| Kazyua Minekura, Saiyuki (more IBARW!)
||[Jul. 30th, 2009|09:05 pm]
Once upon a time, oh Best Beloveds, there was a baby. And this baby, due to a complicated series of circumstances we won't get into right now, got put into a basket and sent floating on a great river. So great was this river that it gave life to the people and towns around it for many miles, and so it held the little boy (for a little boy it was) as he went floating off.
Now babies can sleep through anything, but just as babies sleep, so do they wake. And this boy woke, and cried out. And-- because this is how the stories always go-- the boy was heard. And the boy was gathered into the arms of a kind, loving caretaker, who wiped his snotty nose and changed his diaper and smoked pot and hung out with....
Oh, I'm sorry, did you think I was talking about Moses?
In fact, there is another Famous Spiritual Figure who got sent floating down A Great River, and that's Tripitaka, of Buddhist legend and the great Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. (The best translation is a four-volume juggernaut, translated by Anthony Yu; I still haven't finished it, but I can testify to its high quality and readability.) Journey to the West is just what it says on the box: A story about a road trip from China to India, starring a holy monk and his three disciples/followers/bodyguards. Journey to the West has been ripped off by West and East, left, right, and sideways, and its most popular character-- Son Goku, the Monkey King-- has starred in many, many stories, in many, many forms.
One of the many interpretations is Gensomaden Saiyuki, by Japanese mangaka Kazuya Minekura (a comic artist and writer). Minekura took many of the bare bones of the story-- the baby in the river, the four travelers, the journey itself-- put them in a box full of crack and awesome, shook the whole mess up, and came out with something extraordinary. It has damn near everything: myth, monks, magic, monsters, mad scientists, martial arts-- and that's just the "m"s!
I could, and have, talked about Saiyuki all day. But here are a few things that, for me, take Saiyuki from ordinary to extraordinary:
-- The four lead characters. They are drawn together by shared tragedy (child abuse, neglect, loss of a guardian) but they will never let those tragedies define them. They express affection by yelling, teasing, and smacking each other around. They refuse to apologize for themselves. They protect others but never stop respecting people or treating them on their own terms. Also, best. dialogue. ever.
-- The world. The author's Japanese. The main characters are Chinese. The main antagonists live in India. Along the way, they meet Westerners, criminals, madmen and zombies (well, one zombie. technically.); they stay in inns, homes, and temples; they have cigarettes and guns and newspapers and none of it's really explained. And somehow this scratched-together universe works, and works beautifully. Oh, and the food. The food!
-- The art. Holy cow, the art.
-- When Minekura deals with The Big Issues (genocide, racism, abuse) she does it so damn well. So many stories-- pro and fan-created-- slide the plot completely off the rails whenever The Big Issue comes up, or uses it as an excuse for Drama and Angst. Minkeura never does this. She respects The Big Stuff by treating it as what it is-- Big, and Important, but another part of the bigger tapestry of her world rather than a derail or a plot device. (It makes Harry's terrible childhood, for example, look like the cheap stunt it is...IMO of course!)
Is Saiyuki perfect? No. There's not enough women, the women there are don't get to do enough stuff, and sometimes the story has dragged a bit (although the payoff is usually amazing). But it's worth it. So very worth it.
Other Minekura works translated into English include Wild Adapter, the story of two young men and their entanglement with the Japanese yakuza, and Bus Gamer, which has one of my favorite female characters ever.
The manga's also been adapted into an anime. It's not as good. Oh, and there's a musical. I leave it to someone else to pimp that.