Why did I buy a book of random words?

Kenji Siratori is an experimental writer from Hokkaido who I have heard described as “cyberpunk.” Sort of like how a radio tuned to static can be described as playing music. His work is written in a weird pidgin filled with odd contractions, expansions, and slang, all as impenetrable as 256 bit encryption. That’s the generous stance you can take on Nonexistence. The ungenerous stance is that Siratori pounded out a hundred pages of nonsense and is laughing his way to the bank.

Let’s not beat around the bush. You can’t read this book. This isn’t a novel, it’s art, in every wrong way you can count. Nonexistence, like Siratori’s more famous “novel” Blood Electric, is indecipherable technogibberish word salad that makes Tristram Shandy look sane. As there’s no avenue of approach into this book and no way to understand it, I would suggest saving your money and reading the names of the chemicals on the back of a detergent bottle instead.

I don’t mind reading hard books. But give me something. Finnegan’s Wake works because it can be analysed a little bit, and also because of James Joyce’s clever but gentle manhandling of the English language (“[he] lived in the broadest way immarginable”). This, on the other hand, is true art. Big difference.

The web is full of depressing reviews of people claiming to have “gotten” Siratori, or that he’s some sort of genius. Come on guys. Drop the charade. If you read Nonexistence and decide you’ve learned something from the experience, you’ve been trolled. The emperor is not only naked, and he’s also been skinned, eviscerated, and stripped to his bones. That’s how far he is from wearing clothes.

There is nothing to get or understand about Siratori’s books.

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Don’t read this manga while eating. It is gross.

Tadashi and his germophobic girlfriend find their holiday interrupted by a disgusting smell wafting off the beaches. Soon, fish with legs are swarming ashore. Land-walking sharks are the next. The fish seem to be walking on strange metal legs that are powered by a foul-smelling gas. This gas has a mind of its own, and soon Japan is in the grips of a plague that may literally be from hell.

Ito says he conceived Gyo after watching Spielberg’s Jaws and deciding that the shark would be even scarier if it could walk on land. Gyo lacks most of Uzumaki’s creepiness but packs plenty of intensity and imagination, and the art is, of course, pungent. There are about ten or twelve moments where you think “OK, no way is he going to top this” only to get hit with a scene even more ridiculous and insane. As far as revulsion goes, Junji Ito is pretty much a dial that turns right…and right….and right…there is no end.

By volume 2, the story has fully shifted gears into what resembles a zombie apocalypse story. Ito bombards us with plot fragments until it’s hard to work out where any of this is going. Walking sharks, deadly germs, WWII military experiments, circuses…Gyo has something for everyone. By the final few chapters, Gyo starts to creak and groan a bit under the weight of its own implausibility. Eh, what are you gonna do. When you turn zombie sharks loose in a city, there’s going to be some casualties. Sanity and plot cohesion are likely to be among them.

The ending is, at the same time, rushed and incredibly profound. Ito struggles a bit to tie together all of his haywire plot threads, but the final two pages absolutely work. Ito rarely attempts this kind of simple, understated gravitas.

To pad out the shorter second volume, there are two bonus stories.

“The Sad Tale of the Principle Post” is a lovingly told shaggy dog joke about a man who becomes trapped under the support pillar of his house. “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” is very, very good, almost to the point of upstaging the main event. An earthquake reveals an ancient fault in a mountain, and people who journey to the fault find countless human-shaped holes in the rock. A very compact and frightening tale.

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In some bands, everyone becomes famous, even a humble drummer like Ringo Starr. Then there are bands like Static-X, where there’s “the man” and a bunch of glorified session musicians playing in the background. This is frontman Wayne Static’s first solo album, and it’s no surprise that Static-X’s sound has been replicated almost perfectly, even after the loss of his entire band.

Static-X pretty much broke up two years ago, with the band members going their separate ways (and slinging harsh words back and forth on Blabbermouth). Wayne used the break to work on a long-promised solo record, now released as Pighammer. Since Wayne had always mentioned that he felt that he was creatively tied down in Static-X I was genuinely curious as to what it would sound like.

Well, it sounds like Static-X. Pantera/White Zombie influenced metal riffs, trancey synths, catchy rhythmic gibberish for lyrics. The changes are chiefly production related. The guitar tone sounds processed and scooped out, just a really fuzzy and big version of Rammstein’s sound. The drumming is mercilessly triggered, without the “natural” tone Static-X dabbled with for a bit on Cannibal.

Static-X hasn’t released a 100% good album since 2001, and Pighammer likewise doesn’t live up to the expectations one might have, but Wayne still writes a fair amount of good material. “Chrome Nation” is an obvious winner, fast, catchy, and loaded with energy. “Assassins of Youth” is apparently based on Wayne’s experiences in the wonderful world of drugs (with the trance-inspired second half representing his decision to go clean). “Thunder Invader” has a lot of double-bass percussion, and a deliberately noncatchy chorus that somehow works.

But as soon as Pighammer slows down and starts bombarding you with the midpaced groove songs Wayne loves so much, things suffer. Tracks like “Static Killer” and “Shifter” are sonically monotonous and flat, without the atmosphere and creepiness Wayne used to command on Static-X classics like “Stem” and “Cold”. The closing track also bombs hard. I could have done without the unnecessary guest vocal spots for Wayne’s ex-pornstar wife, by the way. Wouldn’t it feel weird to kiss a woman on the lips and know that she’s had like 900 penises inside her mouth? Oh well, if you can’t be the first, you can be the next.

Pighammer is meant to be about Wayne’s personal transformation. It’s great that he’s transformed, but his music certainly hasn’t. Static-X had a really cool sound for a while, but it seems the band (even if the “band” is only Wayne) bleeds out more energy and inspiration every time they copy the formula.

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