This book is superb. English readers will be either introduced to or reminded of Japanese sci-fi legends like Kobo Abe, Sakyo Komatsu, and Shinichi Hoshi. Calling these thirteen stories “science fiction” is a little like calling Watchmen a superhero story: correct, but they do other things besides. They are fantastic and surprising tales that attack the dendrites from various angles: comedy, horror, and raw surrealist speculation.

Kobo Abe’s “The Flood” is the psychotic tale of a class uprising beyond the dreams of Marx. Poor folk are literally turning into water and murdering their overlords by drowning them. With the planet rapidly becoming flooded with transformed proletariat, Noah (yes, that Noah) attempts to rebuild the ark and save the human race.

Ryo Hanmura’s “Cardboard Box” depicts the world as seen by a cardboard box. The only goal of a box is to be full, and we experience some of the box’s misery as it is sold and its contents (oranges, if I recall correctly) are removed, one by one, until it’s empty. Is there a happy ending for the box? Like “Animal Farm,” this story finds a balance between the comical and the serious.

“Tansu” by the same author manages to be rather frightening. A man’s family is possessed by a strange neurosis that nobody can understand, and eventually he is caught up in it. The ending explains nothing and everything.

“Bokko-chan” by Shinichi Hoshi is amusing but leaves the reader with a heavy heart. A mechanically-inclined barkeep builds an attractive android girl to help attract custom. Most of his regulars figure out she’s not real, but a deluded young man actually falls in love with her, mistakes her pre-programmed  responses for expressions of love, and so on. This story seems the most prescient in the internet age: it’s fits current topics like parasocial relationships and so on.

Shinichi Hoshii’s “He-y, Come on Ou-t!” is about townsfolk who find a bottomless hole. Soon the hole becomes a popular dumping ground for garbage. Partway through I had an inkling of where the story was going, but the ending still made me say “oh, shit.” Out loud.

Takashi Ishikawa’s “The Road to the Sea” is another story in the same vein, an interesting story with a gigantic whiplash of an ending. A boy is possessed by a burning hunger to see the ocean, and goes on a ill-fated journey to find it. Another twist ending, this one harder to see.

“The Empty Field” by Morio Kita is twelve pages of experimental prose. Weird, but okay.

Sakyo Komatsu’s “The Savage Mouth” is a gruesome nightmare about a man who eats his own body, piece by piece. Kind of like Stephen King’s “Survivor Type”, except where King flinches and ends his story, Komatsu keeps going and going. The final pages carry an interesting sociological edge.

Komatsu’s “Take Your Choice” is less disturbing but equally thought provoking. A man has been offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to escape into the future. Except he’s not really going to the future, he’s going to an alternate present, which then (he’s told) will become his chosen future. Some really thought provoking ideas in one of the volume’s standout stories.

“Triceratops” by Tensei Kono features a man and a boy who can somehow see dinosaurs walking around their 20th century town. Nobody else can see a thing. I don’t know if Kono was a fan of American TV shows, but it reads like a novelized The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.

“Fnifmum” by Taku Mayumura is about an alien lifeform which moves around in time the way we move around in space. More a world-building exercise than a story, but it’s unique and memorable. Mayumura has shown us a creature that is as alien as an alien can be, and still makes us relate to it.

Yasutaka Tsutsui’s “Standing Woman” is an Orwell-inspired story about a futuristic society that has found a disturbing method for greening its public places: criminals are literally turned into human tree. The story is told from the perspective of a pandering, spineless writer who is disgusted by how he isn’t standing up against the oppression. His own wife has become a tree, and his inner torment is portrayed brilliantly.

The final story is “The Legend of the Paper Spaceship” by Tetsu Yano. On the surface, it’s about a remote village that is home to a mentally retarded woman who never seems to age. What it’s really about is uneasy passage of lore, and the impossibility of untangling a skein of mysteries that happened many years ago and to people who are dead. Plot fragments are brought up, touched upon, and then we lose sight of them again in the dense world Yano has created. I have read this story several times and I believe I have figured out at least 65% of it.

So no, science fiction isn’t the term. They are works of imagination, sometimes the imaginations involved are highly esoteric. Western science fiction is about the stars. These stories are about a place equally incomprehensible and interesting: within.

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There’s a lot to like about Genocyber. It’s edgy, it’s violent, and it has a great atmosphere. But like so many OVAs, the weight is all in the packaging. Any dissection or analysis of this anime reveals there’s really not a lot at its center.

The plot looks deep and engaging at first, but almost immediately you realise it’s a ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff. Blah blah siblings with a psychic link blah blah huge robot mechas blah blah shadowy government agents blah blah climactic transformation scene blah blah city blows up the end. The characters are mostly just stock, including the usual assortment of evil scientists and masked henchmen and a gang of street thugs lifted right out of Akira.

If you don’t care much about story, Genocyber works. It evokes a nasty and brutal atmosphere, and the thematic confusion could be interpreted as acute psychological depth. It worked for Neon Genesis Evangelion, after all. The animation is punchy and colourful, with a few CGI moments mixed in here and there. On the whole it’s hard not to be impressed by Genocyber‘s aesthetics and style, even if the content side of the anime comes up short. As with Ohata Koichi’s previous work MD Geist, the gore factor is comically high. One scene in the middle gets so outrageous and excessive that it borders on being comedic. The final battle ends with all of Hong Kong destroyed.

Things get hard to follow. Genocyber is confusing, bombastic, and over-the-top. In a way, it’s almost like its own characters, in that it’s cataclysmically fucked in the head and deserves to be in a room with padded walls. This is a definitive example of 90s anime, both the good and bad. The English dubbing sucks ass, by the way.

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This is an old horror manga from the middle of the sixties, and it deals with subjects that are older still: Japanese yokai legends from the Middle Ages. In this case, an evil snake spirit that possesses women and turns them into regressive half human/half reptile monsters. Umezu’s conceit seems based on Nure-onna, a snake-bodied woman. There are three interlinked stories in this book, with the final “Reptilia” clearly being the centerpiece.

Umezu has made better things than this. This is his “Carrie.”, an early work expressed with a limited skillset.

The main thing that stands out is that he doesn’t do any character design. As far as I can tell, Reptilia has three characters, a generic young girl, a generic adult woman, and a generic old lady. This is highlighted during an early scene when two characters are walking side by side…and they’re drawn exactly the same except for their hair. This problem keeps threatening to derail the story, as awful, shocking things happen to…uh, samey-looking girl 1, I guess. Or maybe it’s samey-looking girl 2..

Kazuo’s distinctive art style is featured here in embryonic form. He’s always had a gift for articulating motion and making the pages seem to move (I like the parts that involve the snake women climbing to high places), but there’s little humanity in the staccato explosions of ink of “Reptilia.” The best bits of art, again, are the snake women, who look repulsive. Whenever he draws a “normal” person it’s always in that Tezuka inspired 60s style, which is too cute to evoke much feeling. Another thing that annoys me is how he keeps drawing characters with cartoonish exaggerated reflections in their eyes. This is a 60s light manga touch that makes no sense in a horror context.

As Kazuo’s story pulls you along like a tractor-beam, the manga’s problems do seem to become smaller. The plot is simple enough for children to follow but packs a fair amount of depth and intrigue. The final section is pulverisingly intense, and the final few pages that remind us that sometimes “the end” is another way of saying “the beginning.”

But if there’s one sequence that really struck me as inspired, and that’s the opening scene. A girl is visiting her mother in hospital. She encounters a woman who has been locked behind bars. She seems lucid and sane…until she asks the girl for a frog. The girl does not have a frog. However, she does have a schoolbook with a picture of the frog. The strange woman rips the picture out of the book and stuffs it into her mouth. This scene is bizarre and shocking, and demonstrates Umezu’s gifts for doing a lot with a little (although he also often does a little with a lot).

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