Get past the often terrible CGI, and you'll find a reasonably faithful movie adaptation of Sanpei Shirato's manga masterpiece
Visually and stylistically uninhibited, but a narrative and logistical jumble, this afterlife fantasy is as divisive as it is inventive
panpanya's English-language debut rubs shoulders comfortably with the likes of 'Nichijou' for slice-of-life strangeness, but swathed in a far darker atmosphere
Any work of Japanese literature is lucky to be translated into English even once. (There is still no English version of Kyūsaku Yumeno's surreal horror masterwork Dogura Magura. A man can dream.) Lucky, then, is Sōseki Natsume's masterwork Kokoro, among the most famed and beloved of Japanese novels, since it's been brought to English-language readers not once but three times: in 1948 by Ineko Kondo, in 1957 by Edwin McClellan, and in 2010 by Meredith McKinney. Put them side by side, and what emerges is not so much a winner as one that compromises the least and delivers the most. But you also see all the ways a translation is a compromise, and how some compromises weather better than others.
The most frustrating thing about The Legend of Kamui is how we know there is so much more, but you won’t find it here. Sanpei Shirato’s Kamui, and its sequel Kamui Den, ran in Japan for dozens of volumes, but none of it exists legitimately in English save for two volumes. Frustrating, because what I’ve seen of Kamui both in and out of English has convinced me that it’s one of the finest manga of its kind—a ninja fantasy that draws its plot and themes from human behavior and need rather than politics or historical details. It deals with a few single, strongly identifiable and empathic characters instead of a galaxy of interrelated power-strugglers, and its themes—the place of an individual in society, the justifications for having a society of any kind at all—are as universal as you’re likely to get.
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin once discussed how thinkers could be considered "foxes" or "hedgehogs". The fox draws on a panoply of things for its worldview; the hedgehog sees the world through a single defining concept. The same could be said of artists, and in that sense Tsutomu Nihei is most definitely a hedgehog. His worldview, revisited obsessively over the course of his career, is one of endless sprawling, cavernous, vertiginous spaces, inhabited by dead things that somehow live and living things that are barely alive. Abara is a one-shot Nihei story, originally published in 2005 but now released in English by VIZ in a handsome single volume edition. It serves as a surprisingly total point of entry into the man's narrow, grimy, black-and-white, but somehow always fascinating universe. If you like it, you'll like him.