Friday, February 12, 2010

NO.5 vol.2


I went on a trip. Six weeks abroad playing music in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. It took me 5 and half weeks to realize we were “touring the islands”. The first 12 show chapter of our 33 show "world tour" began and ended in Tokyo, sprouting down and out to Nagoya, Kyoto, Houfu, Fukuoka, Oita, Okayama, Osaka and Enoshima. The journey dawned two, maybe three major impressions on me about Japan. 1. The food is incredible. 2. People smoke cigarettes like there is no tomorrow. 3. I love it there.

As I am now a comic critic of vast fame and glory I decided it my responsibility to document the deep commitment to comics the Japanese display. So I set a goal. I would take photos of dudes or dudettes or whatever reading comics in the convenience stores using the disposable cameras I bought en route. I have a digital camera but I find the charging unit cumbersome, and being in a band with some 2 tons of equipment to load in and out of clubs everyday, any wire able to be left behind helps keep me tethered to sanity.

So with the mission defined, I managed to take this one picture.

Pathetic I know. The cameras had automatic flashes so being sneaky was really difficult. I tried duct taping the flash shut but I swear the whole damn camera seemed to light up. Bottom line, I was scared and I chickened out save a few quick shots through windows. But take my (and everyone else’s) word for it. A lot of people read comics in Japan.

Now this being a review column, and not a travel blog, I want to slightly stick to purpose, and today’s focus is Taiyo Matsumoto. But here’s one last (lengthy, biographic and grammatically incorrect) thing to mention before I get on with it. After 6 weeks of travel induced experiences like eating a living squid that stared my girlfriend and I down while we chewed it’s still squirming tentacles, or running outside of an airport in the November Australian summer sun minutes before the final check-in time looking for a private cargo company in the face of $3700 in Singapore Airlines baggage charges, or riding in the van 12 to 14 hours a day to play every night before spending 2 hours cramming sleep in a cheap hotel(one time we found the famed Australian White Tailed Spider in the bed, one sting and you get an unstoppable flesh eating disease), or having your drumset repeatedly punched by a huge troll-faced, alcohol ravaged British man floating in front of the ocean-like crowd and suddenly finding yourself doing the hardest blastbeats you can on his head instead of the snare(was that my blood or his on my hands at the end of the show?), or simply meeting tens if not hundreds of people from all sorts of places…after all this, reading comics made no sense to me whatsoever. I came home, looked at the stack of unread X-men “Necrosha”, Nova and the gang “Realm of Kings”(Leonardo Manco!), Green Lantern “Blackest Night”(Doug Mahnke!) and all the rest and it felt not unlike a pile of unpaid bills. Should I have just swept them out the door with the dust and the snow that collects in the corners of the mammoth industrial freezer I live in? Should have, maybe, but didn’t. Instead I sat and stared, waiting for the necessary loneliness and dementia to return, and then started chipping away at the stacks.

(All that said, cooking for yourself, which I see as a sign of healthiness and happiness, was also utterly foreign to me upon returning. Its meaning and joy has also since returned.)


One book that made breaking the comic ice after my trip easier was "GoGo Monster", Matsumoto's most recent english translation, but i'll get to that in a second. My introduction to Taiyo(u) Matsumoto was through "Black and White", AKA "Tekkonkinkreet" and it melted my mind. Originally published in 1993 it tells the story of two street orphans who control their piece of Treasure Town through a cheerful violence. It was for me a life affirming work as I, like Black and White, spent much of my time kicking mobsters in the teeth, hanging out on building tops and wrestling with which fucked up hat to wear. Fitting restlessly into the company of Oliver Twist and Tom Sawyer with a solid dose of The Five Deadly Venoms, it teaches that you can do whatever the fuck you want, and maybe even get away with it(if you don't mind occasionally getting the shit kicked out of you). Taiyo tells tale with sharp urgent playfulness, always keeping a grip on the two contrasting personalities of the boys, the naive yet insightful White, and the darkly driven Black. As Treasure Town is enveloped in a slow build fury of deep evil, the innocently vicious duo's connection to the city and its other denizens slowly unravels and the bond between Black and White crumbles. Does it end the tragedy? One of the best comics ever produced. An early page displays the initial relationship between the two mysterious"Flying Cats".

Black and White. GoGo Monster comes across looking like GoGo Goldfish in the raw face of Black and White. Number 5 with its surreal serene psychedelic landscape cannot wrestle the pure power of Black and White.

A common thread in Matsumoto books, characters going over the edge, a scene from that edge....

Things fall apart, blood is spilled, teeth and bone are shattered. Required reading for any punk or wanna be.


Yuki sees monsters in raindrops and he's not the only one. Plus he has conversations with their leader Superstar, the Boss of the other side, but your going to have to take his word for it cause we can't hear them past a couple word balloons in the first few pages, "Play that silver wand of yours!". So where do these monsters live that Yuki communicates with? Why, up on the top floor, the abandoned fourth floor, where students are not allowed. So thats where we will go! But its when Yuki ends up on the floors above the top 4th floor that things really get weird, at the Black Door....

Matsumoto has the uncanny ability to get inside the head of youth. Maybe he just paints an extremely believable portrait of what I remember or perceive children to be that is actually very unchildlike. But it works. I believe. This comic transports you straight into Japanese Elementary School.

and Every! Single! Page! of this comic is gorgeous.(these pages are read from the right)

Makoto, the new boy in school is the one person who befriends the spacey Yuki. Matsumoto drew those cute little squiggles on his cheeks which ruled cause it was real hard to tell all these young boys apart sometimes!

Ganz is the caretaker of the school. He listens to Yuki and understands the presence of the other side.

I wonder on Taiyo Matsumoto's technique for getting all the reference for this incredibly detailed portrait of a japanese school. Filled with snippets of daily life, various conversations of kids and faculty with the occasional political rant, its as much a document of Japan as a story of a boy's tentative hold on reality. As for that reference technique, perhaps the character "I.Q." with a box on his head was based on a real life Taiyo Matsumoto, creeping about schools with a hidden camera and tape recorder, masquerading as a slightly unhinged rabbit caretaker with a serious interest in Yuki.

GoGo Monster employs a major plot device from Tekkonkinkreet, albeit in a more mature and subtle way. The relationship between two boys falls apart when it becomes clear that one boy must journey to the dark side, the other side.

A scene from the beginning of the tipping point......

The lettering really bothered me at first but i got used to it. Not that that's usually a great thing to say about something or someone.

That sequence sums it all up. For GoGo Monster, maybe Taiyo Matsumoto himself. GoGo Monster is a trip through the all too real unreality of a young dreamer. If you feel the need to compare Tekkinkinkreet to GoGo Monster you can, as the later borrows concepts from the former. I see them each as able representatives of two different points in an artists evolution. Its all about whether you're in the mood for carnage or calm.


Finally, Number 5! The premise is simple enough. Number 5 of the 9 member Rainbow Council has broken ranks and run off with a woman, Matroshka. Number 1, head of the council, is sending the other members one by one to bring him in dead or alive. It all starts with Number 9 being easily picked off by Number 5. Thats 9 on the "bike", finishing his hunt for Number 5 early.

The 8 page color prelude makes you drool at the thought of an entire Color Matsumoto book.

Number 5 is a strange work that reflects both Tekkonkinkreet and GoGo Monster. A schizophrenic collision of vicious playfulness and loose introspective beauty. At some point in each of his stories Matsumoto begins to pull you through a series of seemingly unrelated hoops, usually at an intense climatic moment when the characters are at a psychological breaking point. What slightly deviates in Number 5 is that the narrative hardly ever relaxes into a rhythm of storytelling for long. The entire book is a challenging ride that you have to hold onto constantly to not get thrown off track. But there are many pages of easy flowing action.

A very touching and comparatively long narrative portion in book two concerns Number 6 and a family he meets on his way to bring in Number 5. He become embroiled in a local power struggle.

In one of the more hallucinogenic passages, Number 4(the siblings) meet number 1(the leader who appears to have a personal vendetta against number 5) in a sort of cerebral non-where. All the members of the Rainbow Council can meet each other on the ethereal plane.

Number 7 is an intriguing fellow, and quite perceptive.

Number 5's story doesn't stick to you like glue as Tekkon and Go Go do, but the details of this work are inspiring and rewarding, its just a little bit of a harder read. Taiyo in this latest is forming an epic, and he is trying to flush out a multitude of characters, and it comes across somewhat scattered. But more importantly, there are 6 other volumes yet to be translated into English! Number 5 was a commercial disaster for Viz when it brought out the first two(of 8) volumes in 2002 causing the series to be canned in the States. I looked for the additional books in Japan on my trip but couldn't find them, not even at the Shibuya Manga Megastore Mandarake!

What the hell happened to Number 5? Who is Matroshka? How are the other members of the Rainbow Council holding up? How cool are their personal fortresses? How has Taiyo Matsumoto's style evolved since 2002? Why, when one novel like GoGo Monster is worth 50 issues of The Avengers, when Borders and Barnes and Noble have enough garbage manga on the shelfs to build a mini Mt. Fuji, when Marvel or DC can squeeze out 6 different Wolva-Deadpool or SuperMan/Woman/Child books a month, when comics inform mainstream culture in unprecedented amounts, why can i not get my hands on current Matsumoto!!?!


I wish GoGo Monster luck in its sales, which if good might grow the demand for Taiyo Matsumoto in the States, which might lead to the conclusion of Number 5. So shout out, "March On International Rainbow Council!" while taking a quick peak at his drawing evolution through his tangential image pages, and then we'll get out of here.

1990's "Zero", untranslated.

1993's "Blue Spring"(Short stories, one of which stars "The Rat and Kimura" from TekkonKinkreet)

1993's "Tekkonkinkreet"

2000's "GoGo Monster"

2002's "Number 5"


With so much Manga and Anime flooding the shores of the states you would think that practically every other person you meet in Japan would be a cartoonist. Having met very few artists through the means easily presented to me I went looking, first asking this character I met in a back alley of Kyoto in the former red light district.

Who informed me I should seek out a cat. Cats, as you can see from this page from what may or may not be called "Two Brothers in Japan", an untranslated Matsumoto collection of late 90's short stories(I think), play an important role in decision making in Japan.

A cat soon presented itself to me

"Little Adolf" as he purrpousfully announced his name to be then showed me the door to an underground temple where all the artists live. I tried the door but it was locked.

Upon leaving the temple's impervious gate I found this note left by a Squid Spirit tucked into my pocket, I can only assume it is a curse upon my curious soul.

PS. the animated movie based on "Black and White" is actually really good, but so is this......