Jul 11, 2013
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...”
With these verses, William Shakespeare summed up in his “As you like it” what would three hundred years later become the foundation of Goffman and Pirandello's philosophies. That's right, every human, every day plays an act, wearing a different mask in any situation as the latter would write, all to keep on living and mingle inside this society which sometimes is more of a fictional world than the real theatre.
Along came Hiroki Endo and, taking inspiration by real and imaginary
experiences, he wrote his own personal view of the world, giving birth to a miniature stage with many different settings and characters.
Known as the author of the long running series Eden and All Rounder Meguru, Endo is renowned as an eclectic artist who struggled to find his path in life and reflected this kind of dramatic events in his psychological stories with plenty of drama and black humour. His “Tanpenshu” (or short stories) is a collection of works made since his debut in 1996, and includes seven one-shot manga published during the following four years, all serialized the Afternoon magazine from Kodansha.
It all began with "The Crows, the Girl and the Yakuza", Endo first tale about his recurrent theme of the “dog-eat-dog” world, where the strong oppresses the weak, unable to fight his fate and in a desperate search of strenght. And so we follow Aoki, an old yakuza who, after meeting a lonely girl surrounded by crows, begins to meditate about his life and why he chose to be an outlaw. It all comes down when the weak discovers how each life is precious and important in its own way, making the crow be forgiven and get back the white feathers it once lost.
Right after we have “Because You're Definitely a Cute Girl", the confusion of a high school girl regarding sex and relationships, weighted by the reading of Jung writings and her feeling of displacement and repression of the emotions she desperately seeks to let out. Both at home and outside, she feels like being forced to act like a good girl, a normal teenager and a lovely daughter, while constantly wondering why she has to put up with all these things until she eventually snaps. The unbearable weight of society is hinted in every dialogue, from a middle school girl who doesn't want to study Maths to the gesture of checking the lenght of the skirt after hearing a group of girls discussing about fashion.
Despite having been published on the second volume, chronologically the next one is “Platform”. The story centers around Takayuki Shinohara, the younger son of a respected yakuza boss, and how he relates as an outsider to his father and older brother's buisness, in a sort of “cold war”, as it is said in the manga. It's a tale about the search for love from those who we consider as “family” and about the future: the platform in the title is a symbol of change, referring to how departing and arriving from a train station is often a way to start a new life and cuttng all the ties with the past. As a matter of fact, in the end the protagonist will have to choose between which world he wants to live in and how far he's willing to go to secure it.
The last story from the first volume is “For Those of Us Who Don't Believe in God”, probably the most meaningful of the whole collection and a masterful example of metafiction. It embodies the concept of “world as a stage” itself, presenting a theater troupe in the middle of the preparations for their show. Meanwhile, lives link on and off the stage, with a director going through a crisis with his partner and using the show as a therapy and to mock his fellows, making people play a role which is ironically and diametrically opposite to their situations, which makes them reflect about their current lives and life in general.
“Hang” means escape. Not in a literally way, obviously, but with a little bit of mental associations it's easy to interpret it like that; as we know, “hanging” is both a way to kill or to suicide, most of the times the latter one, and suicide is seen as the only way to flee from all the problems and worries. The title also hold another meaning, which is referred to the travel of self-destruction of the two main protagonists, Shokichi and Megumi, from the boundaries of humanity, just to find out that there's no escape since all the world is “hanging” to the technological development.
"High School Girl 2000" , as stated in the synopsis, is a semi-autobiographical story about the author himself while lazing around during his job and thinking about some major events in his high scool and adult life, from the inspiration to be a mangaka to the arrogance of a man who apparently realized his life's goals (in that period he was in the first year of Eden's serialization so he could feel a little overconfident). Overall the story doesn't have a clear connotation as drama or comedy, it constantly swings from one to another as showing the worries of a young boy and the disillusionment of a thirty-years old man. It all ends when someday Endo suddenly feels old, despite the relatively young age, and wants to have sex with a high school girl!
“Boys Don't Cry” is the name given to an original six-pages story written expressly for the tankobon and it concludes this collection. It shows the delirious and nonsensical situation of two young people discussing about their unrequited loves on a school roof while debating and insulting each other.
Written in a simple yet sometimes prosaic and theatrical way, Hiroki Endo's Short Stories are also a good way to keep track of his development as an artist: his drawings increase in quality in each story, going from very simplistic sketches to more detailed and refined. The major themes also go under a constant change, losing the original aura of complete despair and gaining little by little the ability to watch everything from a different viewpoint and maybe even joke about some events.
What can be perceived by reading these short stories is a general introduction to the author as well as the deepening of some of his costant references in his later works, such as the conflict between the everyday struggle in the world but with the everlasting conviction that it is worth to stay strong and keep on living.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9
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