~edited by Frédéric Boilet and Masanao Amano
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, a project coordinated by Frédéric Boilet and Masanao Amano, is a part of the Nouvelle Manga artistic movement, a collaboration between Franco-Belgium and Japanese comic creators. The volume was published in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2005. It was also released in five other language editions at that time: Japanese, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian. The collection brings together eight creators who were living in Japan (including Boilet) and nine French-speaking creators from outside of the country who were invited to visit Japan for two weeks as part of the project. I had previously read the volume but because Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators includes Moyoco Anno's short manga "The Song of the Crickets," I wanted to look at the collection again for the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast. I have an even greater appreciation for the anthology now that I recognize and am familiar with more of the contributors and their work than I did the first time reading it.
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators begins with Kan Takahama's beautifully illustrated, slightly nostalgic and melancholy story "At the Seaside" which takes place in Amakusa at the far western tip of Japan where she was born and raised. Each subsequent piece in the collection slowly works its way north and east across the country. The first contribution included by a French-speaking creator was "The Gateway" by David Prudhomme who visited Fukuoka. It, Aurélia Aurita's delightful "Now I Can Die!," and Fabrice Neaud's "The City of Trees" read very much like travelogues and memoirs, although Prudhomme's piece has a touch of the fantastic to it. Nicolas de Crécy's "The New Gods" is also a travelogue of sorts but is told from the perspective of a work-in-progress searching for inspiration among Japan's advertisements and mascots. In "Waterloo's Tokyo," Joann Sfar channels the thoughts and feelings his French friend living in Japan has for the city. "Osaka 2034" by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters and Emmanuel Guibert's "Shin.Ichi" aren't so much comics as they are illustrated narratives.
Interspersed between the contributions from French-speaking creators are the works created by comic artists living in Japan. Frédéric Boilet, active in both Japanese and European comics, serves as a sort of bridge between the two groups. His piece, "Love Alley," features a discussion about trash and recycling collection in Japan which steadily becomes a much more personal conversation as the comic progresses. Both Jiro Taniguchi's "Summer Sky" and little Fish's "The Sunflower" are slice-of-life stories, although "The Sunflower" is more surreal and completely without words. Moyoco Anno's period piece "The Song of the Crickets" is beautifully drawn and atmospheric. "Kankichi" by Taiyo Matsumoto, "The Festival of the Bell-Horses" by Daisuke Igarashi, and "In the Deep Forest" by Kazuichi Hanawa all have folkloric and religious influences and undertones. The collection concludes with Étienne Davodeau's "Sapporo Fiction" which follows a Japanese gentleman and a Frenchman who become traveling companions by chance.
What I appreciate the most about Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is the wide variety of artistic expression and styles of storytelling. There's a wonderful mix of fiction and non-fiction, the fantastic and the mundane. The power of images and illustration is a common theme, as is the influence that each culture, French and Japanese, has had on the other. Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is a very aptly named volume as the collection give the contributors a chance to explore the country in a way that they each choose. The comics are largely personal works, whether they focus on reality or fantasy, the past or the future. As with any anthology, some of the pieces are stronger than others, and some will appeal more than others due to personal preference, but overall Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is a fascinating collection and an excellent project and collaboration.