Toon Musings: Shopping in the Post-Apocalypse
For some years I have been an aficionado of Japanese animation, or anime— and as a consequence, of Japanese comics, or manga. Sequential graphic art is more popular and more respected in Japan than it is in this country. Come to think of it, that’s also the case with Europe. And possibly South America. Hell, let’s just say that comics in the USA (at least the ones that make money) are a debased, juvenilely operatic, and hopelessly commercialized art form. I mean Captain America, a sleeper agent of Hydra all this time? Captain America?! They’ll do anything to boost readership, these guys.
But I digress.
Comics in Japan are read by pretty much everyone, and there’s a manga for every taste: from comics about photography, or sushi making, or any sport you could imagine (including mahjongg), to a selection of stories featuring zombies, demons, vampires, and witches in both action, horror, and romantic genres; to tales of a dizzying variety of giant things attacking other giant things, to an equally dizzying variety of porn, including the *ahem* tentacle variety (I refuse to go into detail. Use your imagination. Your filthy, filthy imagination.).
One of the weirdest thing I’ve seen in Japanese comics was something called Ringing Bell, the saga of a frolicking little lamb right out of a cute animal cartoon. The story starts quite twee, but then undergoes a decided Change In Tone; the lamb watches his mother slaughtered by a wolf and embarks on a revenge quest which results in his being raised by the selfsame wolf to become a herbivorous Killin’ Machine:
…who then kills the wolf and retreats into exile, never to be seen again. No Happy Meal for this one.
But Japanese manga and anime have their lyrical side, as anyone who’s seen a Hayao Miyazaki film can attest. Which brings me to one of my favorites. It’s about a pair of pistol-packin’ android cuties who make their way in a future landscape of mutants, ecological disaster and the End of Humanity. It’s called Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, or YKK, and contrary to my gross mischaracterization, it’s much closer to the lyrical end of the spectrum.
The title roughly translates to Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip. It takes place in the future, some time after an undefined catastrophe or series of catastrophes has occurred. We know this because there is widespread flooding, and in a future episode a character is shown contemplating Mount Fuji, which has a significant chunk missing from the summit. Nature is gradually overrunning the landscape, with weeds, oddly mutated plants and sand dunes swallowing coastal roads, and outsized trees cluttering the towns. There are many fewer people about, and they seem to inhabit the remnants of cities almost as squatters. Humanity, we are told, is in a long, slow decline; and people seem resigned to it, going about their daily tasks because what else is there to do? The central character, Alpha, is an android who runs a little-frequented coffeeshop in the middle of nowhere. Androids are relatively commonplace in this future, and since they are ageless, they serve as witnesses to the gradual decline of civilization.
The manga is unlike much of what you’ll find in American comics. There are no bad guys, or action in the traditional sense. Nobody fights, or even argues. The only gunplay that occurs is when someone takes some target practice. There is lots of scooter riding, and contemplation of nature, and heaps of philosophical musing. One subplot involves a couple of kids growing up, and their encounters with a mysterious creature that dwells by the lake. The impeccable artwork and well delineated characters draw the reader into its world; and skillfully placed panels and full-page bleeds impart a sort of stillness. Reading it always puts me in a reflective mood.
YKK is a terrific example of the kind of quiet, gentle slice-of-life kind of story that you very seldom see in this this country, which seems more and more addicted to sexually charged, cut-to-the-chase, high-stakes operatic punchfests. I feel confident it’ll never be released in this country, which is why I can comfortably refer you to a translated version which you can read online, all twelve years of it.You won’t even have to stir your ample American buttocks! These pages aren’t flipped; Japanese read from right to left—don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Enjoy.
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring untrammeled wildernesses, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.