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......


Anonymous said...

I've been on the edge of buying of buying GoGo Monster since it came out -- thanks for pushing me over the edge! Looks great and a great review as always!


Brynocki C said...

i like GoGo so much i'm going to buy another copy!

COOP said...

I only wish there was a comic book as good as the Five Deadly Venoms. There isn't even a comic as good as the first scene with the old master in the steam bath. Well, REAL DEAL is probably that good.

Frank Santoro said...

Little Adolph!

Brett Von Schlosser said...

Taiyo Matsumoto has the mot infectious line I've seen in comics. more than even Gary Panter. what I mean is that I can't read one of his comics for more than 30 minutes and not want to stop what I'm doing and draw. it happens every time. it's great.
I very much wish the complete no 5 would come out here in N.America. did you ever get blue spring? it was a 1 volume thing viz put out, teenagers and crime kind of stories. I thought it was more similar in tone to gogo monster.

Brynocki C said...

Blue Spring. It does have that "real life" feel of GoGo. I haven't spent that much time with it but i enjoyed some of the stories. Matsumoto is just starting to form his early style and some of it is hard to follow. They translate every piece of graffiti in it! The graffiti's doing the storytelling in a way. I opted out of talking about it cause it's short stories and this post was taking forever. Few things would make me happier than to see No. 5 printed in english. I guess there is a complete french version, so if you speak french.

matt dicke said...

Ah Matsumoto. Great post, and I to am a big fan of his work. And yes it was a very thorough post, and i understanfn it took a while and you an't include everything but you did leave out Ping Pong. If most don't know about it i think it needs pointing out and in my opinion is one of if not the best Matsumoto book i have read. Don't believe eh. well download the english translation and judge for yoruself.

on that site there are also scanlations to Brothers of Japan and vol 3 of Number 5.
and for for the record i do buy the books and not just download. i have the french editions of all the books not in english just so i can see the art in person.

Brynocki C said...

i just stuck with what has been translated into english for this post. I say download it all if you can. I saw some places to download issues of Takemitsu-zamurai, his new samurai series. I would love to read Ping Pong, maybe i will break my comic downloading virginity for it. But i do love to hold them bound in my hand.

Ping Pong seems like an obvious choice for translation.

And i would love to have the actual books of his new series, they look gorgeous.

Matt Dicke said...

thanks for the follow up. Yeah PIng Pong should be translated but sports comics in the states really don't have a market. But with GOGO and Tekkeon seeming to do well you never know. While I would love Number 5 to come out, any new Matsumoto would do. keeping my fingers crossed.

And by the way the printing of the french french editions for Number 5 are WAY better than the 2 U.S. editions by viz. And had extra color pages too. I think you can get them at Amazon France or Canada if you want to spend the money.

ANd I too would say take a second look at blue spring. While with all short story collections some stories are better than others, the strong ones in Blue Spring are really worth the second read.
Thanks for the post!

Brynocki C said...

Thanks! i will totally spend the cash, i'll look at amazon france/canada. I've seen the covers, they are beautiful. I just found a Japanese issue number 7 of No. 5. I need to recheck Blue Spring. i did like it, i think really only the first story seemed, i hesitate to say amateur, but some drawings were less than clear. The clapping railing story. But that story is amazing. And the three guys with the gun story is great. The sports story i breezed through. I'll happily reread.

I agree, any Matsumoto is a treasure.

Thanks for the comments! My whole agenda with this was to draw attention to No. 5 now to follow up on the enthusiasm for GoGo. Seemed like No. 5, even those two translated issues, is not talked about very much. And also i just wanted to get some inspiration from Matsumoto for my own drawing. Force myself to take a second and third look at these important works. Like BVS said a few comments back, Matsumoto really makes you want to draw!

Brynocki C said...

They have every issue of No. 5 at Amazon Canada(in french)!!!!!!!!! Thank you Mr. Dicke!!! i feel like a 13 year old who just found out there are comic stores with back issues for sale of the titles on the spinning rack down at the drugstore! I am buying them all! I knew there was a reason i posted this shit! To wake me from my Matsumoto-less slumber.

matt dicke said...

hey glad to help. you won't be disappointed in the french edition of Number 5.
and FIY there are french editions of PIng Pong Le samouraï bambou (his new book) and Brothers of Japan. But brothers is out of print so it would be hard to track down. BUt you are a big Number 5 fan so it might interest you to know that there is a cool battle story of 2 guys who look like they came straight out of number 5. so you might want to check out the download before you go hunting for that book.

p.s. since it seems you are on a foreign comics buying kick and looking for inspiration you should check out Baru's work- l'Autoroute du soleil I think it right up your alley.

Brynocki C said...

i've picked up the japanese edition of Brothers in Japan so i have the fight. I got it at Mandarake in Tokyo! Japanese fantasyland.

Mr. Freibert said...

whoa, thorough post! glad you made it back alive. i have an issue of black and white from when viz was releasing it as pamplets some time ago. i'll have to check out the biggie book now. really looking forward to If n Oof and that pic of guys reading comics is hilarious.

sam said...

i dont have anything useful to contribute other than i got GoGo Monster and loved it. the dude can draw. Some of the other pictures posted here look very moebius-y. i rented tekkonkinkreet on a whim a year ago and enjoyed it.
the comic is far superior, though. the movie seemed like the production team got too big of a boner over the cgi techniques they were using...but the characters had the same feel as his drawings, which was my favorite part.

Frank Santoro said...

How come no one has mentioned Moebius's influence on Matsumoto? "The 8 page color prelude" image is a pure Moebius riff. I'm not mad. Just sayin'...Y'know, I'm all about the tree of influence.

Brynocki C said...

Yeah that floater bike shot is Moebius to the point of insult. I just figured everyone knew about Matsumoto's "European Influence" that gets mentioned in his bios. Which basically means "Moebius". Though in general Matsumoto doesn't wear it on his sleeve like that one page.

Anyway Frank, get outta here, you're too good for this blog. Get back over to COMICSCOMICS!! Maybe you can start a thread about Foucault's influence on the comics marketplace through Nowlans color seps, make sure you name drop some 50's cartooning obscuria.

Brynocki C said...

I have a big smile while i say that, if hanging with you in the Bloggworld is the best i can get i'll take it.

Mr Alchemy said...

Outrageously good article. You have a follower.

Will return later to reread and leave a more serious comment. But right now it's 22:38 and I'm just about to venture out to a 24 hour supermarket a mile down the road to purchase certain life sustaining necessities.

Brynocki C said...

hah thanks! i just got home from a 10 day trip and every bucket in my house that collects rain from the leaky roof is overflowing! I should head to the 24 hour grocery to get more buckets. Rhode Island is almost an island for real from all the rain!

Mr Alchemy said...

Ever since I read the first chapter when it was featured in Pulp magazine (RIP) back in January ’02 (god, I was still in middle school back then! failing splendidly), No.5 has been my favourite story in comics (granted, that was a time before discovering Mobius).

There’s something called ‘pure cinema’ and ‘pure literature’, meaning a way of presenting time and space completely unique to that medium. I’ve often argued over the years that Matsumoto has tapped into something I consider ‘pure comics’. No other medium can successfully recreate his style of presenting/dissecting/exploring time and space. A film maker might be able to translate his stories for the big screen, but never accurately capture that experience one gets from reading a page inked by Matsumoto himself.

(There’s a frame by frame analysis I wrote of the first 2 volumes floating about somewhere, but I can’t seem to locate it at present…)

It has been years now that I have held my breath in desperate anticipation of the confrontation between the twin psychic children/elderly wizards Number 4 and Yuri (we once had a Japanese steadicam operator on set called Yuri, and I almost asked him during a lunch break how the battle turned out). I to share a longing to know the answers to all those questions you asked. But there is hope at the end of the tunnel, be it just the slightest glimmer. Viz, the original publisher of No.5, has been working in conjunction with IKKI on a project to bring more of their titles to the English speaking world.
It was the Japanese magazine that No.5 originally serialized in (starting back in 2000). Now with the success of Tekkonkinkreet and the release of GoGo Monster, who knows? Maybe the American market just wasn’t ready for him back in 2002.

If you like the style of Takemitsu-zamurai, check out his short story Kankichi (published in English inside the anthology Japan: As Viewed by 17 Creators). Also, nice theory about Matsumoto’s cameo as I.Q.

“A trip through the all too real unreality of a young dreamer.”

Mr Alchemy said...

It came to my attention long after reading your blog that you must be none other than Brian Chippendale (yes, I really am that slow). As it turns out, I was on stage videoing your set at the Ten Years of ATP event.
Sorry for violating copyright laws by uploading the videos (although I trust my doing so hasn’t yet driven you to complete bankruptcy).
I enjoyed the weekend very much, all except being jumped by security twice for recording shows (like I was the only one there with a camera). Lost some really good footage that the world will never see now (They simply had to destroy it, no other choice apparently, put down like a rabid dog). Right after your gig I smuggled the tape out of the venue in my underwear. It’s the only surviving piece of footage from that 3 day festival.
We all had a blast. But certainly going to be my last ATP. I don’t align myself with the organizer’s corporate ideology.

My personal philosophy is; if I’m holding a camera, I have a god given right to record whoever and whatever I want to (not that I ever choose to intrude on someone’s personal privacy). It was funny how you chickened out taking pictures of Japanese store browsers reading free manga. I would have been taking pics all over the place, lying on the floor, standing on the shelves, anything for that perfect angle.

Brynocki C said...

oh my Mr. Videochemist! Man, i love the footage you shot of our final ATP show. I am Super Glad you smuggled it out any way you could. It is great to see really good footage of what i think was our best closing of a set in a long time. We were touring machines by that moment. I support sneaky taping, its crazy to think you had more footage that good of other peoples sets and it was destroyed. Maybe ATP needs a some kind of policy that if they catch you, you just have to submit a copy to the bands for first right of release or something and then its all public.

As for my own fearful photo practices, I could learn something from you. I just didn't feel comfortable bothering people, standing out enough as it was in Japan without flashing cameras in everyones face. When i am abroad i try to be the quiet American as opposed to the loud one(until we play). Though i am sure no one would have uttered even a polite word. Probably I should have run over to a mini mart immediately after one of our sets cause at that moment i am fairly invincible and have the fury to get in anyones face, even a little guy reading comics in a school uniform.

Thanks for taking time to read this thing, i only do it occasionally, but it comes from real comic book love.

Chris Collins said...

i see im over a year late on this post, so maybe no one will notice

I studied in japan for 4 months, and while there i bought the original japanese version of all issues of t. matsumoto's No. 5 manga that are sadly left unpublished in the US.


its in japanese, of course. Im willing to post the entirety of it, scanned page by scanned page, if someone is willing to translate it into english from japanese

that is all

ps im dead serious