【Fiction Anthology】Faust Vol.1

This post is very long. I am really sorry.

Faust is an literary “magazine” originally published by Kodansha to feature popular young writers and their works. Although it’s referred to as a magazine and has a sporadic publishing schedule and is numbered by volumes, it’s packaged like a novel but has both continuing installments and short stories for literary prose and also includes manga, illustrations, essays, columns, and interviews as well. The stories are frequently accompanied by illustrations from well-known artists, which makes the stories akin to light novels, despite the content not always necessarily being “light”. It can be described somewhat as a literary version of Robot Super Color Comic.

This is the first English volume released by Del Rey and translated by Andrew Cunningham, Paul Johnson, and Nancy Tsai. The English version doesn’t feature the same contents as the original Japanese Faust Vol.1, and instead is a compilation of stories chosen across various editions of the original Faust. It’s packaged as a regular trade paperback, and features a specially commissioned cover illustration by take of Zaregoto fame. The stories are put at the front of the book where it’s read left-to-right, and the manga is at the “back” , where you have to flip and read right-to-left.

The contents of Faust Vol.1 (ENG) are as follows
(arranged by order of appearance with English translated titles):

1. Introduction by OTA Katsushi, translation by Paul Johnson
Fiction & Essays
2. xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC: Landolt-Ring Aerosol – story by NISIOISIN, illustration by CLAMP, translation by Andrew Cunningham
3. Outlandos d’Amour – story by KADONO Kouhei, illustrations by UEDA Hajime, translation by A.Cunningham
4. Drill Hole in My Brain – story and illustrations by MAIJO Otaro, translation by A.Cunningham
5. F-sensei’s Pocket – story by Otsuichi, illustrations by OBATA Takeshi, translation by A.Cunningham
6. The Garden of Sinners: A View from Above – story by NASU Kinoko, illustrations by TAKEUCHI Takashi, translation by P.Johnson
7. H People: An Evolving World – column by WATANABE Kozy, illustrations by TAGRO, translation by P.Johnson
8. Yabai de Show – column by SEIRYOUIN Ryusui, translation by P.Johnson
9. Yuuya Satou’s Counseling Session – column by SATOU Yuuya, illustrations by SASAI Icco, translation by P.Johnson
10. Tatsuhiko Takimoto’s Guru Guru Counseling Session – column by TAKIMOTO Tatsuhiko, illustrations by HASHII Chizu, translation by P.Johnson
11. Approaching Twenty Years of Otaku – column and illustration by MORIKAWA Kaichirou, translation by P.Johnson
Other Prose
12. The Garden of Sinners: An Interview with Kinoko Nasu and Takashi Takeuchi – interview by OTA Katsushi, translation by P.Johnson
13. From Japan to the World, From the World to Japan – essay by SHIINA Yukari, translation by P.Johnson
Manga
14. Tsukikusa – take, translation by P.Johnson
15. Nikko Dance Party – VOFAN, translation by Nancy Tsai
16. Maple Tree Viewing – YAMASAKI Moheji, translation by P.Johnson
17. After School: 7th Class – manga by KOUGA Yun, story by NISIOISIN, translation by P.Johnson

Really Long Opinion: Was quite excited when I first got the book and started reading it, and had very high expectations for it due to the huge names, but to be honest, I was pretty disappointed by the stories I was really interested in, despite trying my best to appreciate the authors’ works and trying to like it.

The biggest letdown was Nasu Kinoko’s “The Garden of Sinners: A View from Above” (The more familiar title of this is Kara no Kyoukai Chapter 1). I had immensely high expectations for it since I knew how widely praised this first novel of Nasu’s is, and I was reading it in hopes of liking it as much as other who have read it. I hadn’t watched the movies yet or read any of Nasu’s other works, so I didn’t know what to expect besides some disenchanted-looking female character named Shiki. The beginning started off as being pretty intriguing, but when it came to actually explaining the events, the reader was treated to large monologues where the event was “explained” through total conjecture and nonsensical lines of reasoning. It also doesn’t help that this type of bullshit explanation is something I’ve been trying so very hard to avoid reading since the last time I had to put up with something like this, which just disappoints me more that this work is so well-received despite having this kind of junk in it. To better illustrate my point of what that sad excuse for “logical reasoning” was, here’s an excerpt directly from the book:

“It’s distance,” Miss Touko said. “That panoramic view is far too spacious, too expansive. It creates a definite sense of estrangement from the world. And humans can only draw piece of mind from the things around them, even at the best of times. No matter what elaborate maps you may have, no matter the fact that you know you’re in such and such a place, it’s still nothing more than basic information. To us, the world is nothing more than what we can touch and feel. We cannot feel the connecting points in what our brains registers as this planet, this country, or this city. We’d have to go and physically visit those linking points for that. And, in fact, that’s fine. Our awareness is supposed to work that way.”
“But if you get a view that’s too spacious, it throws a spanner in the works. You’ve got thirty feet that you can touch and feel around you, but you’re looking down over thirty thousand feet. They’re both the same, both the world that you live in, but the former seems much more real.”

Excuse me? What have you proven there? I lost you by the third sentence and when I read the last sentence it seemed to me that the conclusion was just pulled out of thin air. Good job on sounding so very intelligent and logical, except nobody understands what that combination of words mean. The translator probably did his best to make it sound as coherent as possible in English, but alas, even the best translator can’t have made anything like that seem coherent. I’m sure that some people can claim that they understand what it means, but to be honest, I could do it as well if I tried really hard and didn’t question the validity of something like “A panoramic view creates a definite sense of estragement from the world”. I’m pretty sure that panoramic views can create different senses for different people! It’s stupid that Nasu’s using an obscure, one-sided views to support a something that he further goes on to apply to a wide population (“…Humans can only…”, “To us, the world…”, “Our awareness”…How can you just generalize like that?). How many people think of a sense of estrangement the moment they see a panoramic view anyways? If the majority of people do get that kind of feeling you would be able to apply it to a larger population, but this is just…no.

Click to enlarge.

This isn’t the only instance of bull either, and there are at least two more semi-monologues by Touko doing some conjectural “explaning”, and a few scattered “this is why” statements every few pages. There was one scene where Shiki and Touko were trying to explain something and Mikiya said that he wasn’t following the conversation at all. If even your characters can’t understand it, why did you write such meaningless stuff?

However, I did really like Shiki and Mikiya and the actual events in Kara no Kyoukai. The things that happened were all really interesting, and the setting is nice, but those stupid explanations just ruin everything. I don’t think that I’d want to read more of this series, or Nasu’s other works, if he uses explanations like these as often as he did here.

The second story that I tried really hard to like was Maijo Otaro’s “Drill Hole in My Brain”. I failed horribly at trying to even comprehend it. I couldn’t finish reading this story because it was absolutely nonsensical, completely meaningless, and really difficult to follow what the hell was happening. I tried extremely hard to extract meaning or find a flow to the story but there was nothing for me to hold on to. It was just total chaos. If there is a literary version of art that consists of randomly placed paint splatters, this would be it. Modern art my ass.

The third story with which I was also disenchanted was NISIOISIN’s “xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC: Landolt-Ring Aerosol”. I had heard from a few sources that this is not representative of NISIOISIN’s usual high quality work, and so I approached this with caution and relatively low expectations. The story itself was intriguing enough and I was somewhat immersed for the most part, but the whole premise of “wanting to break taboos” because of various loosely-supported and obscure reasons was a big turnoff for me. Also, there’s only one CLAMP illustration for this story (and therefore the whole book), so try to restrain yourself from buying this entire volume of Faust just to see CLAMP’s single piece of artwork.

Click to enlarge. Artwork by (from top and left to right): OBATA Takeshi, VOFAN, YAMASAKI Moheji, and KOUGA Yun.

I am happy to say that the rest of the book is pretty good, though. The highlight for me was Otsuichi’s “F-sensei’s Pocket”. Not only was it accented by Obata Takeshi’s lovely artwork (5.5 pages of illustrations scattered throughout), the story was also creative, fun to read, easy to follow, and very immersive. I wouldn’t say that this is worth buying the whole book for, but if you have the chance to read Faust Vol.1, please take advantage of your chance so you can read this story. It’s appropriately fun and cute, but also with a quite a bit of maturity that makes the reader think even after reading it. Top notch! This is definitely the kind of quality I was expecting from all the authors of Faust.

Kadono Kouhei’s “Outlandos d’Amour” was pretty good, but was not as impressionable or outstanding as Otsuichi’s contribution. I really, really liked reading the interview of Nasu and Takeuchi, since it gave me a better look at what kind of people they seemed to be, and what they went through to get to being such a big name. The other columns were fun to read, but none of them made any really lasting impressions on me.

The manga were all high quality, but the most notable ones were VOFAN’s “Nikko Dance Party” and Yamasaki Moheji’s “Maple Tree Viewing”. They were both very short (6 pages and 7 pages, respectively), but the talent and style of both artists struck me with every page I looked at. VOFAN’s was especially creative, and Yamasaki’s lovely style made me want to see many more of his works. Kouga Yun’s 37-page manga “After School: 7th Class” was good and the story was very unique (GJ NISIOISIN) but I couldn’t help comparing her character designs to the ones she did for Gundam 00.

In conclusion, this is like most anthologies where you might not enjoy everything the book has to offer, but if you’re interested in what kinds of fiction the popular young authors from Japan are writing, this is a very, very good starting point. Especially recommended if you like exploring different genres of fiction and are interested in both literature and illustration.