You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Otaku culture takes center stage in the first story. "Otaku" are obsessive fans of anything ranging from manga to movie stars to the internet, an obsession that in its most extreme form keeps those obsessed confined largely to their rooms or certain sites that cater to their obsessions. The KCDS staff meet up with robotics enthusiasts who slip into arcane, for me at least, squabbles about the niceties of robot history. The scene shifts to The Broadband Center, a multi-story emporium catering to otaku needs. This is a thinly veiled version of a real shrine to otaku culture, the Nakano Broadway building. Various plot streams come together when a corpse-powered robot runs berserk. Then we are served up with a tale of plastic surgery designed to transform Japanese ladies into the image of an obscure star. (Apparently there was a period when Japanese women were actually undergoing surgeries to look like Audrey Hepburn.) Again, this being the KCDS, things are not what they seem with these surgeries. Participants become possessed by jimenso, scary little faces of the deceased star that appear behind their new pointy ears. When the source of the ears is discovered, readers are treated to one of Otsuka's most grotesque images to date.

The longest episode in Volume 7 finds the crew employed on a movie set. The elderly, senile director is a parody of the Japanese master filmmaker Kon Ichikawa, who died at the age of 92 a couple years after this was published. Kon made some of the bleakest anti-war films ever and produced Tokyo Olympiad on the 1964 games. This homage to Leni Riefenstahl made some people uncomfortable. His later films became more commercial, but why Otsuka singles him out for this cruel parody is unclear. The plot involves, of course, multiple murders, body parts showing up as props, and reanimated corpses.

Volume 8 tells three of Otsuka's best stories.

The first tale is ghost story with a gentler tone than this series is known for. But Otsuka is back in form for the next two tales. In both of these he follows his favorite theme of how history and folk traditions find their way into modern Japanese culture.

Kaneari, an obnoxious, wealthy, trendsetting wedding planner, is the malevolent force in the second story. He lives the ultimate playboy lifestyle, and the men of the KCDS meet him when they deliver at 40,000,000 yen refrigerator to his apartment. (Correct me if I am wrong, but there is no such thing as a refrigerator that costs around $500K.) Sasaki, the most entrepreneurial of the KCDS, takes an interest in Kaneari's new service, arranged marriages among the deceased. This was an actual practice in parts of Japan, where those who died before they were married could be married to one another for very Japanese reasons explained in the notes but that I will not try to explain here. Of course there proves to be something very fishy and supernatural going on. The drawings made for a shinto shrine to commemorate these events have to power to hasten the demise of the still living halves of the ceremony. The climax is one of the best revenge nightmares ever as Kaneari and his party animal friends receive surprise visits from dead but very angry young women, all dressed as traditional Japanese brides. Kinky and cool.

The final story introduces the disturbing Japanese tradition of the josanbu, midwives willing to kill unwanted babies at birth. The story also involves the introduction of "baby drops" at Tokyo hospitals. These are places where a person can anonymously leave unwanted children. (Similar experiments have taken place in the U.S. In one Kansas City incident, a single father brought all nine of his children to the hospital.) There is also a mysterious stand of unused lockers with magical properties and more information on how Japanese corpses are cleaned for burial than you might want to know. On the upside, it could be that Karatsu has met his true love.

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