Reviewer: Jimmy Lin
By: Naoki Yamamoto
Translated by: Ben Joe Wadoko
Editor: Carl Gustav Horn
Publisher: Viz Manga
The great tragedy of American comics is that while we’ve had the longest continuous tradition, the vast majority of our comics do not reflect any level of maturity whatsoever. Content, writing, characterization, etc.; the only field that American comics consistently outstrip the international competition is coloration, and the last time I checked, coloration isn’t essential to telling a story. There are exceptions to this: Robinson/Harris’ Starman; Ostranger/Mandrake’s The Spectre; Eisner’s later works; Ex Machina; Mail Order Bride; all glaring exceptions to that previous sweeping generalization – but for the most part, American comics have come to maturity only recently. We’re only just now seeing an explosion of comics by American creators that can appeal to a literate and intelligent adult audience seeking something other than titillation, but even when we get a good book, it’s usually science fiction or action. The American comic scene just doesn’t contain a lot of good, realist fiction.
Moving over to Japan, this is certainly not the case. For whatever reasons there may be, the people of Nippon realized the potential of comics fairly early on in their adoption of the format. There’s a whole world of manga meant for adults that extends back decades; more mature, mainstream comics have been published in Japan than the average American can imagine. Comedies, dramas, political thrillers, you name it – all realist fiction meant for a discerning, literary audience.
Naoki Yamamoto’s Dance Till Tomorrow is a great example of Japan’s tradition of adult fiction. A soap-opera sex comedy with absurdist leanings, Yamamoto’s seven-volume saga of a college student caught up in forces he just can’t navigate through is simply great reading. Originally published in 1989, Yamamoto weaves a complicated tale of the difficulties of trying to survive in modern-day Tokyo and how outside forces can really gum up the works. Yamamoto is a graduate of Waseda University’s Gekiga Sonjuku, the first college course in the world geared towards producing top manga talent. The Gekiga Sonjuku was founded by Lone Wolf and Cub co-creator Kazuo Koike and counts Ranma Ã‚Â½ and Inu Yasha creator Rumiko Takahashi amongst its alumni. The focus of the course is characterization – Koike’s key to creating a hit comic – and Yamamoto obviously learned his lessons well. Dance Till Tomorrow is full of wackos, weirdos, and other kooks who surround an unfortunately average young man.
The main character, Suekichi, wakes up the morning after his great-grandfather’s funeral in the arms of a beautiful young stranger. With no recollection of the previous evening, he’s stunned when Great-Grandpa’s attorney (Mr. Tachimi) shows up to announce that he (Suekichi) is the recipient of a secret inheritance worth $4.5 million (US approximation). Only Suekichi, Mr. Tachimi, and Aya (the young stranger) are privy to this information. There’s a twist, however – in order to collect, Suekichi has to graduate, get a good job, and get married. Aya’s constant sexual barrage on Suekichi leads everyone involved to believe that she’s after his inheritance – but that doesn’t stop the two of them from getting’ it with a frequency usually reserved for late-night Cinemax movies.
Meanwhile, the theater troupe Suekichi’s involved with is facing its own share of problems. With members dropping out and Fuji-scale debt accruing by the second, Bondage Horse (the troupe) is barely holding together. The troupe’s star is a menial-labor Lothario; the troupe leader is a perfectionist; and poor Suekichi has to balance working, school, and all of the production work. Oh well, at least he’s getting laid, right?
Well, it’s questionable as to whether the sex is worth it. Over and over again, Aya acts as a sort of last straw to Suekichi’s existence’s tortured camel. From Southeast migrant workers to a stalker ex-husband to an opening-night audience of yakuza thugs to eviction and homelessness, Suekichi’s life is beset by tornado upon tornado – many of them Aya’s making.
The series really hits an emotional key, oddly enough, when it takes on its soap-opera notes. Tachimi and Munakata (Aya’s ex-husband) determine that the best way to separate the horny duo is to have Suekichi be seduced by another woman. The woman they hire to do it, though, happens to be a virgin and, in every sense of the word, a really nice girl. Watching the barely-manipulated relationship blossom between Suekichi and Miyuki is, simply, a joy; there’s a natural and gradual progression that takes the pair from “serendipitous” friends to shy infatuates to eventually lovers. Contrast this with Aya’s binge drinking, sexual appetite, and steadfast refusal to maintain a “mainstream” relationship with Suekichi; in creating two essentially polar opposites and pitting them against a wishy-washy protagonist, Yamamoto creates a vehicle to explore the emotional foundation of Suekichi’s psyche. Sure, he’s pig-headed horny male like the rest of us – but despite all of it, he really does want to simply fall in love with someone who will love him back.
I’m not going to give a list of plot synopses, but I will say this – even at his most tangentally cogent, Yamamoto draws you in and keeps you in with his strong sense of character and weird sense of humor and story. He’ll sucker you in with an appearance of Great-Grandpa’s ghost and a hint of Aya’s naked form (Aya pin-ups all over the place), make you cringe whenever Munakata shows up, and makes you feel the weird calm and aftermath of a fight as either Aya or Suekichi storm out of the room. Dance Till Tomorrow ends as it begins – life throwing your average everyday person a twist or two, and existence somehow managing to bebop along to its own, quirky little beat.