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.

Review: GIGANT, by Hiroya Oku

This is a loose review of the entire series.

The main character of this tale (I wouldn’t dare call him the protagonist) is a sixteen-year-old high schooler that loves Western movies, that aspires to become a film director, and that is obsessed with a twenty-four-year-old half-Japanese, pink-haired, heavy-breasted porn actress who goes by a stupid artist name.

One day as he’s walking around in Tokyo, he comes across posted notices on which someone indicates that the porn actress lives nearby, which could lead a malicious person to harass her. The high schooler tears down the notices. The porn actress casually witnesses him doing so, and they strike up a friendship. Our main character can hardly wait to experience this gorgeous porn actress’ talents on his own flesh and dick, but she intends to put him in the friend zone. Besides, she has a boyfriend: an unstable gambler who beats her up when he remembers that other guys are fucking his girl. After they break up, our high-schooler main character and this big-breasted porn actress end up dating. Some people may have a problem with the fact that she’s twenty-four years old and he’s in high school, but the situation is far worse, because our main character is a toddler; the motherfucker threw a tantrum at a restaurant, bawling and all, until she agreed to date him. I have no clue what the author intended with that moment, but if he wanted the audience to lose all respect for the supposed main character, he achieved it.

Anyway, they work well as a couple: she’s motherly and loves to be needed, and he wants to screw as much as possible the most alluring woman to whom he has access.

Soon enough the tale delves into sci-fi: some weird guy is running around in his underwear while going on about some nonsensical stuff. Somehow he ends up getting struck by a truck. As he dies, he bequeaths to the porn actress a strange device that gets attached to her wrist, and she’s unable to remove it. Once the weird guy dies, he becomes a plush toy.

Our lovely porn actress figures out that the device allows her to become gigantic at will. At around the same time, a website named “Enjoy the End” grows popular: it lets users vote for what strange event they want to happen, and the most popular one becomes reality no matter how absurd: people start witnessing dragons and UFOs, and gigantic monsters descend from the sky to wreak havoc on Tokyo. The users of the website rejoice at the destruction that these manifestations are causing on the capital; most of the users seem to reside in the countryside. When they end up voting for a skyscraper-tall monster to reduce the population of Tokyo to one million, our porn actress decides to become the protagonist of this tale by turning gigantic and fighting the menace while naked (because the process of turning monstrously huge destroys her clothes, as well as anything else she happened to be in).

The story follows how Japanese society, then the rest of the world, reacts to the heroic deeds and growing cult status of the unlikely heroine who keeps exposing her monster-sized tits and genitals, and although the series becomes increasingly more ridiculous and absurd, this porn actress turned Godzilla-murderer remains brave and good-natured to an extent that warmed my black heart.

I don’t know if I can honestly recommend this series. I loved the graphic depictions of the big-boobed heroine, as well as how often she showed up naked. The fights are compellingly choreographed. This author has featured aliens in the three stories of his of which I’m aware: “Gantz” (I gave up halfway through when he killed off a main character, and I wasn’t enjoying it enough) and “Inuyashiki” [I appreciated the anime adaptation as well as its bold, violent nature, particularly the gun fingaz stuff (warning: disturbing)]. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author himself was an alien; he writes his human characters as if he’s only ever watched people from afar. However, I was most impressed with the quality of the drawings, which resemble renders based on photographs or 3D models, as well as with how balls-to-the-wall bonkers the whole thing is; I gotta admire the author for that. The two highlights that come to mind are the whole prolonged sequence involving a gargantuan Satan, and the two gigantic depictions of Socrates and Plato, who speak like teenage “Call of Duty” fanatics.

I had a good ol’ time reading this series. To be fair, I’d have a good time with pretty much anything that involves huge, meaty tits, so make of this review what you will.

Review: Himizu, by Minoru Furuya

Minoru Furuya has become my third most favorite manga author after Shūzō Oshimi and Inio Asano, thanks to his series ‘Saltiness’ and ‘Ciguatera’. His stories follow underdogs whose mental peculiarities (OCD and autism are the most likely culprits for me) and shitty luck prevent them from realistically aspiring to anything better than an average life. The author consistently represents, in the three series of his that I’ve read, intrusive thoughts as strange, sometimes demonic entities that stalk the protagonist; I ended up doing the same thing for a novel of mine even before I knew about Furuya’s works, so this must be a result of how certain types of brains operate.

Anyway, the protagonist of this bleak series (by far the most humorless of the three) lives at a shack that also functions as a boat shop. It belongs to his father, but the old man bailed on his family to become a drunkard and a gambler. Now his teenage son has to run the business, because his mother is focused on finding a new husband.

The protagonist is fed up with life from the moment we are introduced to him. As he mentions a few times throughout the story, he knows he came from garbage and that he’s little more than a defective idiot. He tries to regulate his thoughts and actions so he won’t stray from the path that may lead him to live a regular, mediocre life, and he holds a grudge towards anyone who dares to pursue lofty dreams, as he believes that those people are delusional and blind to the fact that they are doomed to fall. He wishes to struggle and perform some grandiose good deed that would justify his existence, but he fears that as a broken person coming from a ruinous family, his destiny has already been decided.

One day his mother elopes with her new lover, never to be seen again. Our protagonist, deprived of parental support, decides to quit going to school and just runs his father’s boat shop. Soon enough, though, he comes to learn through a couple of Yakuza types that visit the boat shop that his father’s debts may become the protagonist’s responsibility as well.

As interesting characters other than the main guy we have the following: the protagonist’s only friend, an ugly, short, nearly toothless kleptomaniac who nevertheless isn’t as cursed as the protagonist because he doesn’t have the same perennially bleak outlook on life; an aspiring manga author who works as a counterbalance to the protagonist with his determined work ethic and confidence in his talent; and a reserved but tough female classmate of the protagonist who is attracted to him for some reason, and who wants to improve his miserable life.

This author’s characters, in the three series I’ve read of his, can often surprise you with their unpredictability. Some writers warn against using “and then” plot points; they suggest that every plot point must be a “but” or “therefore” regarding one or more plot points that came before. However, this author includes some sequences or scenes that in many stories would have long-lasting repercussions or be pivotal to the development of the plot, but in these stories life just goes on, or the important people fail to ever find out that the event happened. To put an extreme example, in one of the three series (won’t say in which), some secondary characters rape one of the main characters, but none of the main characters, including the victim, ever find out about it. On the topic of rape, there’s plenty of strange and/or sudden sexual stuff going on in this author’s works, even as mild as a character suddenly pulling his or her pants down, or fingering someone else. The violence included can often be equally sudden.

They made a live-action version of this story. Here’s the trailer. I haven’t watched the movie yet; apparently the director intended to follow the manga faithfully until the whole tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011 happened, so they included that in to offer some commentary and a more hopeful message than what this series supports. So far I can tell they made at least one change I consider questionable: in the manga the protagonist’s father was constantly in a drunken daze, but he was never overtly cruel nor dismissive towards his son; the protagonist despised his father because he abandoned his family, and after that point there was nothing the old man could have done to improve their relationship.

It’s a shame that I have already read the three series generally considered this author’s best.

Review: Thermae Romae, by Mari Yamazaki

The postface the author wrote for each volume of this series is titled ‘Rome & baths, the loves of my life,’ and it shows. She clearly had a blast producing this manga, which gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in those two obsessions for years.

It’s an isekai (for the uncultured swine among you, that’s a genre tremendously popular in Japan that usually consists in a Japanese person getting transported somehow, usually by truck-related means, to a fantasy world that more often than not is loosely based on Europe during the Age of Enlightenment but with cute elves and such. There are exceptions, though, as in the case of this story). The protagonist, an architect/engineer from the Roman Empire, gets inexplicably transported via increasingly contrived plot devices to contemporary Japan, from the seventies up to the modern day. He would love nothing more than to serve Rome well and cleanse the worries and pains of the population through the baths he gets hired to build, and when he gets teleported to Japan, he discovers a previously unknown race, to which he constantly refers with an ethnic slur, who appreciate baths even more than Roman citizens do. Most of the story is therefore about this Roman engineer figuring out how to take advantage of Japanese customs and inventions so he can improve his homeland, even though he can’t understand a single word that comes out of their mouths.

We go through the expected hijinks and more, but the story quickly turns serious as powerful people take note of the protagonist’s talents: the emperor Hadrian ends up becoming one of the main characters, and we also follow Marcus Aurelius from time to time, a teen during the events of the story; history ended up remembering Marcus Aurelius as a stoic philosopher due to his ‘Meditations’ and his wise rule.

It’s a shame that this manga isn’t well-known; I had no clue it existed until Netflix of all places released the trailer for its upcoming anime. The only thing that bothered me about this series is that the way the protagonist gets transported to Japan and back kept getting increasingly ridiculous and convenient, as the situation that the protagonist faced was almost always related to some problem he needed to solve at home, but if you accept like he did eventually that some Roman goddess (mainly Diana) wanted to use him for the glory of Rome, you can roll with it. Other than that, the author has a great sense of humor, the attention to detail and the research that went into it are typically Japanese, and I had a blast throughout. If you love both Japan and ancient Rome about as much as I do, you probably owe it to yourself to read this manga.

Review: The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector

From time to time I get reminded of authors that seem cool enough, and I tell myself that I’ll finally go through the effort of reading something of theirs. I hadn’t opened any of Lispector’s books yet, but I had formed an image of her as wild and unfettered. I imagined her bedridden during the last years of her life as she dictated new stories to her secretary, who would then type them carefully on a typewriter. I don’t know if I got that impression from something I read about Lispector or if I made it up in some daydream, but it makes no difference whether it happened or not. Lispector died of cancer in 1977, eight years before I was born; she has become definite enough that whatever delusion I prefer to believe about her won’t diminish who she was.

‘The Hour of the Star’ is the last book that Clarice Lispector published in life, and in it you witness an author trying to conceive a story for a character that she was compelled to bring to life: a poor, ugly, innocent girl from the same impoverished region of Brazil where Lispector lived as a child. She transformed herself into a male narrator with fictional circumstances, to develop the details of the protagonist and the world around her so the entire narrative would finally spring to life.

This girl we are following, named Macabéa, lost her parents, came to a big enough city to live with her repressed aunt, now lives in a hovel with four roommates with whom she doesn’t seem to interact, and works as a typist although she’s terrible at it. Lispector describes her as too innocent, inexperienced and dull-witted to be miserable despite her nasty circumstances. She can only look forward to the joys she can reach: food and songs she likes, and being alone at home for a few hours. She daydreams about finding a man who would love her, but she knows that can’t happen.

The most memorable secondary character was the idiotic thug that ends up dating Macabéa, a young guy who calls himself Olímpico and who came to the city from the same impoverished region as Macabéa. The guy is fascinated by implements of violence, and his main goals are to seem tough and move up in the world. He mistreats Macabéa and attempts to silence her if she shares some thought he considers unladylike. I wished that Macabéa would acquire some self-respect and dump that shithead, but the poor girl was happy enough that someone spent time interacting with her.

We also meet one of Macabéa’s coworkers, who is painted as a poor man’s sophisticated, buxom woman. I recall vaguely that she initially criticized the protagonist for her many faults, but she grew to pity her, which I guess is better. We also meet a doctor who can’t wait to have enough money so he can quit and devote himself to doing nothing, as well as, in the final sequence of the story, a former prostitute turned clairvoyant who offers a compelling monologue.

Because Lispector came up with seemingly every little aspect of this novel in front of our eyes, Macabéa as well as other characters come off as contradictory, but you have to roll with it; Lispector didn’t have enough time left to make it consistent even if she intended to. She also complains about having to invent enough description, and I recall that she suggested that she just intended to write down what was necessary and then go to sleep.

On the surface, the story is about Macabéa figuring out who she is and who she would prefer to become, but the insights that Lispector offers through her chosen narrator suggest that this whole book is about the author coming to terms with her impending death: trying to understand why she would need to write about this Macabéa, or write at all, so close to her own demise; what does it mean for a writer to live through these characters that inhabit our minds; and what kind of hope the author can offer to this wrecked fictional child of hers (I know well how traumatizing it can be to ruin the life of one of your characters; I haven’t gotten over at least one of them).

Lispector writes from the gut; pure subconscious stuff that half of the time she herself can’t understand. That’s the kind of material I want both in the books I read and in the stories I create. I can’t stand authors that intellectualize everything, who often oppose their own tastes and impulses out of some weird ideological dislike for such. Their texts most of the time annoy the hell out of me. I also vibed with Lispector’s silly humor, and in general felt a kinship with her. Hers is the first novel that I’ve finished in a long while; these days I have little time and energy left to read, and when I do I end up DNF-ing most of the books I start, often because they test my patience.

Lispector was a unique writer (or at least she seemed like that to me; I haven’t read any other Brazilian writers, so maybe they all write like her) who wrote in search of her own personal truths, in contrast with your average bastardly author out there that seeks to deceive you as they deceive themselves.

Anyway, I got plenty of quotes out of this book:

Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?

I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.

I write because I have nothing better to do in this world: I am superfluous and last in the world of men. I write because I am desperate and weary. I can no longer bear the routine of my existence and, were it not for the constant novelty of writing, I should die symbolically each day.

In no sense an intellectual, I write with my body. And what I write is like a dank haze. The words are sounds transfused with shadows that intersect unevenly, stalactites, woven lace, transposed organ music. I can scarcely invoke the words to describe this pattern, vibrant and rich, morbid and obscure, its counterpoint the deep bass of sorrow.

I feel happier with animals than with people. When I watch my horse cantering freely across the fields— I am tempted to put my head against his soft, vigorous neck and narrate the story of my life. When I stroke my dog on the head — I know that he doesn’t expect me to make sense or explain myself.

Speaking for myself, I am only true when I’m alone. As a child, I always feared that I was about to fall off the face of the earth at any minute. Why do the clouds keep afloat when everything else drops to the ground? The explanation is simple: the gravity is less than the force of air that sustains the clouds. Clever, don’t you think? Yes, but sooner or later they fall in the form of rain. That is my revenge.

She had what’s known as inner life and didn’t know it. She lived off herself as if eating her own entrails. When she went to work she looked like a gentle lunatic because as the bus went along she daydreamed in loud and dazzling dreams.

She herself asked for nothing, but her sex made its demands like a sunflower germinating in a tomb.

I shall do everything possible to see that she doesn’t die. But I feel such an urge to put her to sleep then go off to sleep myself.

I must ask, without knowing whom I should ask, if it is really necessary to love the man who slays me; to ask who among you is slaying me. My life, stronger than myself, replies that it wants revenge at all costs. It warns me that I must struggle like someone drowning, even if I should perish in the end. If it be so, so be it.

I use myself as a form of knowledge. I know you through and through, by means of an incantation that comes from me to you. To stretch out savagely while an inflexible geometry vibrates behind everything.

That not-knowing might seem awful but it’s not that bad because she knew lots of things in the way nobody teaches a dog to wag his tail or a person to feel hungry; you’re born and you just know. Just as nobody one day would teach her how to die: yet she’d surely die one day as if she’d learned the starring role by heart. For at the hour of death a person becomes a shining movie star, it’s everyone’s moment of glory and it’s when as in choral chanting you hear the whooshing shrieks.

Review: My Wandering Warrior Existence, by Kabi Nagata

This is the newest entry in the series of autobiographical mangas that started with the cult hit ‘My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness’ and that followed with ‘My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 1’‘My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 2’ and ‘My Alcoholic Escape from Reality’ (the links go to my reviews of those titles).

I’ve been fond of the author ever since I read her first autobiographical manga, and not only because her stuff is like witnessing a colossal train wreck; she’s fearlessly honest about her brokenness to an extent that you don’t see in virtually anyone else.

In the previous entry, Kabi Nagata opened up about having caused herself acute pancreatitis due to imbibing in three years the amount of alcohol that seasoned boozers rarely achieve in twenty. She almost died, and she’ll be forced to take medication for the rest of her life. I was eager to figure out how she recovered mentally from that self-inflicted ordeal, but in this newest entry she speaks casually about her liberal alcoholic intake and mentions that she moved out to her own apartment. I realized, to my disappointment slash dismay, that the events depicted on this entry are precursory to her alcoholic debacle. She was likely working on this manga when she was forced to sidetrack it to suffer through that personal catastrophe. That’s fucking sad; the previous entry ended with her waking up from a prolonged nightmare to find herself as a mentally and physically broken woman in her mid-to-late thirties that nobody wants to or can love.

Anyway, this newest manga starts with Kabi wanting to do a photoshoot of herself wearing a wedding dress; she’s aware that she’ll likely never marry, and her mother had expressed a desire to see her in a wedding dress, so that’s what she does. During the shoot, though, Kabi grows increasingly depressed as she realizes how sad the whole thing (and her life) has become, although her mother is loving it; she’s taking photos of her own with her personal camera.

Afterwards, Kabi decides to embark on a personal quest to find someone who might love her. We realize (or remember; she probably exhibited this in previous entries), through her fumbling attempts at using a dating website, how terribly inept she’s at dealing with technology, which has furthered her isolation. She speaks at length about her confusion regarding love, even understanding what it’s supposed to be; her parents are together because of an arranged marriage that involved no love at all, and they behaved, for the most part, just dutifully towards their only daughter. Kabi was a withdrawn, fearful, friendless child. I think that she was in her late twenties when she finally decided to experience some close contact with another human being by hiring the services of a prostitute. In fact, she has only been intimate with prostitutes (maybe only that first one, I don’t remember) to this day.

Kabi goes at length about her fears and confusion regarding the process of finding a date, but never ventures beyond creating a profile on a dating website. In the most memorable chapter of this manga, she writes a self-deprecating bio, opening up about her mental issues and her inability to live by herself, because “that way whoever tries to date me won’t be disappointed once they get to know me.” When she receives some likes and personal messages, Kabi is appalled. Who could be so crazy as to want to engage with her despite how much of a broken mess her bio reveals her to be? She considers that maybe she should improve the honesty of her presentation. She turns her bio into a parade of self-disdain, painting herself as the most horrid, incompetent human to ever exist (which she pretty much believes herself to be). She says that she’s distrustful of anyone who seems to like her, because she doesn’t believe such a thing could be possible, so those people must be trying to take advantage of her. She still gets likes and personal messages that she never dares to check out. Eventually she removes her profile and drops her quest. Later on she figures out that those that contacted her were the types that thought, “she’s so horrible that I may have a chance!” so she was better off avoiding them anyway.

She spends the rest of this manga wondering how come she’s so broken, why she fears human beings to such an extent, even those she’s come to know reasonably well, and why she’s unable to understand other people’s motives. She opens up about her issues regarding gender identity: she doesn’t like being a woman (“I don’t like breasts, bras or periods, and I wear men’s underwear”), but she doesn’t want to be a man. She admits that she isn’t even sure if she’s a lesbian (to be fair, despite the title of her first autobiographical manga, ‘My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness’, her being a lesbian was incidental there); she considers that maybe she chose to visit lesbian prostitutes because she’s more comfortable among women, but that it may not speak much about her sexual preferences.

She opens up about a sexual assault back when she was a child; the first time she mentions it. A guy in his twenties approached her kid self, led her to a deserted hallway and fondled her genitals. It traumatized her, and she became more fearful of human beings (but she mentions that she also came to consider herself an idiot for following this stranger). However, she seemed even more distraught at the consequences: when she opened up to her mother about the assault, she contacted the school, which made a point of informing pretty much everybody. A teacher chastised Kabi for following a stranger. Other children whispered about Kabi as “the girl who was assaulted by a pervert.” Kabi wishes she had kept it to herself.

She quickly dismisses that sexual assault, though, as the source of her issues; she has known other women who were sexually assaulted, even much worse, but they grew up into happy adults who got married and had children. So how come she’s so fucked up?

An inability to understand herself and others properly, gender issues, sexual issues, fear of humans, only comfortable in solitude, sensory issues (she mentions how one of the main reasons to leave her parents’ apartment, apart from the depressive, loveless atmosphere, was that their voices sounded shrill), plenty of executive dysfunction (she can’t organize her own life for shit). Bitch, you are clearly autistic. Or maybe I’m delusional.

She renders the letter that some nice stranger wrote to her regarding love, and she comes to understand that years ago, when a fan who had realized she herself was a lesbian approached Kabi wishing to date her (Kabi found her nice, but didn’t feel a spark), the author may have fucked up turning her away, because if they had come to spend more time together, it may have turned into a proper, loving relationship. But by the end of the manga, Kabi admits that she’s quite comfortable alone, so maybe she’s just envious of loving couples, and sad that she may never know the love that most other human beings seem entitled to experience.

I enjoyed this newest entry of Kabi’s descent into madness, that unfortunately will likely end in her death through self-neglect or suicide, but it left a worse taste in my mouth than usual; I know that not only Kabi gave up on her quest to find love, but she fell deeper and deeper into alcoholism to the extent that she nearly died, and the last we know of her is that she wishes she would disappear, because she’s sick of being a mentally and now physically broken creature who feels like she has no place in this world.