Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: A Fish Crawls on Land

Hideo Aduma (also pronounced "Azuma") is one of the more colorful manga artists during the 1970's and 80's. He debuted with the magazine Manga Ou in 1969, and went on to become the father of the lolicon genre.  His series Nanako SOS and Little Pollon were turned into anime in the early 80's.  In the later 80's and early 90's, he was suffering from the pressures of having had to keep to publishing schedules for 20 years and began drinking heavily.  He attempted suicide at least once, and disappeared several times for several months.  He was forcibly committed to rehab, and in 2006, he wrote Disappearance Diary, documenting his problems and experiences as one of the homeless in Japan.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

The Fish that Crawls on Land (Tsuchi wo Hau Sakana), by Hideo Aduma, Grade: A
Subtitled Hideo's Seinen Dairy, Fish is a somewhat fictionalized look at Hideo's career when he was just starting out as an assistant to Itete Doutarou (Rentaro Itai, who is portrayed as a horse).  The chapters ran in different publications between 2005 and '07, and were collected and republished in '09.  In a way, it's hard to tell what's real and what isn't, given the surreal nature of this world. Hideo initially works at a factory stamping living starfish and octopi out of plastic blobs (when they become alive, they attack him).  Fish and whales swim through the air over the city, and whatever Hideo draws in his sketch pad also comes alive.  But, he and his friends drop names like Tezuka, Tsuge Yoshiharu, Shoutarou Ishinomori, Go Nagai, Ryoichi Ikegami and Tetsuya Chiba, all the time.

While Hideo does get "cut work" (piece work cleaning up other artist's manga), it pays poorly, and he has to get a room with two of his friends at a dorm-like apartment building similar to Tokiwa Sou (shared kitchen and toilet, no bath). The three of them live on cup ramen, and all-you-can-eat toast during the breakfast service at a local cafe.  Because they do eat out a lot (cooking is too troublesome), they run ot of money for cigarettes before the end of the month.  However, there are occasional bright spots, such as seeing their own work showing up in the margins of Shonen Sunday, or getting a chance to assist some big name artist who is on a tight deadline.  Plus, there's the joy of seeing all-new manga as it comes out, such as Tsuge Yoshiharu's Neji-shiki, in Garo magazine.  At  one point, one of Aduma's friends, Itou, is joined by an old school mate from Hokkaido, Yukimi Kikuchi.  Yukimi is drawn as a rhino and he has a similar personality.  He gets a job helping Aduma with Itete's cut work, and is the first of the two to make a professional debut.  He's overly serious as an artist, and gets into arguments about manga very easily.  At one point, Yukimi berates Aduma for reading western SF (Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon) and claims that Japanese drama artists are better.

One day, after seeing Midnight Cowboy, Aduma gets fixated on Dustin Hoffman's character and goes out to buy a bottle of whisky to emulate his new hero.  Itou comes into the room to help him finish off the bottle.  They start singing loudly and a neighbor complains about the noise that late at night.  Itou attacks the neighbor before taking Aduma out to paint the town.  The next morning, Aduma throws up and swears to never drink again.  A few weeks later, Aduma finds Itou and Yukimi packing up their things.  Turned out that the neighbor complained to the landlord, who then kicked Itou out of the building.  So, Itou and Yukimi decide to return to Hokkaido, leaving Aduma and one friend, Matsuhisa, behind to keep working in Tokyo.  At the end of the book, Aduma jumps forward to the 2000's and does a "where are they now" recap.  Itete keeps publishing his own material. Matsuhisa goes pro.  Itou attempts to stay in the manga business, but drops out to do manual labor as a construction worker.  He lost track of Yukimi.  As for himself, well, who knows.  However, the fish that crawl and fly are still alive and doing fine.

(All the characters that had appeared  at the beginning had disappeared towards the middle of the book. When Aduma is on his own again at the end, they come back.)

The artwork is great, with some of the bigger layouts being absolutely jammed with detail.  All the female characters look cute, while the males are often portrayed as animals.  This is a very whimsical book, which takes the harder edge off of a life lived at the poverty level.

(Aduma with his mentor, Itete.)

I tried tracking down the names given in this book, but most of them are too incomplete to be useful.  But, there are a few artists of real note, too.

anteater - Wahee - assistant to Shinji Mizushima
horse - Itete Doutarou
Dog - Shijimi - editor at Manga Ou
Koala - Kawakami - editor at Shonen Sunday
Tanuki - Kaaba - assistant to Hideoki Inoue
Alligator - Itou
Owl - Matsuhisa
They visit house of Shinji Nagashima
Shinji's guests are - Fumiko Okada and Eichi Muraoka
Rhino - Yukimi Kikuchi
Mention of Tsuge Yoshiharu and Neji-shiki
Girls at their own house - Waki Yamato and Youko Tadatsu
Wolf - Kawano - new editor at Manga Ou
Singer - Saori Yuki

Summary: A Fish That Crawls is a great gag manga that loosely follows Aduma's early years as a manga assistant,  The artwork is clean and packed with details, the character designs are unique and interesting, and there's in-jokes and gag names everywhere. Great stuff.  Highly recommended.

(At Waki and Youko's house.)

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