Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, September 20, 2009
      ( 9/20/2009 01:51:00 PM ) Bill S.  

SEWING MACHINE & UMBRELLA: In Novala Takemoto's full-length follow-up to his short novel "Missin'," the previously anonymous narrator is provided a new name by the object of her obsessions. In Missin' 2: Kasoka, the second half of Viz's box set containing two of this provocative writer's books, our "ugly" heroine is given a name whose characters translate into "bat" and "umbrella." The title's meant to evoke the poet Lautréamont's quote about "the chance encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table," but, of course, the post-literate punk rocker Missin' gets it slightly wrong. Our narrator, with her bookish repository of "useless facts," knows the proper quote, though. While both she and Missin' regularly denigrate her intelligence, it becomes clear through the course of the book that she has strength and smarts beyond that of her romanticized idol.

The sequel opens right after the events threatened at the end of "Missin'." Kasako, waking in the hospital and believing her love object Missin' is gone, unsuccessfully attempts to off herself by breaking out a window and plunging to her death. But life proves messier for our girl since Missin' isn't dead, after all, and the hospital glass proves unbreakable. What our girl thought would make for a splendidly tragic doomed romance instead morphs into a high-stress story of show biz travails. The former stalker becomes the faux guitarist for Missin's group, Cid Vicious, and thus gets to view her idol in all her needy narcissism.

If Takemoto's follow-up dilutes some of his first tale's edginess -- once the questions left open at the end of "Missin'" are answered and our heroine becomes part of the milieu she once observed as an isolated creepy outsider, it can't help letting out some of the air -- the author of Kamikaze Girls is still able to maintain a goodly amount of psychological suspense. The big tension here resides in whether the none-too-grounded Kasako will be able to manage the demands of punk-'n'-roll living and time with the borderline-y Missin' without herself erupting into the violence we already know is within her. When a fan perishes in the crowd of a Cid Vicious concert, the event so throws Missin' that she backs away from the on-the-edge persona that drew both her fans and Kasako, and we can't help wondering if this'll be the disastrous turning point in the two girls' relationship. "If you are just looking to turn into some average chick," Kasako tells the absent Missin' in her narration, "I will happily crush you to pieces." We believe her.

It all ends on a dubiously positive note, one that had this reader thinking of the finale to Martin Scorsese's bleakly comic King of Comedy, a moment of character triumph so tenuous that we can't help wondering if it even occurred. In its boxed set packaging, Viz calls Takemoto's set of mordant ruminations on love and fixation "grim fairy tales." Fair enough, though I don't think "happily ever after" is truly in the picture.


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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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