Saturday, 21 October 2017

Midnight Fishermen: Gekiga of the 1970s by Yoshihiro Tatsumi Review

Midnight Fishermen is the final book by Yoshihiro Tatsumi to be published before his death in 2015. It collects nine stories from the early 1970s, so unfortunately there’s no new material here, though they’ve never appeared in English translation before and they’re mostly good too. 

They’re also pretty damn grim! The mood in all of them is mostly cynical, reflecting the difficulty the stories’ subjects, young people, had in surviving in the oppressive and growing metropolis of Tokyo. The city is a hulking, dirty beast and the characters in the stories are all working or lower-middle-class who can only dream of upward social mobility, owning their own homes or working a decent job - themes that sadly remain relevant for too many today, in the West as in the East. 

But the stories are compelling and well-told by Tatsumi with his characteristically powerful focus on humanity. I enjoyed the one about the stripper who is threatened with arrest if she keeps on stripping, which felt like an unusual but still affecting modern romance about alienation in cities. I also like the one about the man who buys a plot of land way, way out in the country but is overjoyed just to have his foot in the door of property ownership, and the story of the cormorant fisherman, in part because I couldn’t tell where it was going. 

I only disliked the one about the robot servant which was like a crap Twilight Zone short. The title story was way too on-the-nose with the ironic ending and the final one about the lantern angler overly underlined its obvious symbolism - they came off as amateurish in tone because of their lack of subtlety. Otherwise, I really liked how the stories unconventionally stopped rather than ended in a way that played to Tatsumi’s largely realistic storytelling style. 

Like Tatsumi’s other collections, Midnight Fishermen is dark but compelling reading by one of the greatest manga creators of all time. While fans will need no encouragement to pick this one up, I heartily recommend Tatsumi’s books - particularly his masterpiece, A Drifting Life - to all comics readers.

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