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.
-by Sean O'Hara