Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 189 (8/11) -- Hanako and the Terror of Allegory, Vol. 1 by Sakae Esuno

It's always dangerous to rely too heavily on a misused word when criticizing a translation -- that's the kind of element that could be overlooked, or fumbled, by any one of a number of people, working alone or in concert, as the work made its way into English. But Hanako and the Terror of Allegory uses the word "allegory" so wrongly -- even more wrongly than I used to see Usenet denizens tossing it around, and that's saying something -- that I have to mention it.

An allegory is a formal, precise metaphor that forms the central organizational structure of a work, so that each major element of that work represents, very clearly and unmistakably, something different, and the organization has to work equally well on both sides of the allegory. (The Faerie Queene is a formal allegory, as is "Leaf by Niggle." I've seen ingenious arguments that The Wizard of Oz can be read as an allegory for the silver standard, as well. But an allegory requires a rigorous cross-linking, in which X in the work stands for Y in the allegorical schema.)

An urban legend is a story, often scary, that usually has no single defined author and which arises from the concerns and fears and rumors and retold stories among a group -- like "the Vanishing Hitchhiker," like "the Hook on the Car Door," like "not only a dog can lick," like "the phone call came from inside the house."

They are not at all the same thing. Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is a book about urban legends that come to life, but it consistently calls them allegories, for whatever misguided reason. It may be the fault of the original Japanese creator, Sakae Esuno, or the translator, Satsuki Yamashita, or the adaptor-into-English, Bryce P. Coleman -- or of someone entirely different, some anime producer or manga editor or even less likely influence. However it happened, it's wrong.

That aside, Hanako is an entertaining and zippy story -- very episodic, in the three stories collected here -- about a detective, Daisuke Aso, who wants to have normal cases but whose special abilities keep dragging him into cases involving "allegories." He's assisted by Hanako, who is herself the manifestation of an "allegory" -- Hanako-san of the bathroom (you could look it up) -- but who is a whiz at programming on her laptop. (Which has nothing at all to do with her urban legend, but let that go.)

In the first story, Kanae Hiranuma, the obligatory cute young woman, comes to Daisuke for help, since she's being haunted by a monster under her bed. Daiskue tries to beg off, but he does solve her case, and makes Kanae work for him when it turns out that she has no money to pay him. (Which reminds me of the fake pilot-within-a-TV-show on Seinfeld, where someone had to be Jerry's butler after totaling his car; legal systems are awfully arbitrary in popular entertainment.)

Two more stories follow, in which Daisuke, Hanako, and (increasingly) Kanae have to stop monstrous folkloric manifestations from killing people, wreaking havoc, and suchlike. It is fairly formulaic -- though there's the usual hints of an interesting backstory for Daisuke, which presumably will add some interest and tension for another couple of dozen stories as it's teased out -- but it's all drawn in a clear, energetic shojo style, with plenty of creep-outs but only tasteful gore. It may be a genre exercise, but it's a well-executed one, with a lot to enjoy.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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