Lovefool 11.19.12 | Strange Little Girl

Booze and bad decisions abound in Barbara, a little known one-shot from the "God of Manga," Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka.



So it’s Monday and here I am writing my column after work just like the old days, complete with email sent to JG,FE at 9 PM on Sunday that included the sentences “I spent the day regretting my life choices and reading gossip about my boyfriend, Jeremy Renner. But mostly regretting my life choices.” Nerdlings, Saturday got a little absurd. We started at a local brewery tour at 1:30 and whiled away a few hours there. Eventually, Mr. J tapped out to come home and read, dropping my friend, K, and I off at the first of a few stops and I believe the…well, let’s call a spade a spade, there were definitely tipsy texts and I started sending them about 8 o’clock that evening and I wasn’t even the one that they tried to stop serving. So while it’s not untrue that I spent the day yesterday reading gossip about Jeremy Renner and bemoaning my life choices, I think I also wanted to make sure to get some distance between my Saturday night and reading Barbara lest any unfortunate comparisons arise.
Luckily for me, my night on the town doesn’t come close to what we see in Barbara, Osamu Tezuka’s almost frighteningly adult manga about a beautiful and brilliant young alcoholic and an older writer who we could probably apply the word “deviant” to without having to really feel bad about it. Really, in comparison, K and I had a few cocktails and got a little giggly and irritated our significant others. Barbara drinks a bottle of whiskey in the bath and her friends have sadomasochistic theater nights and will kill for money. I didn’t need to worry. In fact, I feel a little better.
Oddly enough for the tale I’m describing, you may have recognized the creator’s name. Osamu Tezuka is stratospherically famous in nerd circles but even the laziest of nerdlings may have recognized him as the creator of Astro Boy, which is decidedly more family friendly and sure to bring on the warm fuzzies, whereas I needed to take little breaks from reading Barbara. Barbara is little-known outside of Japan, this being the first English translation available, funded via Kickstarter and spearheaded by Digital Manga Publishing, and it’s not hard to see why it may not have been the first pick of licenses for the American manga market. It is an older book, having been written in the ‘70s and, while some of the people and actions portrayed in the book are pretty dated by now (domestic violence is frowned on a lot more these days, I’m told, but it was apparently quite the pastime in 1970s Japan), it’s still absurdly unsettling in parts. Like, the entire last 300 pages. There’s a lot of unsettling happening here.
You might have picked up that Barbara, the story’s titular character, is a bit of a mess. Homeless, alcoholic, bad at picking friends but somehow inspiring—she’s adrift in a compelling sort of way and that’s even before you find out she’s got strange powers. She does what she wants, says what she wants, drinks everything she can get her hands on, moves from man to man and administers her considerable favors at a whim. Yosuke Mikura is a bored member of Tokyo’s intelligentsia who just doesn’t know when to walk away. He’s also in the unfortunate habit of trying to sleep with things he decidedly shouldn’t, such as mannequins and cute dogs, in the more extreme cases. One day, while monologuing at Barbara about his first novel in one of the book’s many forays into the philosophy of art (which isn’t nearly as awful as it sounds and is actually kind of compelling), he realizes that she’s exactly like the character he wrote in it and that’s why he’s so intrigued by her, that’s why he keeps her around, and that’s when the story starts to get a little creepy.
Barbara and Mikura, of course, don’t meet cute at all, not even a little bit. Mikura is incredibly jealous of anyone Barbara happens to be making time with and Barbara is wary of most of Mikura’s girlfriends, which makes sense since they’re likely to be a lamp or a politician’s awful daughter. But Barbara’s got some pretty special tricks up her sleeve and, eventually, Mikura falls head over heels in love with her and that’s where things start to get a little crazy. He finishes his first book and eventually figures out that Barbara is an honest-to-gosh muse. Deities tend to travel in packs in myth and Barbara is no different. She’s watched over by her mother, Mnemosyne, and an eerily calm wizard and, when Mikura proposes, you know that’s not going to be a traditional wedding. It’s not and it kind of goes downhill from there until Mikura is mad and Barbara is a myth and love, his endless obsessive love for Barbara, for the spark she gave him, for her endless changes and whims, has nearly completely erased Mikura. Obsession does that, I hear.
Really, all things considered, this brilliant and slightly frightening tale makes me feel better about my life. It’s true that I had some ‘splainin’ to do on Sunday morning but Mr. J and I will just go on with our lives, only a touch mad and with the rarest hints of…well, let’s not call it genius, lest we bring strange little gutter girls knocking on the door. I’ll settle, right now, for being boring. | Erin Jameson
Click here for a preview of Barbara, courtesy of Digital Manga Publishing and!

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