RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by ComicMix

A classic gekiga graphic novel from 1971

ComicMix    |    Andrew Wheeler    |    August 20, 2008

Red Colored Elegy is like no other manga you’ve ever seen, a blast of pop art- and film-inspired storytelling from 1971 that was hugely influential to a generation of Japanese youth but has never been published in English until now. It’s like the American underground comics of the same era in being a break from the mainstream comics of its place and era, but unlike them – and unlike anything else I’ve seen before RAW in the ‘80s – in its style and visual language.

Sachiko Yamaguchi and Ichiro Nishimoto are a young couple, both connected to the manga/anime world, living together in Tokyo but unsure of what to do with their lives, in the way of all restless young people everywhere. Ichiro wants to be an artist of some kind: he abandoned painting when he couldn’t make a living at it, and quits an animation job to work on a graphic novel that he can’t sell. Sachiko is a tracer for another animation company; she has only the ambitions of a girl in a story by a man: to get married, to have kids, to run a house, to have a life.

Sachiko’s family, off wherever she comes from, wants her to have an arranged marriage, but she refuses. Ichiro’s father dies, part way through the story – he seems to die twice, the way the story is told – and Ichiro doesn’t go to the funeral. The plot of Red Colored Elegy is elliptical, doubling back on itself the way an argument among lovers keeps hitting the same sore spots. Not a whole lot happens, directly – the drama is in their heads.

Sachiko and Ichiro are painfully young and earnest, bohemians who know they’re destined for something great without quite being sure what that is. Hayashi tells their story through simple shades and outlines – his main characters are sometimes difficult to distinguish from the others, due to the extreme simplicity of his art – and through a vast array of visual references. Scenes from movies, from paintings, from comics – anything visual – is grist for Hayashi’s mill. The effect of the whole is stunning and all-encompassing.

The story of Red Colored Elegy is on the sophomoric side; these characters are so young and so obsessed with themselves. But the way that story is told is amazingly inventive and exciting, so that even a grumpy old married guy like me can feel the urge to break free and create new art and new lives. It’s completely surprising, breaking every law that we ever thought governed manga, and it’s a thrill to have it finally available in English.

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