Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 148 (7/1) -- Gogo Monster by Taiyo Matsumoto

Reality can be a slippery, tricky thing -- particularly in fiction. Sometimes the consensus world is not all there is, but, other times, the world is as it seems, and the dreamers who imagine or see an alternative must fall in line with the actual world or be crushed by it. In Gogo Monster, though, Taiyo Matsumoto doesn't entirely commit to either view -- there is a real world, and it will be very painful for anyone who insists on talking about another world and its inhabitants...but that world might just exist as well.

Yuki Tachibana is the oddball of his third grade class at Asahi Elementary School; he sneaks up to the roof to commune with the unseen monsters from the other world, and his classmates pick on him when they bother to pay attention to him. His only real friend is the aged groundskeeper, Mr. Gantz, who has seen many boys like Yuki -- though he's never seen or felt the other world that they describe -- and is willing to listen to them in turn. Yuki is worried that he's growing up and losing his connection with that other world; he's hearing from it less and less often, and thinks he may be "rotting" into becoming an adult.

There are two boys who become something like friends to Yuki over the course of one school year in Gogo Monster: Makoto Suzuki, a transfer student from a school that rumor says was closed due to the principal's suicide, and IQ, a very intelligent but emotionally disturbed fifth grader who always keeps a box on his head and is even more focused than Yuki on his obsessions. (They're transparently the two biggest options for Yuki: giving his attention entirely to this world or the other one.)

Gogo Monster is a real graphic novel, one unified story; it takes about four hundred and fifty pages to tell the story of this one school year, and it's broken into large sections by season, not small serialized chapters. Matsumoto uses that space to slow down his action, showing the small repetitions of school life and the sweep of the seasons. He also has the great manga-ka's eye for a wordless sequence of panels, to transition from one mood to another or to hint at the things he won't say explicitly. It's also a very subtle book: the reader never sees the otherworld directly, or any direct effect it has. Yuki could be absolutely correct -- that his friend, the powerful monster called Super Star, keeps the other minor creatures in line, but that a group of more malicious monsters have started stirring up more trouble, which spills over into the human world -- or he could be just another delusionary boy, living in his own head and making up his own rituals rather than facing the world as it is.

It's a deep and subtle story, and one I'm not at all sure I completely understood while reading it -- it's clearly the kind of book, unlike so many comics from all countries, that rewards close attention and re-reading.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: The Octopus Project - I Saw The Bright Shinnies
via FoxyTunes

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