Faust Book 1

Review by Ed Sizemore

Faust is Del Rey’s entry into Japanese anthology publishing. However, this is a radical break from the magazines put out by Viz and Yen Press. Faust is self-described as “a leading-edge publication… an avant-garde crossover in which Japan’s manga, anime, and video game-based pop culture collide, tempestlike, with the hottest young writers on the Japanese literary scene.” It’s an accurate, if slightly bombastic, description. This first volume has 354 pages of prose and 60 pages of manga, including 18 color pages.

The prose section is obviously the heart of the book. There are seven short stories, four pieces of various non-fiction writings, and one interview. For this section, I’ll focus my remarks on the five longer stories.

Faust Book 1 cover
Faust Book 1
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The opening piece is an excerpt from the forthcoming xxxHOLiC book Another xxxHOLiC by NISIOISIN. (The author writes his name in all caps.) Although a book chapter, it’s still a complete story in its own right. Fans of the xxxHOLiC series will enjoy this story. Be warned that this is NISIOISIN’s take on the characters and not simply the manga in prose form. The most noticeable difference is NISIOISIN’s use of dialogue. Watanuki comes across as more self-assured in this story. I found the way he verbally sparred with Yuki jarring. Yuki seems a little more remote and vicious. There is a lot of wonderful esoteric talk about hitsuzen and human psychology here. I’m definitely picking up the book when it comes out.

The next story is Outlandos D’Amour by Kouhei Kadono with illustrations by Ueda Hajime. This is the story of Kunio, a man with the ability to sense if a person has a grudge against them, or if someone wants to harm them. It’s an interesting character study. I had read Kadono’s Boogiepop novels from Seven Seas, and this is much better. It looks like his style has improved, so I’m interested in reading more of his recent work.

The third story is Drill Hole in My Brain by Otaro Maijo, with illustrations also by Maijo. Hideaki survives an attack by his mother’s paramour but gets a screwdriver shoved deeply in his skull. The story tells of the delusions he has while the tool is in his brain. There’s a lot of pseudo-erotic imagery. This is definitely part of the avant-garde fiction Faust brags about publishing.

Fourth is F-Sensei’s Pocket by Otsuichi with illustrations by Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Hikaru no Go, Ral Grad). It’s my favorite story of the volume. I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises, so I’ll just say it’s the story of what happens when a fictional item becomes real and falls into the wrongs hands. I love the cameo at the end. If you want to know what “manga-inspired” means when it comes to fiction, this story is a perfect example.

The last of the longer stories is The Garden of Sinners: A View from Above, an excerpt from the novel of the same name by Kinoku Nasu, with illustrations by Takashi Takeuchi. It’s a paranormal story with some unusual characters. I found it a little difficult to follow, because we’re not given a lot of details about the dynamics of this universe. The lead female possess abilities that aren’t actually explained. Since this is the first chapter of a novel, things might get clearer later on. Even though I have ambiguous feelings for the sample in this volume, I plan to check out the full novel when it comes out.

The color pages of the manga section are almost worth the price of the book alone. I discovered three artists that I thoroughly enjoyed and hope to see more of in the future. My favorite artist is take. (His pen name is the Japanese word for bamboo.) He did the cover illustration and a beautiful four-page story, Tsukikusa. As a bonus he loves cats and Osamu Tezuka, so it’s like I found a kindred soul in Japan. (By the way, I really like the cover illustration and wish Del Rey would make some mini-posters or pencil boards of it as promotional materials.)

The other two color artists are VOFAN and Moheji Yamasaki. Both have produced beautiful stories with lush color and great character designs. VOFAN’s art is slightly impressionist, and his story is very touching. Yamasaki’s style is more realistic, and his story has the feel of a traditional Japanese folktale, complete with a twist at the end.

In prose, translators can be unsung heroes; with Faust, they’ve done a wonderful job. They’ve given each author a unique voice and each piece flows well. There are plenty of footnotes to explain pop culture references. Each piece also comes with an introduction by the translator that introduces the Japanese author and any particular challenges a piece provided the translator.

My only concern with this magazine is the price. For an anthology, I think that $17.00 is over the top, especially since this is the size of a standard paperback novel. Yen Press and Viz both offer oversized magazines with the same number of pages for half to a third of the price. Del Rey needs to price this more competitively. Also, Del Rey should think about offering a subscription service.

Overall, I tremendously enjoyed this volume. I really would like to see this magazine do well. Japanese prose seems to be real hit or miss in America. Viz, Seven Seas, and Tokyopop have had problems finding an audience for their light novels. By contrast, Vertical seems to have done well with horror and adult literature. Faust is a good middle ground where readers can encounter a nice range of Japanese fiction. I see so many otaku at conventions talking about how much they love Japanese culture, but they only partake of the frothy entertainment side found in most manga, anime, and video games. Hopefully, Faust will serve as a stepping stone to delve deeper into contemporary Japanese culture.

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2 Comments

  1. [...] Ed Sizemore reviews vol. 1 of Faust and Johanna Draper Carlson recommends vol. 5 of High School Debut at Comics Worth Reading. Dick [...]

  2. [...] Despite the high costs, Faust provides very solid entertainment throughout the whole book. I have long since resigned to the fact that in a serialized manga collection, some of the selections just won’t do anything for me. Yen Plus is a good example of this; I liked maybe half of the series and can really care less about the other half. Not so with Del Ray’s Faust. In fact, save for one of the more esoteric essays and one of the one-shot manga (I didn’t buy a novel to read manga, I guess), I enjoyed just about everything in it. [...]

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