Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #77: Insufficient Direction by Moyoco Anno

Every tribe of geeks has their king. For some it's Wil Wheaton, for others Linus Torvalds, and the name of Nate Silver is not without power. We could name several dozen others, and argue about them -- because if there's one thing that geeks like to do, it's argue about who is geeky enough and who isn't. But everyone can point to someone that he thinks is geeky enough, that is worthy to be the king.

One of the names that would come up in the right circles is Hideaki Anno, animator, director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and lifelong otaku. If you polled Japanese geeks, he'd consistently be in the top five -- he's obsessive about all of the expected things for a man of his generation, and the source of much obsession in the generation that followed.

He also married the noted cartoonist -- I should say manga-ka in this context -- Moyoco Anno in 2002. And we all know what happens when you're that close to a storyteller: you become part of her stories, one way or another, like it or not.

So Moyoco Anno created an strip about her marriage, under the title Insufficient Direction, which ran occasionally from 2002 through 2004. It was collected in Japan soon afterward, though it took a long time to be translated for the US market -- geekery, particularly as hardcore as Hideaki's, is very specific to its time and place, and doesn't travel easily. The US collection of Insufficient Direction contains an impressive thirty-page section of annotations, explaining all of the obscure references and half-mentioned titles -- though that can make the reading experience more like The Canterbury Tales than Kamui.

The book collects the twenty-two installments of Insufficient Direction, all of them featuring Moyoco Anno as a spiral-eyed toddler called "Rompers" and her husband as the portly, distracted "Director-kun." (I have to assume the title is a pun on his title, but that's one of the few things the book does not annotate.) Hideaki Anno also contributes an afterword, giving him his own voice in the book mostly about him as seen from his wife's point of view and letting him define what he thinks it means to be an otaku. The overall story details how Rompers becomes nearly as big an otaku as her husband over the first few years of their marriage -- oh, she does influence him a little bit, here and there, to lose weight for a while or change his clothes more often than once a week, but the bulk of the changes are on her side. Each installment is six pages long -- enough to detail the events of one day, or one obsession, or one step forward in the marriage (buying a house, for example).

All of those installments, no matter what events they're ostensibly about, are really about Director-kun: how he is strange and obsessive, how he is resolutely strange, and how Rompers loves him despite all of it. It's a touching, if very odd, portrait of a marriage of two quirky individuals -- though Moyoco Anno, I'm sure, has more foibles and moods than the exasperated anger and bewildered acceptance that she gives to Rompers most of the time here.

A reader does have to dig through the geeky minutiae of Hideaki Anno's favorite media to get to that, though, so Insufficient Direction is best for those whose geekiness already tends in that direction: if you can catch half of Moyoco Anno's references, you'll be doing well. For many readers, that won't be worth it to dig into the love story at its core. But, for the right kind of geek, this is the very best love story possible.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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