For my second stab at reading Japanese, I wanted to try something a bit easier. Something where I could focus my brain on understanding the the words and grammar without having to worry about any subtlety or nuance. Which, considering my first go was about the level of The Babysitters Club, was quite a challenge to find.
After digging through Bookwalker, I found the perfect title.
Beginning serialization in 1982, Oh! Toumei Ningen (Whoa! Invisible Man) is contemporary with Dragon Ball and Urusei Yatsura, and as hard as this may be to believe, it has even less subtlety than either of those.
Or rather, he doesn't see anything. There's no face looking back at him from the mirror. He strips naked and confirms that, yes indeed, his whole body is invisible.
While Tooru's panicking about this strange development, his cousin Yoshie comes in for her after dinner bath. Unaware that a naked teenage boy is right next to her, Yoshie sets to disrobing. Of course bathrooms are hard enough for two people to get around in when they both know the other's there. When one of them's invisible... get ready for some hi-larious hijinks. Oh look, she's reaching for the shampoo bottle, but she's grabbing his hoo-ha!
All the chapters are cringe-inducing, but the second stands out as especially bad. In this installment, Tooru discovers his new homeroom teacher is dating the greaseball gym coach. Infuriated at the thought of a woman giving it up to a guy he doesn't approve of, Tooru breaks into her apartment during her next date and makes her think the gym teacher is trying to rape her.
Almost as bad is the final chapter of the volume, in which Yoshie and her friends take part in a gymnastics competition. Tooru of course decides he wants an up-close look at all the girls in tight leotards, not even stopping to think that his presence on the gym floor will mess up their routine. We're supposed to be impressed when he uses his invisibility to fix their mistakes -- for instance, when Yoshie's baton-toss goes awry he catches it and tosses it back to her, impressing the judges in the process.
The problem with that interpretation is that nothing in the manga suggests that Tooru's been corrupted. He feels no compunction about his actions. He never stops to consider the shame and trauma he's inflicting upon his victims. Nor does the story ever step far enough out of his POV to suggest that his attitude towards all this is wrong. When he finds himself in embarrassing situations upon turning visible again, the audience is meant to sympathize with him. If not for the magic fish eggs, no doubt he'd find some other way to peek in on Yoshie.
To some degree, it's refreshing to have a protagonist who's actively protagoning, instead of the bland lumps in modern anime and manga who literally stumble into these situations. For all his faults, Tooru does have a personality, unlike Audience Insert Protagonist #7245. Too bad it's the personality of a sexual predator. Surely there must be a middle ground -- male characters who are interested in having sexy times with girls, but also understand concepts like "consent"and "boundaries."
This is one of the reasons I'm learning Japanese. Unlike anime, where so few shows are produced each year that it's possible to be aware of them all even if you don't watch them, the manga industry is so vast that no one -- not even in Japan -- will ever be able to keep track of even a tenth of it. The vast majority of manga will never be scanlated, let alone officially licensed. The only way to read them is in Japanese. Even if my first selection turned out to be crap, I look forward to digging through Bookwalker and finding some hidden gem that I'd never know about otherwise.
And so, allons-y.
A few years back I made a stab at teaching myself Japanese. I was making pretty good progress -- I'd memorized a couple hundred kanji and even managed, with the help of a dictionary, to read a few chapters of a manga -- but then, as it has an annoying habit of doing, life got in the way and I fell off track.
At the start of this year, I finally decided to give it another go, and after practicing for the last few months I've reached the point where I'm ready to take a stab at reading again.
In the years since my last attempt, it's become a lot easier to obtain Japanese texts. Back then, you had to import physical copies through companies like Yes Asia and CD Japan. The price wasn't too bad -- Japanese books are cheap enough that even with the cost of international shipping, the price is still comparable to buying an English edition at MSRP -- but trans-Pacific shipping takes forever, and if you mess up by, oh, let's say accidentally order a Chinese edition instead of Japanese, you're kinda screwed. You could theoretically buy ebooks through Amazon.jp back then, but region restrictions meant jumping through hoops, and doing so was a violation of Amazon's terms of service, which meant they could nuke your whole account if they found out.
But in the last few years, a Japanese ebook store called Bookwalker has emerged, and 99% of their items are available globally. They even have an English version of their site for selling translated manga, so you can create an account there and then browse the Japanese site.
Which means that my reading level is at the Japanese equivalent of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club.
Nonetheless, the only way you can learn to read a language is by reading the language. If all you ever do is memorize vocabulary and and read grammar guides, you're just filling your head with useless trivia. You have to apply that knowledge before it'll take hold in your brain.
There are several imprints that specialize in books at my reading level. Of the ones I've looked at, Kodansha's Aoi Tori Bunko seems to put out the sort of books a teacher would want students to read, while Shueisha's Mirai Bunko and Kadokawa's Tsubasa Bunko aim for what kids would want to read. Tsubasa, for example, has novelizations of Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda's anime films, and Mirai has books based upon the manga series Kimi ni Todoke. Even the exception bears this out -- the one anime novelization Aoi Tori's put out is based upon Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice), which is notably a story about bullying and disability.
As they're introducing each other and speculating on what the girls have planned, a fourth boy appears -- and he's none other than their school's star athlete, the Soccer Prince!
Seriously. That's what they call him.
Every single line.
Don't get me wrong, as a way of honing my Japanese, that sort of thing is really good. I'm never going to forget that "王子" (ouji) means "prince," that's for sure. But as narration, it's kinda weird.
Anyways, the Soccer Prince is a total alpha-male. The other boys freak out at the indisputable fact that they're pitiful losers next to his hyper-masculinity. One boy's like, "Oh my God, if we let him in there, he's totally going to snag our girls for his harem and make 'em give him a reverse gangbang, like in that one video my brother has that he let me watch one time." (I'm paraphrasing here, but that's the gist.)
In the midst of all this, a fight breaks out between the Soccer Prince and another boy, and they accidentally knock Saku under a suit of armor. Poor Saku's so terrified he starts screaming like a baby, and suddenly the lights come on and the girls reveal that the whole thing was a set-up to get the guys in the mood for Halloween.
Oh, and there's a fourth girl present that the 1%ers are trying to hook up with the Soccer Prince, which is the reason they invited him, not because they wanted to cuck their boyfriends.
But no worries! When Saku expresses his self-doubts to her, Natsume laughs it off. Turns out she has a thing for twinky guys who are kinda wimps, so it's all good. And maybe later, if Saku wants to make out with the Soccer Prince, well...
(Again, I'm paraphrasing, but I don't think I'm reading any subtext that's not intended by the author, and a cursory search of Pixiv backs up on this.)
So that's the story of 1%: Halloween Panic. I can't say it's the best book I've ever read. Or even a good book. But for practicing my JP skills, it did its job.
Still, for my next adventure in Nihongo, I'm gonna go with a manga.