A Distant Neighbourhood

Distant Neighbourhood NE_COVER.indd

Hindsight is a seductive thing. It leads us to wonder “what if I’d taken that path instead of the other?”; “What if I’d asked that girl out when I had the chance?”; “What if I’d done more with my life?”

Now imagine if you had that chance to do just that!

This question is posed by A Distant Neighbourhood, from four-times Eisner award nominated Jiro Taniguchi as its lead character, fourty-something workaholic Hiroshi Nakahara, finds himself falling asleep in late 1990s Japan – only to wake up not only in 1963, but also in his own 14-year-old self, with his adult memories and knowledge intact. After a short period of euphoria, and the chance to enjoy life as a schoolboy again, he realises that not only could the opportunity be here to change history, but also a chance to solve a mystery that had plagued him for years… why was this the year that Hiroshi’s father disappeared?

Like the Studio Ghibli film Only Yesterday, A Distant Neighbourhood (which was originally published by Shogakukan in 1998) inadvertently gives us a snapshot of two different time periods. Firstly, within the 1960s we get to see a post-war Japan in a state of transition, with traditional farming and cultural styles making way for more modern, western attitudes and fashions (at that time Japan was only a year away from hosting the Olympic games) and the resulting prosperity bringing hope of a better future for the people of Japan. In comparison though we see the Japan of late 1990s – a time of Japan trying to recover after a long time in recession caused by the bubble crash and struggling through high unemployment and debt to become a superpower yet again.

The writing for this series is told, in part, by Hiroshi himself as he monologues about events and sometimes considers the difference this childhood, with its relative freedom, compares to his stressful life as an adult. “Surely no one can truly become an adult”, to quote part of the series “Deep in peoples hearts their child self remains, [but] because of time people are forced to act like adults, and the shackles we call maturity shut down the free mind of children”.

As for the artwork? What can I say about the artwork for this series? It’s simply stunning is all I can say – with incredibly near-photographic artwork of Hiroshi’s home town of Kurayoshi, both in the 90s and the 60s, in some cases you’ll be spending as much time admiring the artwork as you will the story itself and in fact I could almost imagine myself walking along those same streets and locales, the detail being that thorough.

The only grumble I could lay on this series is the price tag – at £19.99 this can cost a lot more than your usual manga series, yet I felt that the writing and all round execution of this series is more than worth the extra price. A Distant Neighbourhood is one of those rare gems – a well though out, thought-provoking series that will leave you coming back again and again to discover more facets that you may have missed before.

A distant neighbourhood are available from the  Portent mon/Fanfare website  or from all good retailers.

The Kurosagi Corpse delivery service vol 1

If C.S.I. Was written by a Japanese horror writer what you’d probubly get would be The Kurosagi Corpse delivery service.

The series, written by Eiji Otsuka, with artwork by Housei Yamazaki, and which is currently being published by Dark Horse, follows a group of students from a Buddhist university as they utilize their unique talents to help lay to rest the souls of those who due to one thing or another cannot pass on – and all of these talents get utilized during the four episodes of this first of, to date, 15 volume series, from dowser Numata to teen aged embalmer Makino to the double act of channeler Yata and his ….less than eloquent hand puppet, to group leader Sasaki, who’s own contribution is to sell photos of bodies on the Internet, and whilst doing so gain leads for their next jobs.

[from left] Numata, Makino, Yata, Karatsu and Sasaki

However for me the star of the show has to be Karatsu – a trainee Buddhist who’s main talent is the ability to speak with the dead – and at times of need become a channel for what looks like Frankensteins monster in Japanese shrine priests uniform – what their connect is not known in this volume, although many hints are made that karatsu is not doing this entirely out of charity.

Each of the cases in this first volume follows roughly the same pattern – the group discover a body and, after determining their identity and what they wish to gain peace, try to uncover how to lay them to rest, with the deceased awarding them in a kind of karmic payback – they even hve their own delivery van!

After the first episode, which involves suicide of a pop idol and a boyfriend who gives new meaning to “love from beyond the grave”, we are treated to three, non connected stories, which span a spectrum of the bizarre – mummies in a portable altar, to finding a body comprised of several different people, to even beating an insurance fraudster who can predict the time of your death!
From the getgo however i must point out that the artwork of this series is graphic in its portrayal of the bodies – from the first hanging, rotted body of the first chapter to scenes of a fridge full of body parts in the third chapter – Housei Yamamzaki pulls no blows with his depiction of the victims, confirming the need for this series to be published with a plastic wrap and parental advisory warning – this series is not for the squeamish!
Overall form this first volume, id say that in its current format i can see potential for success with this series, an opinion backed by the fact that this is published by dark horse comics – a company not know or picking flops.However i could see that, without variation in plot line or character development, even the shock value of this series might not be enough to keep this series going.

As this first volume proves, Karmic paybacks a bitch!

12 of the 15 volumes of Kurosagi Corpse delivery service are currently available in the west from Dark horse comics with more on the way.