Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, October 24, 2009
      ( 10/24/2009 07:14:00 AM ) Bill S.  

”WHO NEEDS SWIMMING WHEN THERE’S SINGING?” In the 23rd century, Neo Takigawa is a “fish out of time.” A vivacious teen with a love of singing and a predilection for short skirts, she’s unsuited to her prudish future world. “Women today are modest and gentle,” the frustrated school authorities bemoan: not so Neo, whose “heinous behavior” is deemed a “danger to the purity” of her school. So when our girl opens a mysterious misty cylinder that transports her back to the era of her daydreams, it appears as if everyone’s prayers are answered. Dropped into 21st century Japan, Neo quickly sets about trying to establish herself as a pop star.

The premise behind Majiko!’s comic manga series Mikansei No. 1 (Tokyopop) is to take our fish out of time and pit her against that business we call show. When she lands in our century, it’s on the lap of a serious-minded would-be singer named Saya Kudou, and the two wind up tentatively partnering as a singing duo. Challenged by the afro-sporting music mogul Ebisu to put on a successful performance in the park, the twosome team up as the unfortunately named Clap and begin their arduous trek to stardom. Relational sparks fly, of course -- as Saya proves to be almost as judgmental as Neo’s old 23rd century teachers -- but we know they’ll hit the big time several volumes down the road. “He doesn’t realize how fun it is to sing with him,” Neo thinks as the two rehearse on a rooftop and start to meld as a singing duo.

Majiko! (also responsible for St Lunatic High School) draws the first volume of this teen-rated comedy with frantic cartoony energy that’s suited to our ultra-perky heroine. This is one of those stories where events move along simply because a fresh character pops up to change the course of action -- just when our pair needs to expand their test audience beyond the kids’ party stage, for instance, a schoolmate of Saya’s appears to tell them about an upcoming school concert -- which can get rather pinball-y at times but not fatally so. Hovering in the background are an anonymous benefactor and a figure who resembles a missing 23rd century school chum of Neo’s, but neither of these prove as diverting as watching our heroine gleefully bounce around her new city playground.

Late in the first volume, Neo receives a note from her unknown helper, which tells her, “If you want to get back to your time then you must succeed at your park concert and make your debut.” As a reader I was less concerned with how this was supposed to work than with why our girl would even want to return to her home era (as far as we know, parents are non-existent in the 23rd century). I also suspect most of Mikansei’s American teen readership, watching our girl take her first joyful steps towards Josie and the Pussycats fame, will be wondering much the same thing.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
      ( 10/21/2009 06:01:00 AM ) Bill S.  

MID-WEEK MUSIC VIDEO: Been watching eps of Jools Holland's "Later" on one of the cable nets lately and was prompted to pull up this 90's performance by Jellyfish from the show:

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Sunday, October 18, 2009
      ( 10/18/2009 02:24:00 PM ) Bill S.  

”WHAT IS THIS FEELING? IS IT DESPAIR . . . DISAPPOINTMENT?” Two things came to mind when I first saw the cover to the first volume of Inio Asano’s two-book What a Wonderful World! (Viz Signature). First was that the image at the top of the cover clearly was designed to evoke Ghost World. Second had we wondering which version of “What A Wonderful World” we were meant to hear in our head when we saw the title. Louis Armstrong or Joey Ramone? I’d bet the latter.

A series of nine interconnected vignettes (entitled “tracks”) populated by a cast of disaffected city youth, World recounts the existential and economic crises of its largely aimless characters: a struggling young college drop-out who half-wishes she could be a shojo heroine, “waiting for their prince to appear on a white stallion;” a school bully, rationalizing the life he’s created for himself; a former punk rocker, settled into a white-color job; a doomed robber striving to impart some last-minute wisdom to his kid partner. “Reality really is harsh,” more than one character repeats, but it also can contain snippets of beauty, too. The trick, as one protagonist says just before he’s about to be iced by a trio of mobsters, is to “aim for the good and live.”

Each of Asano’s vignettes are connected with a seeming randomness -- in one pair of tales, he uses a dragonfly flitting out of the first story as a bridge into the second -- though certain motifs recur suggestively. Images of falling/flying appear in three of the first volume’s “tracks.” In two of ‘em, we see figures toppling off the top of tall buildings; in the third, a young girl breaks through the fence at the bottom of a hill and goes soaring over the rooftops as a large crow watches.

Said bird (who our heroine decides is a shinigami) has been tormenting the young girl, a perennial victim in her school, for her lowly status. “The world of children is just society writ large,” the crow explains, and it soon becomes clear that the creature is badgering our young heroine in order to provoke her into doing something to pull herself out of her victim status. The bird reappears in the end of the volume’s last “track,” after another character’s funeral, so perhaps it truly is a personification of death.

Asano captures each of his people via inner monologues and subtly expressive face work (though he’s not above an occasional cartoony overreaction) and some wittily composed panels. (The image of ex-punk Horita, standing on the wall of his balcony, naked with only his necktie providing any modesty, really made me grin, while the two-page shot of the flying bike girl is particularly memorable.) If he occasionally over-iterates his themes, that’s consistent with World’s cast of rudderless urbanites still in the process of figuring out where they stand in the universe.

This is a group, after all, that likes to talktalktalk their way through epiphanies great and small -- and so they do . . . entertainingly. The cynicism-shielded heroines of Ghost World would recognize ‘em all, though the girls’d probably have a few snarky words about their peers’ typically unguarded openness. Would probably have some cracks to make about Satchmo’s hit pop song, too.


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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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