Friday, April 4, 2008

Weird Japan: The Enigma of Amigara Fault

A friend of mine sent me a link for a manga that she said was cool and creepy. Japanese culture? Being strange? No, I cannot fathom this concept. Reading manga is like picking through port-a-potties looking for lost jewelry. There are some real gems in a large cesspool of mental waste. Much like American comics, really. For every Kurt Busiek, whose Astro City comics take superheroes and elevate them to literature, there are a few dozen stories about people in leotards with mutant powers re-enacting Dawson's Creek with laserbeam eyes (yes, a barely shrouded jab at the X-Men). I like non-hero stuff like Preacher, which kicks DaVinci Code's ass, and Transmetropolitan, which is Hunter S. Thompson in a bizarre and appealing future, but those are both finished.

Same with manga. There are masterpieces like Akira, and then there's a few shelves of schoolgirls who are the destined protector of the forest. The high-school drama meets fantasy/horror/mecha-Shiva robots stuff we usually see is for young teens, but Full Metal Alchemist and Death Note were decent. I like creepier stuff, like Junji Ito's Uzumaki (Spirals) and The Enigma of Amigara Fault.

It's only 33 pages, a backup story in his manga called Gyo. While I did read all 1500 pages of Akira, I appreciate a short story. Part of what keeps me from being an avid comic book reader is that the medium is neverending. Stories need a middle, beginning, and an end. 478 issues? No way I'm reading that. I did buy all 28 books of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, which I only read on the subway. They fit in a pocket and are mostly pictures, so you don't go wiggy reading them on a jumpy train.

The Enigma of Amigara Fault begins with an earthquake that reveals a fault line through a remote mountain pass. People who saw news of it on television feel compelled to go to it. When they arrive, they find human-shaped holes in the rock, leading into darkness. Cookie cutter shapes in the earth that seemingly lead to nowhere. As more and more people show up, they find that the caves are perfectly shaped to their bodies, and if they go in, there is no way out, and no one can follow. Owaki, the protagonist, has nightmares about the holes and their origin; what is finally revealed is bizarre and creepy, reminiscent of the 30's era pulp tales of Clark Ashton Smith. You can read all of the story here. Drr... drr... drr.. drr... trust me, you'll get it after you read it.

I also liked Ito's story Uzumaki, or "Spirals." It's about a town that becomes obsessed with spirals. While it does get a campy quality to it by the end, it is genuinely creepy in the beginning. I've only seen the movie, which devolves into people turning into snails because of their spiral shells, and a spiral of a hurricane appearing over the town. It's a decent, somewhat silly horror movie, but I imagine the manga is creepier. Maybe when I'm done with all 28 Shogun Assassin books I'll pick it up.

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