Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Disappearance Diary

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Disappearance Diary, by Hideo Azuma, Grade B+
Having finished Azuma's "A Fish that Crawls", I figured that I might as well try "the big work" while I was at it.  As mentioned in the previous review, in the late 80's and 90's, Hideo cracked under the constant pressure to meet deadlines for 20 years, and turned alcoholic.  He would disappear for months at a time, and "Disappearance Diary" chronicles his experiences when he was homeless.  It also includes his being forcibly committed to rehab.  There's a very detailed review on ANN, so I don't really feel like going into the book to any great depth here.  Additionally, it has been translated commercially into English and is available on Amazon, so I recommend that you buy it and check it out yourself first hand.

I will comment briefly on the story, though.  In the first section, Azuma loses it while drawing manga one day, and simply walks out the door and keeps walking.  He finds a wooded area, ties a noose around his neck and to a tree on the side of a hill, gets drunk, and lets gravity do the rest.  However, he simply falls asleep and wakes up the next day.  He starts scavenging food, bedding and drinks, and eventually builds himself up a nice little pad in the trees.  Unfortunately, after a few months, he's spotted trying to take cigarette butts from the trash near a trainstation, and the police pull him in for questioning.  He's treated nicely, but his identity gets revealed, and one of the detectives recognizes his name.  His wife is notified of his whereabouts, and while he waits to be taken home, the detective makes him draw manga for the department.

In the second section, Azuma can't take the pressure anymore, and he escapes to a remote park to become homeless again.  He's spotted by a scout for a construction company, and recruited to do manual labor.  After half a year, his body has gotten pretty toned, and the company has set him up in a small apartment.  The money comes in steadily enough to let him eat well and keep drunk at nights, and the people he works with are motley enough to keep him entertained.  He does get his paycheck garnished as his boss pockets some of the money for himself, but as long as there's enough left over for his own needs, he doesn't fight back.  Eventually, he decides that it's time to quit the company, and almost immediately all the rental furniture is cleaned out of the apartment and he's forced to go back home.

There's kind of an interlude with section 3, where Azuma talks about his bibliography, describing the different projects and magazines he worked on up to the late 70's.  He developed his drinking habit because his editors would take him out on the night and force sake on him.  Because of the short deadlines and constant pressures of having the editors come in and change his work on him, he kept drinking.  At one point, he met Tezuka, who complained that his editors insisted on changing his storyboards, too.  Azuma got married, and his wife worked as his assistant for a while, then after this he picked up two more assistants.  They got together and the three of them put out a doujinshi at Comiket, which helped built Azuma's reputation as a lolicon artist.

In the last section, Azuma continues drinking and stops eating solid food.  He collapses on the street, and his wife has to come pick him up.  She decides to have him carted off to a new hospital for rehab.  The story then consists of explanations of his daily routines, descriptions of the people he encounters there, and a look at the Japanese version of AA.  Two of the "inmates" get released and almost immediately relapse.  One, though, had gotten into a fight with the head orderly, who refuses to let the guy back into the hospital when the ambulance shows up at the door.  One day, Azuma is allowed to walk outside on his own, but he gets lost and needs to call the hospital for directions to return before curfew.  The second he steps back into the hospital, three of the nurses and orderlies surround him and sniff his breath and clothes.  The chapter ends with 2 months left to go for his treatment.  The last few pages contain a transcript of a conversation between Azuma and Tori Miki.

Summary: The artwork is typical Azuma, meaning that the female characters are cute, the male characters are very diverse, and the story is kept fairly lighthearted.  The line work is clean and solid, and the backgrounds are very detailed.  My one complaint is that Azuma's own character design is too cartoony for the problems that he goes through; I'd prefer it if he drew himself a little more realistically.  Overall, though, I recommend Disappearance Diary to anyone that likes manga but has no idea what it's like to be a manga artist.

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