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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Good-Bye by Tatsumi Yoshihiro 
29th-Jul-2008 07:24 am
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro. Good-Bye. Trans. Yuji Oniki. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2008.
          Summary: At once a nostalgic and timely vision of postwar Japan, Good-Bye, reprints obscure manga first published from 1971-1972 in lavish hardcover.
          Comments: When it comes to manga, persistence pays. The Push Man and Other Stories deserved to be pushed off a train platform, and Abandon the Old in Tokyo ought to have been left abandoned in the annals of history. But after three volumes of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's vintage work, the Japan Foundation's grant money is finally returning worthwhile dividends: Good-Bye, which reprints obscure manga first published from 1971-1972 in lavish hardcover, should be greeted with unreserved acclaim.
          Tatsumi is an important historical figure in the manga world for coining the term “gekiga” (dramatic pictures) to distinguish his style of sequential art for mature readers from that of “manga” (irresponsible pictures) by creators like Osamu Tezuka, who typically wrote for children. Graphic violence, sexual content, and noir themes were the norm for gekiga. By Western standards, it would not be considered incredibly pornographic, although the bleak, often vengeful mood of the content makes any sex included seem more explicit than it actually is. Although in the 21st century gekiga has faded in importance, a handful of titles in the genre such as Lone Wolf and Cub and Crying Freeman have become classics, and its stylistic influence can still be felt in recent seinen manga series such as Naoki Urasawa's Monster.
          Most of the stories in Good-Bye are anxiety-laden visions of male impotency (social and sexual) in the face of the humiliations of Japan's post-war years and the lurches of the subsequent economic boom. In “Night Falls Again,” for example, a man becomes a voyeur hanging out at parks and at peep shows. And in “Woman in the Mirror,” the only son of a large family copes with the pressures of masculinity by secretly cross-dressing. This impotency is a formative theme of the gekiga/seinen manga genre, but it gets tiresome very quickly. Still, none of these stories are especially good or bad as such, and near-identical walks on the sordid side of Japanese society can be found previous Drawn & Quarterly editions of Tatsumi's work.
          Two of the nine shorts included here, however, are of an entirely different order. The title story “Good-Bye” is a compelling change of pace. It is about the daughter of a bucktoothed ex-soldier (looking cut and pasted from anti-Japanese U.S. WWII propaganda) who has taken to fraternizing with American soldiers during the Occupation. Unlike her many counterparts in other Tatsumi stories, she's more than just a caricature of an oversexed, castrating female who is punished by the end for being too independent. As it turns out, she resents her father for not being a strong role model or a good parent. As an ex-soldier, her father is symbolic of the Japanese nation as a whole. The story seems to be metaphorically criticizing Imperial Japan for having let its citizens down by losing the war.
          Far and away the best story in the volume—even better than “Good-Bye”—is “Hell.” As the first story in the volume, it leaves an especially indelible impression. This one is about the aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. In the days immediately afterward, a man photographs the shadow of a boy massaging his mother's back that had been seared into a wall by the blast. Both son and mother had presumably been incinerated. The image becomes hailed as a symbol of the peace that war had ruthlessly destroyed. But then the photographer finds out that the image was not one of peace at all—the blast had, in fact, caught a boy in the act of strangling a woman to death! So, yes, the bomb was evil. But evil predated the bomb, and “Hell” is a searing criticism of a Japan that often forgets that it had been victimizer as well as victim during the war. Incidentally, this selective amnesia continues to strain Japan's diplomatic relationship with its Asian neighbors, making “Hell” as unsettlingly topical now as it was when it was written forty years ago.
          Tatsumi's artwork is handsomely drawn and chock-full of historic detail. Some will adore its snapshot of a now lost version of urban Japan. Others accustomed to today's manga styles may find the obviously vintage visual style a bit off-putting. But what is unequivocally problematic with regards to the art is Drawn & Quarterly's publishing strategy. All of their Tatsumi books, including Good-Bye, read left to right. Given that not even Naruto is flipped for American release these days, this is a strange move. Even stranger is editor Adrian Tomine's decision not to reverse entire pages but rather to cut and paste panels that were originally sequenced right to left and reorder them left to right. (This is the way Dark Horse published Blade of the Immortal in order to meet the specific demands of its creator, Hiroaki Samura.) Thus, Drawn & Quarterly's edition can be frustrating to read because individual panels still make the most sense when scanned right to left. Furthermore, it compromises the integrity and fluidity of Tatsumi's visual technique; Tomine should have left well enough alone.
          In any case, this book is highly recommended to anyone interested in “literary” manga and graphic novels…even and especially to those who have been unimpressed by Tatsumi's previous English-language output. Though if you shy away from frank treatment of rape and incest, you might be well-advised to stay away. Regardless, Good-Bye is at once a nostalgic and timely vision of postwar Japan that should never be forgotten. And yes, that crunching noise is the sound of me eating my hat!
          Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition
          Rating: 7.5/10 - The first D&Q Tatsumi volume to be worth the price of entry. And well worth it, it is. Those who have been skeptical in the past should put their doubts on hold, while those who have already been convinced don't need to be sold.
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