Dirk Deppey's Twitter page
Dirk Deppey's Facebook page
rss feed
Tanpenshu Vols. 1-2

Written and illustrated by Hiroki Endo
Dark Horse Manga
224-232 pages, $12.95 each
Vol. 1 ISBN-10: 1593076371
Vol. 1 ISBN-13: 9781593076375
Vol. 2 ISBN-10: 1593076452
Vol. 2 ISBN-13: 9781593076450


Read excerpt from right to left. A portrait of the artist as a self-absorbed prick. Sequence from "High School Girl 2000" in Tanpenshu Vol. 2; ©1998, 2007 Hiroki Endo.


Hiroki Endo's two-volume collection of short stories, Tanpenshu, shifts from genre exercises to soap opera and back again, but only touches upon autobiography once: In "High School Girl 2000," Endo the cartoonist finds himself blowing off work, too distracted by his simultaneous attraction to younger girls and his utter bewilderment when it comes to male-female relationships, much to the consternation of his employer and co-workers. Women drive him crazy, but half the problem seems to be his own inability to understand why he keeps hitting these walls while the people around him sail blithely along with their lives — and why said people are getting so fed up with his antics. It's not quite the exercise in self-abasement you'd find in a Joe Matt strip, but Endo's less-than-flattering self-portrait is just as fascinating for the way it uses a character's thick-headedness as a vehicle for insight.

Gender roles are the not-so-secret faultline upon which Tanpenshu casts its fortunes. Virtually every story contains some element that questions what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, and probes the extent to which our own inability to answer these questions screws up our lives. In Volume Two's "Platform," our hero is the teenage son of a high-ranking Yakuza enforcer who hates his family and everything for which it stands, and yet the studious distance he maintains between himself and his family becomes its own form of emasculation — in walking the tightrope between social norms and the criminal underworld, his unwillingness to choose a side becomes a form of stasis that interferes with his ability to act on his desires. This conundrum is brought to a head by his now-grown childhood playmate, the daughter of his father's mistress, who takes up the same role after her mother's death. Seeing this girl effectively become her parent causes something to snap within our protagonist, unleashing a chain of events that will damage many of the people around him. Flip the gender under analysis and you have Volume One's "Because You're Definitely a Cute Girl," in which a young girl's bewilderment over sex is overloaded by her widower father's decision to take a lover, driving her to a sudden swing from passive indifference to reactionary violence, her inability to connect with the world leading to an all-out attack upon it.


Read excerpt from right to left. Two actors ponder how they got that way. Sequence from "For Those of Us Who Don't Believe in God" in Tanpenshu Vol. 1; ©1998, 2007 Hiroki Endo.


Several stories place hero and heroine together at the center of the maelstrom, and the resulting story strips gender from the equation and presents the questions at a more primal level. Take Volume One's "For Those of Us Who Don't Believe in God," for example. On the surface, it's a modernist slice-of-life story about young adults involved in a theater production, with the main dramatic focus coming from two intertwined narrative tracks: the play being staged and the day-to-day lives of the people staging it. The play is a dramatic re-enactment of the final days of a serial killer modeled on Henry Lee Lucas, as he interacts with the his victims both living and dead. Behind the scenes, the writer-director and his lead actress engage in a love affair as much steeped in antagonism and self-loathing as in mutual attraction, and yet neither is capable of walking away because both are fascinated by their own motivations in remaining together. "What's inside my head?" the story asks. "How did it get there? Why does it make me behave like this?" What's most engrossing about this short story — and what makes it worth the price of admission all by itself — is the degree to which Endo uses quiet, episodic character moments to grease the narrative wheels and keep it from drowning in Big Questions like these.

Reduce these themes and tensions to absurdist shorthand and you have Volume Two's concluding vignette, "Boys Don't Cry," in which two high-school students — a frustrated lesbian and a young man spurned by the girl of his dreams — blow off steam and insult each other. It's short, bittersweet and does a wonderful job not only of summing up Hiroki Endo's principal insight into identity and relationships but makes a knowing joke of it: I don't understand you, you don't understand me, and it's driving the both of us crazy... and yet, you seem like you'd be a nice enough person, if only you'd stop acting like a jackass. These books won't answer those Big Questions, but at least they'll reassure you that you aren't the only one asking them.


This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.


Back to reviews listings


All site contents ©2016-2020 Dirk Deppey, save where noted.