Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #318: Good-bye Geist by Ryo Hanada

I work in the book-mines, so I'm fascinated with the ways people interact with books: what they expect and what surprises them, what's considered a genre and what isn't. I've noticed that there's a real reluctance for any reader to put a single book into more than one box at a time: if it's a historical romance, it can't also be science fiction, so those elements would be "wrong" or "confusing." But a lot of those boxes can easily work across each other, or describe different elements of a story -- so when a particular cross starts happening regularly (since authors are much more ready to mix things up than readers are), it gets its own name, its own box, so that people can be comfortable with it again.

(Cf.: romantic suspense, urban fantasy, steampunk, to make a very rough timeline)

"Manga" is a format -- it's really just the Japanese word for "comics" -- rather than a genre, but it's still a box. There are smaller boxes within that general category -- shonen and shojo, seinen and josei, and odder things like gekiga -- but there are still general expectations for manga in general: a slower pace of visual storytelling than Western comics, larger than expected eyes, a certain level of action and drama and clarity of endings. Some of those are actually expectations for commercial fiction, though, and that describes the vast majority of the manga that get translated and make it in front of American eyes.

Not all of them, though. And that leads to more cases of that wrongness or confusion.

Good-bye Geist, a single-volume manga story by Ryo Hanada brought to English by Gen in 2012 in a Julianna Neville translation, is a much more literary story than most of the manga we see here -- in the tracks of Taiyo Matsumoto rather than CLAMP. And that's led to some confused reading of this book, which takes a lot of the materials of a genre school story (crushes, gossip, danger, love triangles and more complicated shapes) and treats them in a non-genre way.

It's a story about four highschool students: girls Yuki and Kyoko, boys Matsubara and Chiba. Yuki and Kyoko and Chiba have been friends for a long time; Matsubara is a cold loner, good in his classes but socially outcast. Yuki is the center: the story starts when she notices Matsubara recording her semi-secretly on the subway. At the same time, someone is killing small animals in the area around the school and leaving notes under the name "Spirit" -- exactly as it happened seven years before, when it turned out a girl from the school was responsible.

The most genre element is that animal-killer: it's a lot like the "haunted school" subgenre, with exactly the same things happening again (cryptic messages with hidden meanings, notes left on desks, threats of danger or violence, and those escalating killings). But that feeds into the least genre aspect of Good-bye Geist, as well: since Hanada tells us exactly what happened seven years ago, who was responsible and how it was dealt with, there's no need to repeat all of those details at the end of this story. Once we know who the culprit is -- and we can suspect that as soon as we get those details of the last time -- we know how it all must end.

Good-bye Geist will not tell you how to feel about the scenes it shows you; it remains a bit cool and detached, like Matsubara, presenting all of the information you need to know, but only once. The ending may seem elliptical to some; that's a sign to go back and read more closely. This is not a manga that's likely to be loved, but it's got a lot to be admired, and Hanada is clearly a creator to watch.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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