Thursday, May 8, 2014

Frozen for boys: A Zoo In Winter

I recently finished Jiro Taniguchi's A Zoo in Winter.

(original cover from Wikipedia)

This is one of those thinly-disguised auto-biographies.The stand-in character's name is Hamaguchi. He's 18 and wants to be a commercial artist. This version of the author's self is a bit of an innocent and wanders in and out of situations, without fully understanding them.

His first "trial" involves chaperoning the boss' daughter around. She's in disgrace for having had an affair with one of the workers. Eventually, through his innocence, she uses him to meet her lover and elope. That's pretty much the tone for the rest of the book.

Taniguchi's line work is outstanding. And he uses it to keep his naive, younger self boxed into a series of cold, pristine environments. Hamaguchi really expresses anything other than the smallest of emotional reactions. He's either amazingly self-controlled or the most boring person in all of Japan. or both.

He falls into a manga job one day, partly out of luck, partly out of a friend's maneuvering. He's good at filling in backgrounds and inking in blacks. But he's no good at making his own manga. What does he have to write about? Luckily, he meets a girl.

And she's right out of a Verdi opera. Mari is wasting away from some unspecified disease, so she doesn't get out much. And they have the same taste in books. In no time, she's inspiring our mediocre hero to finish a manga story. So, for her, he writes a fantasy about a boy rescuing a girl. 


And so *SPOILERS* (but no surprise), he gets his first professional story published. It's kind of interesting to see the story-within-the-story portraying "ordeals" that he must overcome. That's quite a romanticizing of his quiet, introverted life. He doesn't even have to worry about starting his first sexual relationship; he's in love with a pure, dying girl.

And so, we have the metaphor of the title, I guess, a young man frozen in adolescence. I'm not sure if Taniguchi means this to be a study of someone who matures in the end. Yes, he is now more successful in his job and has a sort of love relationship, but there still isn't any inner drive. We have someone who likes to draw pretty pictures, but can't make decisions for himself. Perhaps the author is drawn to these beautiful winter landscapes because there is nothing to face in them.

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