Katsushi Ota (ed.) | Faust vol. 1 (Del Rey, 432 pgs.)

faust-header.jpgFiction and Manga from the Cutting Edge of Japanese Pop Culture.



Faust is a literary anthology published in book format in Japan since 2003: eight volumes have appeared in Japanese and now a selection of material from all the volumes is available in English translation. Faust vol. 1 is heavy on prose—about 350 of its pages are taken up with fiction and essays—but there is also a manga section of about 60 pages, some of which are reproduced in color.

The stories (some of which are excerpts from longer novels) tend toward the fantastic and surreal. Editor Katsushi Ota has said that most readers of Faust in Japan are young men in their 20’s, and that seems about right for the US market as well (allowing of course that many young women share their tastes, as well as some old folks like myself). If you like stories that are a bit "out there" and play with your mind, you’ll love this anthology. These are definitely not simple stories about high school crushes or magic girls and some take a bit of work to follow, but they’re a good way to sample a different side of Japanese pop culture.

Click for a larger image.Every selection in Faust is introduced by the editor, and there are quite a few explanatory notes as well to the stories and essays as well. The major pieces of fiction include "Outerholic" by NISIOSIN (art by CLAMP), "F-sensei’s Pocket" by Otsuichi (art by Takeshi Obata), "Outlandos d’Amour by Kouhei Kadano (art by Ueda Hajime), "The Garden of Sinners" by Kinoko Nasu (art by Takashi Takeuchi) and "Drill Hole in My Brain" written and illustrated by Otaro Maijo. These are all distinguished artists and authors and there stories are fascinating and challenging, but one of my favorite pieces was the "H People: An Evolving World" by Kozy Watanabe (art by TAGRO). This brief excerpt offers a glimpse into the world of people who suffer from hikikomori or acute social withdrawal-and it’s no trivial problem as some estimate that one percent of the Japanese population suffers from this disorder.

And that’s the beauty of this anthology: it allows you to check out the work of authors you might not otherwise come across, and have a glimpse into a foreign culture without the expense of an air ticket or taking time off from work.

The manga selections are so short that it’s hard to get a feel for the stories. The illustrations are beautiful, however, and show a variety of styles, from the surreal "Nikko Dance Party" by Vofan (art by Nancy Tsai), which features a girl in a billowing white summer dress running through an industrial landscape, to the more traditional and highly detailed "Maple Tree Viewing" by Moheji Yamasaki, which has titles but no dialogue (the author/artist calls it a "Noh play, filled with color."). Selections from these two, plus "Tsukikusa" by take (a tale of a mermaid and a boy) are reproduced in color on glossy paper, and are almost worth the price of the volume just by themselves. They’re also presented in black and white on the same newsprint-like paper used for the rest of the volume, as is the story "After School: 7th Class" by NISIOISIN (art by Yun Kouga) .  

Faust vol. 1 is rated OT, for ages 16+: there’s a fair amount of sexual imagery which is appropriate for young adults (and it appears in the context of imaginative fiction, not for its own sake) but which would fly over the heads of most younger children. | Sarah Boslaugh



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