Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strike a blow to vivify!

I've read quite a few manga in my time, but Hikkatsu is one of my favourites, second only to Yotsuba.  Thanks to Amazon.com, I was finally able to buy all three volumes and revel in the glory of its peculiar innocence once more.

It's written by Yu Yagami (the creator of Those Who Hunt Elves, for those of you playing at home) and centres around a young man, Shota, who has a strange life goal : he wants to master the 'repair blow'.  When he was younger and studying karate, he saw a man hit a malfunctioning TV and... fix it!  From that day onward, Shota has been practicing his repair blow (read : ridiculously strong punch) on anything broken and mechanical that he can get his hands on.  Couple that with a girl who was raised by pigeons, and you start to see where this is going.  Or, well, you think you do, until you turn the page.

Hikkatsu is one of those rare delights - a manga/comic that uses page turns to its advantage.  Important moments are hidden on the next page, and therefore come as a surprise.  While many manga are well-laid-out and beautiful to read, not many take advantage of that pause between pages - the miniature suspense - to improve the story.  Sometimes I'm in awe of Yagami-sensei's ability to play with my expectations.

The true humour lies in understanding the conventions of other manga, however.  Hikkatsu mimics many of the tropes of Japanese entertainment culture, so that a little bit of cultural understanding is something I'd highly recommend before you take this series off the shelf.  Some of the interactions would seem silly out of context, and much like one can only appreciate a parody of a soap opera once one has watched some Days of Our Lives, the subtleties of the manga genre are twisted into something new, grounded in the old.

Another thing that tickles my fancy is the use of the Japanese-style post-apocalyptic setting.  For those of you who have seen Trigun, you will understand what I mean, but for those of you who haven't, I'll try to explain.  Western post-apocalyptia is based in the idea that, after the bombs fall, it will be every man for himself.  Man will turn on man to create a hyperviolent society where only the strong - and accurate with a pistol - survive.  Japanese post-apocalyptia, by comparison, is more about normal people, trying to live in a hostile environment.  The cause of the apocalypse isn't usually man-made, so people just carry on with their lives and make what adjustments are necessary.  This means that, in Japanese post-apocalyptia, communities are more close-knit, and the whole idea is more romantic.  I'd like to believe the latter would be the case, in the event of a real apocalypse, simply because I wouldn't survive in the former.  Another pleasant read if you're interested in this genre is Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip, which is a lovely series about a robot girl who runs a coffee shop in a future where the Earth's ecology has collapsed.

My other favourite play from Hikkatsu is the idea of the gangs that have sprung up in the lawless territories : they each have something they're enthusiastic about.  The first two groups we're introduced to are the Bansai Enthusiast Clan and the Haiku Enthusiast Clan.  Essentially, they're like samurai, only instead of family blood ties and feuds, they stay together based on their appreciation of a certain art form.  If that doesn't make you giggle, then Hikkatsu probably isn't for you.

I don't want to spoil any of the surprises, so I'd better stop there.  It's only three volumes long, so for those of you in the US, it's a cheap start to a wonderful relationship.  For those of you in Australia, like me, best tighten that belt to afford the shipping, but for me that little bit extra made the enjoyment all the sweeter.

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