Raz Greenberg examines Harmony and Genocidal Organ
Japanese science fiction novelist Satoshi Ito, better known by his professional name Project Itoh, had a tragically short career. He published his acclaimed debut novel, Genocidal Organ, in 2007, followed by a novelization of the fourth Metal Gear Solid video game in 2008 and another original title, the dystopian novel Harmony in the same year – all while battling cancer, which finally claimed his life in 2009. Another novel which Itoh began working on before passing away, Empire of Corpses, was finished and published posthumously.
Even this small bibliography was enough to gain Itoh wide recognition, and his novels regularly poll as some of the best that Japanese literary science fiction has to offer. The concluding months of 2015 were supposed to be a grand celebration of Itoh's work, with the release of three feature-length animated adaptations of Empire of Corpses, Genocidal Organ and Harmony. It didn't quite work the way everyone hoped – the release of Genocidal Organ has since been delayed due to financial difficulties at the studio – but the media attention given to Itoh's works among anime fans warrants a reflection of his two original novels, both translated into English and published by VIZ.
The very first page of Genocidal Organ pretty much sets the mood for everything that follows:
“So, there was this little girl's head shoved face first into the tire trucks in the mud.”
This cheerful opening sentence is soon followed by:
“A large pit has been dug in the area that could have been called the village green. At the bottom of the pit was a pile of bodies, charred and smoldering, all heaped on top of one another. There was the smell of singed hair and the smell of burning flesh. The heat had caused the muscles of the half-cooked bodies to contract violently, so the corpses were spread out in a whirlwind.”
And more such vivid descriptions follow. No, Itoh had not foreseen the 2015 global warzone news reports in his 2007 novel; he was inspired by the similarly-depressing news reporting of his own time. The premise behind Genocidal Organ, however (recently announced as a forthcoming film from Korean director Park Chan-wook), is that global warzone atrocities are linked. In the novel's near future setting, murderous violence breaks out in many third-world hotspots, often just as it seems that warring factions in them are about to make peace. As it turns out, a mysterious figure known as John Paul is responsible for setting these genocidal conflicts, and it is up to American Special Forces operative Clavis Shepherd to stop him, though as he soon finds out (surprise!) not everything is as it seems.
Genocidal Organ opens quite strongly. The descriptions of war horrors, as noted above, provide an unsettling atmosphere of a collapsing civilization, passages dealing with military action – although quite few and far between – are exciting, and Shepherd himself is a surprisingly interesting protagonist rather than the generic “man of action”, haunted by a family trauma. Halfway through the book, however, readers might wonder why exactly it is classified as science fiction – there's very little in the way of speculative elements here, scientific or even social.
Shortly after reaching this point they get their answer, as it is here that the plot takes a speculative turn – but also, sadly, where it goes downhill. John Paul's method of manipulating populations into violence is interesting, and his motive for doing so is also interesting, but Itoh handles the revelation of both in a clumsy, sloppy manner. The former is reduced to a forgettable throwaway explanation, the latter is revealed too late to generate any feeling of relevance.
To make matters worse, it appears that in writing the second half of the novel, Itoh was determined to prevent his readers from having any sense of fun or excitement. He does so by flooding them with endless musings of his protagonist that either have very little to do with his immediate situation, or are simply boring to tears. When Shepherd tails a suspect, for example, readers are treated to his cynical view of the current political situation rather than, say, his thoughts of the mission he should be performing. To make matters worse, Shepherd's stream of consciousness – as well as the overlong dialogues, monologues and lectures he participates in throughout the second half of the novel – are spiced with endless namedropping, mostly of different writers, that seem to serve no purpose other than reminding us that the author has read Kafka.
Unlike Genocidal Organ, Harmony makes it clear that we're in a speculative story from the start: it is set in a futuristic Japanese society that managed to make all forms of disease, suffering and bad behavior things of the past. The protagonist, Tuan Kirie, begins the story as a high-school student who befriends another student, a rebellious girl convinced that the seemingly-utopian state she lives in actually offer far less ideal living than it appears. This friendship leads to tragedy, one that keeps haunting Kirie many years later as she grows up and becomes a member of the World Health Organization, serving in some of the globe's less enlightened locations. But when a crisis hits closer to home, Kirie must come to the rescue, as she begins to realize that this crisis and the tragedy she experienced as a teenager may be linked.
Plot-wise, Harmony feels tighter than Genocidal Organ, taking readers from Kirie's youth to her adulthood, and doing so in a rather fast pace. Much like Shepherd, Kirie is a likeable, if flawed protagonist that the readers will have easy time sympathizing with. Her efforts to make sense of the world that surround her contribute to a sense of unfolding mystery. But in spite of his success to describe Kirie's character, Itoh pretty much fails in describing the world she lives in. The novel is written completely from Kirie's point of view, and oddly enough, we learn most of what we know about the world she lives in from what is told to her by other characters. These characters – not unlike those in Genocidal Organ – tend to talk A LOT and push their views aggressively, but they rarely make a convincing argument. Why is the seemingly-utopian Japan we discover in the book actually a terrible place? Is it because under the seemingly-utopian surface there's a sinister, corrupt infrastructure? Well, not really. So why is it such a terrible thing to live in this world? The rather anti-climatic conclusion readers might get to as they read this book is “because some spoiled girl thinks it's not good enough”. I assume that Itoh was attempting to refer metaphorically to his native country when describing the future society in his novel, but seriously – is the worst social commentary that can be made toward modern Japan is that it's a boring place to live? Itoh makes this commentary even harder to take seriously when he compares the utopian society he describes to Nazi Germany. And this unconvincing setup leads to equally unconvincing conclusion, which – again, a weakness shared with Genocidal Organ – is dropped on the readers from seemingly nowhere.
Both Genocidal Organ and Harmony have cool concepts, open strongly, feature interesting protagonists and provide fast and entertaining reading – but neither lives up to the full potential of its concept, and both fall apart as they approach their conclusion. There are plenty set-pieces and ideas in both books to make the animated adaptations work; I just hope that these adaptations will do better job with the narrative, compared to the source-material.
The time is nearly here as Mobile Suit Gundam Part 2 arrives on Blu-ray this coming Monday (8th February.) As we've talked about in the past, the first 1000 units of this across all UK retailers will come with a Limited Edition Artbook too. A reminder only the version that will be available on day on release is the one with the artbook. It will not be possible to buy this without the book on day release of release.
If you want to catchup on how Part 1 turned out, you can find the details HERE.
And before we go any further a reminder that Mobile Suit Gundam Part 2 can be pre-ordered right now from the likes of Amazon UK, Zavvi, Base and our own web shop. And once again, no matter where you pre-order this it will come with the art book.
Synopsis: The epic conclusion of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series comes to the UK for the first time ever, and on Blu-ray too!
The White Base is the target of constant attacks by Zeon, and Amuro and the others have officially become soldiers of the Earth Federation Forces. They return to space to fight in the final campaign, and here Amuro meets the mysterious and beautiful Lalah Sune.
As the war builds to its conclusion, the final battle pits Federation against Zeon, brother against sister, and Newtype against Newtype. The Federation is weakened! Zeon is in turmoil! Will the Zeon fortress of A Baoa Qu stand or fall? It all ends here!
As was the case with our release of Part 1, Part 2 comes in an amaray case with two Blu-ray discs inside containing the second half of the series. Our release includes both the English and original Japanese audio with English subtitles.
~ As was the case with Part 1, a reminder that this is a remastered release of a series first broadcast in the 1970s
With any anime we are delighted to see when it’s possible to have a series or film showcased in the best quality quality and HD remasters are something we’re big fans of, but Mobile Suit Gundam is a slightly different animal. Most HD remasters that made it to the UK have been of far more recent properties, for example a series that was made in the last 15-20 years, but the original Mobile Suit Gundam first aired on Japanese television back in April of 1979. The style of animation has developed so much in the decades following Mobile Suit Gundam that for a first time viewer it can almost be a sort culture shock. Also the way animation was preserved back in the 70s was far different to how it done today.
~ The original Mobile Suit Gundam series was NOT animated in 16:9
As the original Mobile Suit Gundam aired in the late 70s, this series was not animated in widescreen (16:9). This means that when watching the series will be pillarboxed, meaning it will be displayed with black bars at the side of the screen to retain the original aspect ratio (4:3) rather than stretching the image or using other techniques to make it into widescreen.
We appreciate there are a generation of fans who might not be as aware of this fact so we like to make mention of it. Pillarboxing was also utilised for our release of Cowboy Bebop and is also the case for the Season 1 and Season 2: Fumoffu episodes of Full Metal Panic in our Ultimate Edition release.
Meghan Ellis on the shortlist for this year’s Cartoon Grand Prize.
Those responsible for adapting manga into anime or live-action must keep a close eye on the Manga Taisho nominations. Known in English as the Cartoon Grand Prize, only manga with 8 or less collected volumes are eligible for release, placing emphasis on quality of work over quantity. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of manga accolades, this prize stands out from the crowd of prestigious titles available – including the Shogakukan Manga Award and Kodansha Manga Award – due to the unusual nature of its executive committee and selection process. Instead of being curated by the publishers themselves, the Manga Taisho nominations are chosen by bookstore clerks from across Japan. This makes it the award chosen by the people with their finger closest to the Japanese public’s manga-reading pulse.
Eleven titles have been nominated for the ninth annual Manga Taisho Award. 2016’s nominated titles are:
Fans of Princess Jellyfish will no doubt recognise creator Akiko Higashimura in this year’s line-up, while the other nominees are likely to be cautiously hopeful of ousting the six-time nominee, who won in 2015 with her autobiographical Kakukaku Shikajika. But, it’s by no means a sure victory for the legendary creator of girls manga. A strong contender for the winning title is Kei Sanbe’s fantasy thriller Nobody But Me in Town, nominated in 2014, 2015 and now 2016. With an anime adaptation airing this season bound to increase the source work’s popularity even further, this darkly gripping manga could potentially edge out Higashimura’s entry: Tokyo Codliver-girl (above), a tale of marriage, encroaching middle age and the Olympics (a strange melting pot of themes for sure).
Ryoko Kui's tongue-in-cheek Dungeon Fodder (left), in which a party of adventurers attempt to combine sorcerous adventure with handy recipes for cooking fantasy creatures, seems unfortunately like an outside contender, at least this year. Past winners show that perseverance could be the key to success: March Comes in Like a Lion (2009 & 2011), Umimachi Diary (2008 & 2013), and A Bride’s Story (2013 & 2014) were all nominated more than once before they went on to receive the prize. In the case of Akimi Yoshida’s Umimachi Diary, it was 5 years before the manga received the prize, with live action film adaptation Our Little Sister announced the following year to much fanfare both at home and internationally.
Another front-runner is The Town Where Only I am Missing, a.k.a. Erased, by Kei Sanbe. Also adapted into an anime (just announced as forthcoming from Anime Ltd), it features a manga artist with the power to jump across time, who inadvertently sends himself back to his elementary school days in an effort to prevent the death of his mother.
The Manga Taisho committee famously bases its nominations on interactions with customers, as well as members’ personal preferences and whatever is actually selling in their stores. In other words, they look beyond what’s “artsy” and critic-pleasing to what’s popular with discerning manga fans across the country. And for those hunting for new anime and film ideas, what’s a surer bet for adaptation than a series with an established fan-base? Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan was nominated in 2011, and springs to mind as an example of how popular such manga can become with the right attention.
Not to say that all Manga Taisho nominations are suitable for adaptation, nor do all of the creators want their work to be adapted. Kiyohiko Azuma, creator of Yotsuba&! (nominated in 2008), famously shut down rumours after the Manga Taisho 2008 nominees were announced that he was considering an anime adaptation, stating that it would be impossible to present the idiosyncrasies of his manga on-screen. And surely something of the beauty of the Silk Road romance A Bride’s Story (2014) would be lost in the attempt: the intricate embroidery and traditional carving that Kaoru Mori delights in drawing would be nearly impossible to replicate in animated or live-action form.
Whether or not they’re already being courted for adaptation, this year’s crop of contenders looks like it could be a close call. We’ll just have to wait until the awards ceremony in March to see whether Akiko Higashimura can hold onto her crown and become the first person to win the award twice.
We’re at end of the week and with that it’s time to bring some news as today we (Anime Limited) are happy to announce a series currently airing this Winter 2016 season, ERASED, is the latest edition to the our catalogue of titles and one we will be bringing to the UK in the future.
Synopsis: Satoru Fujinuma is a young manga artist struggling to make a name for himself following his debut. But, that was not the only thing in his life that Satoru was feeling frustrated about…he was also living with a strange condition only he was able to experience. - REVIVAL A strange phenomenon where one is transferred back to the moment right before something life-threatening occurs. This continues to happen until the cause of the threat is erased. It is as if somebody is forcing Satoru to stop it from happening.
“Let’s not beat around the bush, I think this show is amazing” says Andrew Partridge, president of Anime Limited. "The story is top notch and doing complete justice to the source material. Also the director, Tomohiko Ito (Sword Art Online, Silver Spoon) is on top of his game. I don’t often hype up shows like this but as things stand this is easily one of my personal top two shows for this winter season and already a candidate for show of the year.”
We look forward to sharing details of our home video release with you in the future.
if you’ve not watched the series yet it’s currently simulcasting to the UK at Crunchyroll, with 4 episodes having aired to date.
Keep an eye out as we’ll have some more news to share with you soon.
Jonathan Clements on the bistromathics of manga.
Casey Brienza’s Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics reveals an ultra-modern publishing industry, exploiting the bleeding edge of digital ingestion and yet staffed by scattered freelance peons, some of whom literally sift through dumpsters for their dinner. Or is it, perhaps, a consensual hallucination of Cool Japan, which is actually “little more than ad copy to allow public funds to go to advertising companies”? Anonymous interviewees pack her pages as she tracks down everybody from the bloviating big boss to the over-worked, under-appreciated translator in pyjamas. The picture she paints is of a business in constant crisis, where, to steal a phrase, nobody knows anything.
Brienza acknowledges the awful poison at the heart of the American manga industry, which is that it was colonised some 15 years ago by snake-oil salesmen and carpet-baggers determined to slap the word manga on anything that they did, out of a cynical desire to clamber aboard a bandwagon that promised, at the time, “double-digit growth.” As I have pointed out on many previous occasions, this didn’t just confuse everybody as to what manga actually was, but also corrupted much of the available data. A manga is a Japanese comic, anybody who says otherwise is selling something. Continue Reading