by Moyoco Anno
published by Vertical; $14.95 US
I’m amazed that Insufficient Direction made it into the translated English market, because it is SO geeky. Sure, lots of readers will identify with the idea of a nerd couple sharing their passions, but the specific references will be unknown to all but the most devout anime fans. Although I was quite surprised by an early mention of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp — that 1970 TV show for kids featuring dubbed monkeys indicates the level of obscurity prized here.
There are plenty of endnotes, though, explaining the references. At times, I was overwhelmed; I found it difficult to focus on the universalities, like arguing over how much space to dedicate to statues of cartoon characters, because of all the specifics I’d never heard of. An argument can be made that the details are unnecessary, but I got the impression that they were such fans that the references were carefully chosen, so I did feel a bit left out, not understanding the subtleties of their enthusiasms. The lesson, I suppose, is that there are always people geekier than you are. And that plays into the specific relationship on display here.
The chapters are short, six-page episodes in which Rompers (the woman, a 30-year-old manga artist, drawn as a baby, an odd choice) shows how she and her husband, an anime director (drawn as an adult man), conduct their activities, which range from shopping for wedding attire to taking care of each other when they’re sick. They go outside to get some needed fresh air and try to lose weight and debate how often one should bathe (a particularly nerdy stereotype). Their couple-dom is the attractive part of the book, as most people in relationships can relate to the everyday squabbles and concerns.
I was a little put off by how throughout Rompers is insecure about whether she’s enough of a nerd to be a good otaku wife. She clearly knows a ton about this stuff, so his early statement that he wants “to spend the rest of my life educating you as an otaku” plays into all those horrible stereotypes of how geek girls aren’t really geeky enough. It seems to me that this series may have been sold on his fame, as director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, so perhaps that’s why he’s treated as the star and she’s portrayed as more of an acolyte or apprentice to his geekiness. She also, at one point, talks about trying to pretend to be “normal”, while he seems to have embraced his otaku-ness more wholeheartedly.
The art is simpler than in Anno’s other books, Happy Mania and Sakuran, as suits what’s more of a gag manga. The characters, particularly Rompers, who has line spirals instead of eyes, are caricatures, which helps emphasize that this is an exaggeration of their lives played for comedy and fan entertainment. The book also includes a bio for Hideaki Anno, as well as 30 (!) pages of annotations and a charming essay by him on his thoughts on his wife’s manga.
You can read the first chapter and the second chapter at the publisher’s Tumblr. Sean Gaffney points out that this is a celebrity example of a common manga genre that we’re unlikely to see more of over here, an interesting insight. (The publisher provided a review copy.)