The Tale of Genji (Dark Horse)

Yoshitaka Amano eroticizes a millennia old classic in a Cliff's Notes you never imagined. (Dark Horse; 80 pgs FC; $24.95)

(W: Anri Ito and Junichi Innura; A: Yoshitaka Amano)

With a page count to match its age, The Tale of Genji is one serious piece of fiction. Written by the imperial lady attendant Murasaki Shikibu and credited as the world's first novel, the tale collects the romantic experiences of Japanese prince Hikaru Genji. From stepmothers to ten-year-old brides-to-be, Genji loves up the ladies all over Japan, but never casually. While this condensed version may not capture the true intensity of each relationship, Amano is there to make the point.

Click thumbnail for a larger image.Since 1967 when he got his big break from Tatsunoko Productions, Amano has been sweating out his craft with some of the top animators, video game designers, and playwrights in the business. Those who are new to Amano's work might better recognize him from his character designs for Squaresoft's epic Final Fantasy series or the gothic anime classic Vampire Hunter D. To say the least, his paintings are breathtaking.

Imagine a spoonful of oil dropped into a beaker of water. Now imagine in that chaos of swirling liquids a face appears, then several more. Suddenly, there are bodies braided together in a confusion of windblown silks and feather-light touches. That is the work of Amano-elemental, contradictory, paradoxical. Working within one of the most difficult mediums to control, Amano manages to create seamless movement and rich coloring with the normally-transparent art of watercolor. His characters are smooth, often nearly sexless, but always sensual.

Click thumbnail for a larger image.Along with the showcase of Amano's paintings, because, let's face it, that's really what this collection is, Anri Ito and Junichi Innura include basic information about each of Genji's encounters, as well as excerpts from the actual work, letting readers know that while the Tale may be old, it's certainly not inaccessible. For the money, the presentation is pretty impressive: onion-skin title page, leather-colored fly leaves, and even a foldout poster reminiscent of Amano's dream king scene in Sandman: The Dream Hunters. Not a comic fan? Fear not! To date, Amano has never illustrated for comics, staying instead with illustrations for longer prose stories, which means all you hipsters out there can safely enjoy the read without endangering your street cred. So, if you've got the cash, or, barring anything illegal, can scrape it together, definitely pick this one up. If anything, it'll make the other books on your shelf jealous.

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