Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, August 29, 2009
      ( 8/29/2009 06:36:00 AM ) Bill S.  


S GIRLS & VIVIENNE WESTWOOD: Half of a two-book package currently being issued in the states by Viz Media, Novna Takemoto's Missin' is a 112-page paperback containing two short novels from the start of his career. Best known in the U.S. as the author of the light novel Kamikaze Girls, which fueled both a popular manga and a film adaptation, Takemoto is famous in his native Japan as an author and fashion designer.

You can definitely see his obsession with the latter in the two tales featured in Missin'. Though the primary focus of each piece is on an ultra-unreliable narrator as he or she describes the beginnings of a non-too-stable relationship, the fashion sense of the object of their obsession turns out to be a significant plot point. In the first story, "Little Shop Called the End of the World," it's the designs of onetime Malcolm McLaren collaborator Vivienne Westwood; in the title story, it's a fashion brand named MILK, originally known in Japan for its "gothic Lolita" look. (If just seeing that term conjures up disturbing Nabokovian images, you're not alone.) In both entries, the story's lead sees fashion as a signifier that the person they're watching is a kindred spirit, though how far Takemoto agrees with them is unclear. He may be a fashionista, but, as a storyteller, he is able to illuminate what's underneath the couture.

Both pieces center on narrators who are speaking to the feminine subject of their desire -- though neither girl actually appears to be in the room. In "Shop," the narrator is a disenchanted free-lance writer who opens a shop selling her personal belongings and junky bric-a-brac; when a seemingly mute girl with a disfiguring birth mark on her face shows up at the shop, he becomes enthralled with her, ultimately running away with the underage girl. We know this move is gonna lead to a bad end.

The title story proves even darker -- narrated by a self-described "homely" teenage girl who stalks Missin', the provocative female singer of a Japanese punk band called Cid Vicious. Fashioning her life on the ideals promoted by a mid-twentieth century writer named Nobuko Yoshiya, who specialized in rarefied "S Class" romances between schoolgirls, the deranged narrator dreams of herself being part of a "maidenly" relationship. She mirrors the singer's dress and quickly insinuates herself into the band's inner circle with the goal of becoming part of the group, even though she has zero experience as a musician.

While "Shop" concludes on a definite note, the title story is more open-ended. In "Missin'," we're left with our narrator promising/threatening to do something dire with a Hello Kitty guitar, though whether this occurs or not is perhaps left up the sequel, Missin' 2: Kasako, the second short book in this Viz box set. What's more immediately intriguing is Takemoto's convincing recreation of the mental workings behind his two disturbed leads, their personal philosophies, subculturally specific obsessions and rationalizations. "Obsession," the writer narrator in the first tale tells us, "makes everything possible." Untrue, but it can make for some engrossing psychological fiction.

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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