Review

by Carlo Santos, Oct 22nd 2008

Faust (anthology)

Vol. 1

Synopsis:
Faust Vol. 1
Japan's top writers and artists come together in this anthology of short fiction, essays and manga. Author NISIOISIN explores the mysteries of the CLAMP universe in a xxxHOLiC short story, Boogiepop creator Kouhei Kadono presents a young man with unusual powers in "Outlandos d'Amour," a boy with a hole in his head meets a girl with a horn in hers in "Drill Hole in My Brain," Otsu-ichi teams up with Takeshi Obata in the Doraemon-inspired "F-sensei's Pocket," and Kinoku Nasu collaborates with Type-Moon's Takashi Takeuchi to present the first chapter of the novel The Garden of Sinners. Aside from prose fiction, cultural critics like Tatsuhiko Takimoto (Welcome to the NHK) offer commentary on the state of pop culture, while NISIOISIN also lends his writing talents to a manga short by Yun Kouga.
Review:

CLAMP. NISIOISIN. Kouhei Kadono. Takeshi Obata. Yun Kouga. Some guy from Type-Moon. If there isn't something that makes you want to read Faust, maybe you don't like Japanese pop culture as much as you thought you did. This anthology's pick-and-choose nature may not provide as much depth as some may like, but it does provide a wealth of variety, and most readers will find at least a couple of pieces that make the book worth it. The scope may seem daunting at first—fiction, non-fiction, comics, 400+ pages—but the guiding principle is simple: this is a book designed to tickle the mind and send one on flights of imagination, and given the roster of all-star creators, that's a whole lot of imaginative flying.

Short fiction is the bread and butter of Faust, totaling almost 300 pages of stories—each one readable in about an hour or so. Although not as epic as a full novel (or series of novels), these shorts are still satisfying enough in themselves. Some are more satisfying than others, though, depending on how well the authors employ the genre tropes at their disposal. Sitting at the bottom of the pile is "The Garden of Sinners: A View From Above," which trots out like old nuggets like a tsundere girl, a string of mysterious suicides, ghostly figures hanging around old buildings ... nothing particularly exciting to see here, move along. (To be fair, it's only the first chapter of a full-length novel, so who's to say it might not get better?) "Outlandos d'Amour" also coasts along at a mildly-interesting-but-not-that-great level—the focus on the characters rather than the thrill of special powers is a smart touch, but also a bit boring.

More accomplished and enjoyable is "xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC," which visits CLAMP's art-noveau supernatural series from the cerebral point of view of NISOISIN. Fans of the original will enjoy the spot-on renditions of the characters—Yûko being sagely mysterious, Watanuki constantly annoyed but curious—and most interestingly, this story is more psychological than supernatural, with mind games being played between the characters. The dialogue sometimes drags and repeats itself, but ultimately, the point that comes across is a thoughtful one.

As far as stories based on existing series go, however, "F-sensei's Pocket" is the real winner—a fanciful comedy that asks, "What if a couple of high school girls stumbled upon Doraemon's gadgets?" Loaded with pop-culture awareness, and even breaking the fourth wall at times ("I can't die; I'm the main character!"), this is what Faust is all about: breathless adventures and insane twists that make one glad to be a fan of "geeky" genre fiction. But for something even more insane, "Drill Hole in My Brain" is the crowning glory of this anthology, a stream-of-consciousness adventure that can only be described as "makes FLCL look like Emma." The overt sexual metaphor of horns and holes in one's heads is just the beginning; surrealism and fetishism and the blurring between reality, imagination, conscious and subconscious make "Drill Hole" an avant-garde tour de force. And even more amazingly, it still manages to have a plot.

By comparison, the essays and manga in the remainder of the book are something of a letdown. Most of the manga doesn't even consist of individual chapters; they're more like individual scenes less than 10 pages long. Blame it on the labor-intensive nature of full-color artwork. The only true manga story is the Yun Kouga/NISIOISIN collaboration, and while it features polished art and an intriguing pair of characters, it pales in comparison to the fiction in the front end of the book. The essays, meanwhile, consist mostly of shoegazing pieces about the otaku lifestyle (honestly, people, save it for your blogs). Ironically, however, the best essay in this set is one from blogger Yukari Shiina, addressing the cultural exchange between Japan and North America and the eternally hot-button issue "What do you call manga that isn't manga?" (Shiina's answer: she calls it "manga.")

Those who physically pick up a copy of Faust will be quick to notice that it is printed on slightly flimsier paper than a typical manga product (it's mostly text, after all). However, there are various extras that clearly cater to the culturally aware reader: detailed translation footnotes, prefaces that put each story into context, and a section of glossy, full-color manga pages (all printed right-to-left, of course). As for the content itself, the translated prose comes out in a style that is clear, modern, and often vibrant—perfect for the generation of young fans who want an imaginative reading experience.

Obviously, Faust's first volume is not the kind of book you give to someone who just got into Naruto. But give it to someone who, let's say, really misses Viz's PULP line, and watch their eyes light up. With its tales of boys with holes in their heads, and mysteriously wise shopkeepers, and schoolgirls who accidentally unleash the inventory of Doraemon upon the world, this is one anthology not to be missed. Perhaps the manga and illustration side gets a little overshadowed, but that's hardly an issue when the story content is so good. And the best part, after it's all said and done, is that there will be plenty more to look forward to in Volume 2.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A

+ A wonderful range of mindbending and creative stories, and honestly, if you pay full retail just for "Drill Hole in My Brain," it's already worth it.
Essay and manga sections are weak; one-shot stories and excerpts aren't able to develop the way full novels do.

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