Otomo Katsuhiro, Kodansha 1990.
OK, well, even most of my 16 readers out there will not be reading this book since it’s in Japanese, but I have to include a review of it here because it’s goddamn awesome.
This is a collection of playful, sometimes “zany” Science Fiction short stories in the classic mold of Asimov, Ellison, Clarke, and their peers during their 60s heyday, although all the stories here date from the late 70s or early 80s. They tend to end with punch lines or twists reminiscent of Twilight Zone episodes. In fact the second story, “FLOWER” (1979), apparently about space garbage collectors, is practically a rip-off of 2001 in tone and some imagery.
In terms of art, Otomo states in his endnotes that this was the period in which he was first introduced to the work of Moebius and the French master became a dominating influence, notably with the first story here “Flower” (reproduced in full below).
But at the same time, there is lots of signature Otomo here too, particularly in a few stories about disenfranchised fringe dwellers in the future who steal old Rock records. There is also some political satire in a three-part parable about the Planet Tako (“octopus”) vs the Planet Ika (“squid”) as the anthropomorphised octopus and squid creatures go to war, develop monarchies, and eventually turn into republics. I had doubts about these stories more than any others. The messages just weren’t very original, and the art didn’t make it especially unique enough to elevate them. There is also a series of parodies of classic stories (Knights of The Round Table, The Old Man and the Sea, Aladdin’s Lamp, Noah’s Ark) which are funny and expertly drawn.
Speaking of the art, a few stories show Otomo’s early experiments with color, mixing up his palette, even just using spot coloring, plus using something called video colorring in “FAREWELL TO WEAPONS” (1981). Again, I don’t know if it all worked, but I was glad to be able to see him try some things out.
If anything, the collection spotlights Otomo’s versatility during this period beyond what we’re used to seeing in Akira, which is what he is best known for in the West. Somebody really ought to license the English language rights to this book.
Below: Check out those colors! (All scans from “FAREWELL TO WEAPONS.”)
Below: As promised, “FLOWER.”
UPDATE Nov 21, 2010: I just discovered that the stories “Memories” and “Farewell to Weapons” in this collection were printed in single issues by Marvel / Epic in the 80s. Also, the entire collection WAS released in English in the UK at some stage as well. So, there you go — go get it!