Friday, January 09, 2009


Club 9

As last year I published a grand total of nothing (well, I made a zine), I decided that this year in celebration of having an article published I should at least write reviews of stuff on a blog again. Nobody will read it, but at least it'll keep me writing. I can't believe how much I used to write for here.

First up, Club 9.

I picked up the first volume of this from the library (this will be a recurring theme as libraries are awesome!) because I had a total brain failure and thought for some reason it was by the same creator as Flowers and Bees (that's Moyocco Anno for those who don't know). I read the first volume of Flowers and Bees last year, and enjoyed it, but hadn't had a chance to read any more, so I figured I'd check this one out.

Of course it's not by her, but that doesn't make it any less good. The actual creator is Makoto Kobayashi, possible "best" known in North America for What's Michael?, his comic about cats being incredibly cute (and weird). It is, as far as I know, mostly out of print at the moment, which is a shame, as it's fantastic.

Anyway, Club 9 is about Haruo Hattori, a klutzy, naive girl who's just moved to Tokyo to go to university, and ends up working at a hostess bar. Of course you wouldn't know that from the first chapter, which is mostly about her high school baseball team winning the national championships, and their star pitcher not getting picked in the draft. Sure Hauro shows up (falling into a cesspit and then accidentally flashing all her classmates), but if not for the text on the last page, you could be forgiven for not knowing who this comic was supposed to be about.

Hell, even the next several chapters don't tell what the comic is "really" about. Instead we're introduced to Haruo (kind, clumsy) and her family (her father is stern, her mom is going crazy because she doesn't want to turn 40) before she leaves for Tokyo. Once there she befriends several other girls,and ends up in a dorm room haunted by a lecherous ghost (Kobayashi clearly isn't afraid of including completely fantastical elements in his stories). Eventually we get to the point where she moves out and she gets a job at a hostess club to pay rent.

For those of you that don't know, a hostess club is a type of bar, common in Asia, where men pay women to drink and talk with them. Generally that's all that happens, the men drink and talk with pretty girls, and they pay a whole lot of money to be able to do so.

At first Haruo doesn't seem cut out for the job; she gets lost on her way to the club, shows up without makeup and in clothes that leave the owner aghast, and manages to set a client's mustache on fire while trying to light his cigarette.

Despite this, she ends up doing well, as she's the type of person who can talk to anyone. She soon relaxes, and the men at the Club 9 bar (including one called Makoto Konbayashi, creator of the What's Bear? manga about an incredibly cute dog...), are all incredibly charmed by her Southern accent and mannerisms. Or whatever the Japanese equivalent is I suppose (the Akita dialect?).

This is one place where the translation is rather odd. It's an an example of how complicated translation can be; how do you express accents from another country that don't have any equivalent in English? Haruo (and everyone from her hometown) talks in thick Southern US accents. Haruo is supposed to be a hick, from small town Japan, and sound unsophisticated, so I suppose the accent used is one that most English speakers could understand. It's still a bit odd at first though.

By the end of volume one Haruo seems somewhat settled, and I assume the rest of the series continues to be about Haruo juggling being a "Ginza girl" (albeit, an incredibly clumsy one), being a student, and trying to stay a virgin for her boyfriend (the star baseball pitcher from her high school) back home. But for all I know it goes off in some other direction and the murderer at the beginning of chapter 3 shows up. No matter what does happen, I'm sure it'll be good.

Unfortunately, this comic never really caught on in North America. And while Dark Horse did at least finish translating it in Super Manga Blast, they only put out three or four of the five volumes. I had a coworker at a comic book shop I used to work at that really liked this series, going so far as trying to track down those last issues of SMB to try and find out how it ended. I don't think she was that successful.

Perhaps one of the reasons this series didn't really catch on is Kobayashi's art. I certainly enjoy it, but I can understand how the giant mouths everyone has and the giant eyes Haruo has could be off putting. While not "standard manga," they really help Kobayashi show the characters emotions, which he does extremely well. Yes, they're incredibly exaggerated, but you know exactly how the characters are feeling.

It's too bad Kobayashi's comics haven't been more popular in North America, as I wouldn't mind reading one called Chichonmanchi, about a woman who dies at 92, and is all ready to go to paradise, but! She's still a virgin, so she gets given a new, young body, and is sent off to "pleasure hell" until she has sex. Apparently there's not that much actual sex in the comic, even if there is a lot of nudity. There's some more information about it here.

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