Dec 20, 2008
Beatnik (All reviews)
The first story in Fuyumi Souryo's collection, Taiyou no Ichiwaru, is a charting of an artist's life from child to woman, perpetually battered by Japan’s mentality to individuality. It perfectly summarises not only this collection but Souryo's own sensibilities. To maturely convey worthwhile ideas to a primarily youthful audience, both responsibly and creatively.

The Rainbow Fish follows Sari from a school classroom, where she is continually told to conform to convention by her teachers when it comes to art, which befuddles the child who just wants to colour a fish in all the colours of the rainbow. As she grows up, this attitude of not stepping out of bounds is hammered into her constantly and eventually a meek acceptance settles as she refrains from treading into unknown waters with her profession, choosing to do what people prefer, just to pay the bills.

It’s basically a response to Japan's general attitude to conformity, which is made blatant by another character's quip that conforming is like prostitution. The protagonist is aware of the entire situation through monologues, and her circumstance is neatly emphasised through an often humorous side plot of a conflict with her slacker boyfriend who sees no boundaries with his art and does whatever he pleases, no matter the consequences. The Rainbow Fish is a great bittersweet tale that may well be auto-biographical or self-deprecating or just a form of therapy for the author, but no matter what it is, it remains compelling.

While the first story focused on conformity, the second, Damned Sun, explores morality. A day in the life of Maki travelling around Tokyo involves observing random people falling down stairs or outright killing themselves and various reactions from the public. Maki’s own reaction is muted, rather than be shocked she’s numbed to the ordeals of other people. She hooks up with another character and we get another Souryo patented humorous commentary on the Japanese mind-state to death and empathy. The ending goes a bit too far into melodrama, but still retains emotion.

“Well, I think human beings are similar to groceries. Everyone has a certain...durability,” says an author of a novel in the third story of this collection, Strange Trait. A publisher interviews the author, Ryoko, and throughout this chapter we get flashbacks of the real inspiration of the main character of her novel, a girl Ryoko grew up with during school. Souryo explores the power of subjective memory and keen observation unbeknownst to the author herself who is caught up in idol-worship of her childhood friend.

In the last story, A Strange Gene, Ayano, manager of a marketing division, is obsessed with her appearance. Not a case of vanity, but efficiency, as in her opinion 90% of people’s opinion is based on aesthetics. First impressions count, as they say. Her thought-process is so decisive that when rhetorically comparing two people with the same ability, the person with the better look will come out on top, and such is her mentality. Her assistant Saegusa is affected by her, and he in turn begins to question the relevancy of people worrying about what others think of them. Thematically this story rounds off this collection of commentary on aspects of Japan’s attitudes quite well, and the story itself although initially appearing to be predictable eventually hits you with a twist without compromising consistency.

A great collection from Fuyumi Souryo, full of engaging art, and substance and depth.