Thursday, June 12, 2014
I read the first volume in 2009, about four years after it was published in English, and only got to Cromartie High School, Vol. 2 this week. I hear there are seventeen volumes -- not all translated into English, though I don't know where the break is -- so it could conceivably take me until 2174 to make my way through the whole series. I don't exactly expect that -- if I'm still around in 2174, I'm expecting to be running on something that reads books much, much faster -- but we all know from SF and politics that any current trend can be extrapolated out infinitely far into the future, don't we?
Cromartie is a parody of a whole bunch of things I've never seen: the whole genre of juvenile delinquent manga, which was a major thing in the '70s and '80s and still pops up as a flavor in many series that make it over here. Nonaka used disjointed six-page chapters, each one essentially independent, to tell bizarre stories about the strange characters at this infamous school, featuring random oddities and absolutely none of the expected gang fights or other violence. (Sure, the robot character Mechizawa is mistaken for a washing machine and sold, and Freddie -- a mute ringer for mid-70s Freddie Mercury -- is accidentally kidnapped by aliens, but there's never any purposeful violence.)
There is continuity of events, more or less -- if someone is hijacked to America, he stays there, more or less, until the story finds a way to get him back -- but there's no through plot line: these are all individual stories. So you could as easily start with this volume as the first -- you could probably begin with any volume, and read them in any order, if Nonaka kept up this structure.
Cromartie High School is deeply, deeply weird: Nonaka starts from non sequiturs and strange juxtapositions and builds up from there, constructing a silly edifice of subverted cliches and upended expectations. It's funny, it's not like anything else I've read, and Nonaka's people look like they wandered out of a Ryoichi Ikegami story (and are terminally confused at their changed circumstances). If I can manage to find the rest -- they're out of print, their publisher out of business, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn the ground sown with salt -- I might even read them all this century.
Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index