Book Review

Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

a manga from the 1950s

Composed on the train to Toronto from Montreal, March 14th, 2022

I did the same thing last night that I did the night before, and read an entire graphic novel when I should have (could have?) been putting myself to bed (or going out to party, whatever). This time, rather than 2021’s non-Doris Lessing inspired Canopus by trumpet player Dave Chisholm (I listened to some of his music, actually, not bad!), I read a Japanese graphic novel from 1956, translated by Akemi Wegmüller and edited by Adrian Tomine.

This one feels somehow older than it is, somehow less sophisticated than I expected it would be.

The art, the drawing, is intentionally blurry, quickly constructed and vague, and the narrative, though engaging, has an unsatisfying coincidence-as-Deus-ex-machina, which felt rather like Tatsumi ran out of ideas…

Black Blizzard is the story of a young piano player who was grooming a teenage singer who works at the circus, and at the start of the story he has just been arrested for murdering her “father”, the circus ringmaster who was trying to keep them apart.

How times change: the idea that the 25-year-old man trying to fuck someone a decade younger than him could even be considered as the good guy and her father who is non-violently trying to protect her as the sinister villain deserving death is… ah… not too palatable. Though, as anyone who has ever met a racist pervert can tell you, the age of consent in Japan is 14, so times haven’t changed.

It’s weird, isn’t it, the idea that the kind of lads who would reference that when I and they were teenagers or undergraduates are now one of two things: either sex tourists travelling to distant parts of the world to live out their long-term fantasies, or they’re not.

It really makes you think about the passage of time.

There are almost certainly people I have met who are sex tourists.

I have heard rumours of a [noun redacted] my own age who has taken to regularly holidaying in [location redacted] and “befriending” the locals, for example. I almost laughed, when the insinuation was first made to me, “no, that’s something someone in their fifties upwards does, right? Not someone in their mid 30s!?” When is a sex tourist not a sex tourist? I don’t know.

(note: TriumphoftheNow.com condemns all exploitative practices: obviously that’s hard to avoid within capitalism, which is why I recommend buying from B Corp companies, friends!)

Anyway.

The pianist is arrested for murder and handcuffed to another violent criminal, a man decades his elder who has been in jail many times for many crimes. The two men are being transported by train and the train crashes. They escape, handcuffed together, evade the police for a bit and the older man considers killing the pianist so he can bite off his hand or something and thus get away, but the two men bond over the pianist telling his story about trying to seduce a teenager. Eventually, the young man takes a sleeping pill and expects to wake up without a hand, but instead wakes up in hospital with both hands, as the older criminal cut his own hand off as he had realised the pianist was actually trying to seduce his secret daughter – who he had left in the care of a circus a decade ago – and he went and discovered the real murderer of the girl’s previous father figure and exonerated the pianist so he could go ahead and look after the older man’s daughter.

It’s contrived and silly and very homosocial (i.e. “I’m glad my teenage daughter has a mentor-lover” is a strange way to think, and it also removes all/any agency from the story’s only woman), but until the underwhelming and flimsily foreshadowed final reveal, it is kinda exciting and kinda fun.

It’s interesting to read manga from that period, especially as pretty much the only manga I have read that I can remember is the contemporary, progressive novel about grief and sexuality, My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tegame, which is obviously coming from a very different place, politically, socially, to Tatsumi’s book.

It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Interesting as a historical object, which I find is acceptable in literature that takes less than 45 minutes to read, but unforgivable in something that takes more than a couple of hours, tops.

Order direct from the publisher, Drawn & Quarterly.


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