she won’t be able to help her anymore in life, she decides to grab a knife and visit Mariko’s father to steal her best friend’s ashes.

I won’t go into further details about the plot of a one-shot, but I loved the realistic way the author treated someone as damaged as Mariko, as well as her relation with the protagonist. Mariko knew she was broken, and even after she became an adult she searched for man after man who would mistreat her and hurt her, because she couldn’t relate on a deeper level with people in any other way.

But this titular girl wasn’t innocent either: she monopolized the protagonist’s life and attentions by guilting her into not interacting with other people and particularly not getting a boyfriend, because that would mean that Mariko would lose her chance to be saved, even though she knew from the beginning that she was doomed. That dynamic continued until a week or so before the titular character killed herself, so most of the reasons for the protagonist’s isolation and her unhappiness are related to having been tied down, and dragged to the depths of despair, by someone who had no means and no intentions of getting better.

The protagonist deals not only with the grief of losing her best friend whom the protagonist had tried to save since her school days, but also with the anger and remorse caused by the fact that the person to whom she had dedicated her life chose to abandon her. So we have a fucked up, failed adult for a protagonist, who also has a huge savior complex, and an impact character (the most influential character for the protagonist in a narrative) who is doomed from the beginning. I’m not surprised about the comparisons with Inio Asano’s “Oyasumi Punpun”, which remains my favorite manga series.

As if the story of this one-shot manga didn’t attract me enough, I found its artistic style tremendously compelling, over the top but in a way that emphasized the characters’ emotions perfectly. The depiction of both the shit they go through as well as how they react to it is more raw, and real, than in most manga, which I’m all for.

I didn’t rate it a five because it left me wanting to know more about and spend way more time with the protagonist. I thought there was far more to develop about her.

The second story takes place in the United States near the border with Mexico, and it reminded me a lot of “No Country For Old Men”. I won’t say anything else about that story except that it was a bit more on the nose than I would have liked, but I still enjoyed it a lot.

I want to read more stuff by this author, but apparently he or she has released nothing else. If this is really this person’s first manga, I look forward to that successful career.

Review: My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought, by Hajime Inoryu

Our protagonist is a college-age kid devoted to man’s one duty: that of sticking his penis in as many wet holes as possible. He’s been wholly unsuccessful so far. From that introduction, the story could have gone in plenty of directions, but I wouldn’t have guessed that the guy is the son of Japan’s most famous serial killer from the last fifteen or twenty years, and that he has dissociative identity disorder. Looking back at the first couple of chapters, they are incongruous with what’s to come.

We find out that something is wrong with the guy’s brain as soon as he does: he wakes up in bed next to a pretty stranger, a female classmate from college. He has no clue how he started dating her, but she seems quite taken with whoever was commanding the protagonist’s brain until then. This alternate version of the guy is also violent and much bolder. In any case, the guy is happy enough to let this sudden girlfriend of his believe that she’s dating the other version of himself.

However, the protagonist’s missing part isn’t satisfied with a hot girlfriend: he’s also hanging out with members of the worst gang around, one that runs whores and kills people. They idolize the aforementioned serial killer to the extent that they welcomed the protagonist, the serial killer’s son, with open arms.

One person realizes that the protagonist is struggling with some ghastly mental issue: an aloof young woman who attends the same college. She has been following the protagonist around and has learned to identify when the personality switches have taken place. Soon enough we find out that she has a personal connection with one of the victims of the serial killer.

A woman gets murdered in what seems like a copycat case of the serial killer’s modus operandi, and the protagonist finds himself in possession of that woman’s cut-off ear. So is his alternate personality following on his father’s footsteps, or has someone framed him? The clues lead him to the nasty gang that has welcomed him. Helped by the weird girl from before, the protagonist will try to figure out if he’s innocent or if he’s truly the devil’s spawn, as he’s been called since he was a child.

This quickly turns into a brutal, disturbing tale. At first it reminded me of the most hardcore parts of Minoru Furuya’s mangas (a hapless underdog who ends up involved in a life-or-death situation with sociopathic elements of the Japanese underworld), except that this story lacks any humor. However, after a turning point in the story that abandons plenty of the set up elements that came beforehand, the tale turns into a thriller in which anyone could betray the protagonist at any point, and everybody has a secret to hide.

The drawings are detailed and uncompromising. This is one of those iceberg stories in which the author has plotted carefully every character’s actions and deceptions. Unfortunately, he resorts to some clichés, and he also pulls his punches a couple of times.

The moment that bothered me the most happened early on in the story, but it announced that some more bullshit was coming down the road: at one point the protagonist finds himself in the club that the gang owns. He’s prodded into showing his inborn skills as a torturer with a tied-up guy that the gang intended to kill. The protagonist ends up giving a speech, the details of which I’ve forgotten (he said that torturing a random guy was beneath him, or something). His audience, a bunch of hardened criminals who idolize a serial killer, just go along with his excuse, and even end up freeing that man. The author had done a great job setting up those guys as extremely dangerous until that point. As far as I’m concerned, one of the worst things you can do as a writer is building up some symbol as something significant only to end up tearing it down out of convenience.

Later on we get a few clichéd moments that we’ve seen a thousand times: the author makes us believe that a character has shot someone in the head, but that character actually shot into the floor deliberately; X gets shot in the chest at point-blank range by people who could have easily shot X in the head, but X survives because of a bulletproof vest; a murderous bad guy gets knocked unconscious, but instead of finishing him, they good guys walk away, and the bad guy gets back up shortly after; etc.

Although I’m quite sure that dissociative identity disorder doesn’t work that way, I found the story quite interesting. You usually don’t get these kinds of thrillers in manga format.

Review: RaW Hero, by Akira Hiramoto

I found out about this series when it showed up in the books list of someone I’m stalking on Goodreads. If I had paid attention to its terrible rating on the site, I would have missed a gem. This author’s absurd, perverted humor is right up my alley. I don’t know why I pay attention to ratings; how often do I agree with the majority on anything?

The story follows a bespectacled pretty boy in his early twenties. His parents died some time ago. He found himself responsible for taking care of his younger brother, who may be in high school, and of his other much younger brother, who’s a kid. He has promised to them that he’s going to get a great job that will pay well enough that they’ll live in a highrise building instead of in their current hovel. His brothers dream of eating foods that most others take for granted. Anyway, no matter how many interviews our protagonist goes to, he remains unemployed.

One day he’s on a train heading to another interview, but he notices that some guy wearing a suit is fingering a young woman. The protagonist’s sense of justice doesn’t allow him to let this pass, and he chooses to miss his interview and instead confront the molester. It turns out that the guy and the young woman were engaging in consensual mutual perversion. However, the older guy is impressed by the protagonist’s earnestness and sense of justice, and he reveals that he’s one of the big shots at the intelligence department of the country.

This version of Japan includes superpowered heroes as well as people that have undergone operations to become half-beast freaks. The older guy offers our protagonist a job as a spy: he’ll have to infiltrate a small-time group of troublemakers who bother the government by spray painting, giving away leaflets and in general being annoying. For the most part, the government seems to want to make an example out of this group. However, its leader is a dangerous woman who goes by the stupid name of Jelly E. Fish.

The protagonist’s employer is a volatile pervert severely lacking in common sense. Instead of giving his employee the suitcase with the instructions and professional-looking clothes that the protagonist should rely on to infiltrate the group, the older man gives him the wrong suitcase, that contains the skimpy costume that he intended his preferred escort to wear. The protagonist considers this a fucked up test that he has no choice but to pass in order to provide for his family. After a disastrous interview that involved receiving a facial from a half-elephant’s trunk, he becomes a member of one of the propaganda wings of this shady organization.

What follows is an insane ride in which the protagonist has to pass for a woman, avoid getting found out as a spy, and resist the sexual attentions of both men and women. We meet through him an aspiring manga author in her late twenties who also lost her parents at an early age, who grew up with her grandparents in the deep country and now feels uneasy in society, and who has coped by producing romantic mangas that she aspires to publish. I found her the most relatable person in this story, the rock that provided the protagonist with a solid goal for which to endure his otherwise deranged existence.

Our guy is having a hard time: his life is becoming increasingly demented, and he needs to assert his strength and get taken seriously as a woman in the shady organization. Soon enough he finds himself crossdressing in public for no reason. He’s losing the sense of his own identity, and at times he ceases to give a shit about anything.

The protagonist comes across the second most memorable secondary character of this tale: a hellishly sexy cosplayer and yandere who is also his neighbor. She immediately finds out that the protagonist is crossdressing; added to the guy’s delicate genitals with which she quickly comes in contact, she becomes infatuated with our protagonist. She’s also the kind that casually resorts to blackmail.

The plot is tight, the interactions between the characters are compelling and often hilarious, the women are gorgeous (half of the time, even our crossdressing protagonist), the series features lots of retarded crotch shots (even of our crossdressing protagonist), some dialogue bubbles come out of crotches.

My only issue with this story is that the author dropped the ball with that ending. I won’t go into spoilers, but the protagonist and his romantic interest should have gotten a final scene, one notorious character survived when they should have ended up as dead as they come, and one of the most compelling characters disappeared as if the author forgot that they existed. Otherwise, if you are as much of a pervert as I am and you want to have a good time, I recommend this series.