Welcome to The Valve
Login
Register


Valve Links

The Front Page
Statement of Purpose

John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Advanced Search

Articles
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

Comments
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

XHTML | CSS

Powered by Expression Engine
Logo by John Holbo

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

 


Blogroll

2blowhards
About Last Night
Academic Splat
Acephalous
Amardeep Singh
Beatrice
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogenspiel
Blogging the Renaissance
Bookslut
Booksquare
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
Chrononautic Log
Cliopatria
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
CultureSpace
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Fernham
Ferule & Fescue
Ftrain
GalleyCat
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
Idiocentrism
Idiotprogrammer
if:book
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Kitabkhana
Languagehat
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Moo2
MoorishGirl
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Philobiblion
Planned Obsolescence
Printculture
Pseudopodium
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
ReadySteadyBlog
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
S1ngularity::criticism
Say Something Wonderful
Scribblingwoman
Seventypes
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Splinters
Spurious
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
Uncomplicatedly
Unfogged
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
Waggish
What Now?
William Gibson
Wordherders

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tank Tankoro, by Gajo Sakamoto

Posted by Bill Benzon on 12/12/11 at 01:17 PM

Gaja Sakamoto. Tank Tankuro: Prewar Works, 1934-45. Presspop, Inc. 2011.

I was browsing in Jim Hanley’s Universe* a few weeks ago and saw a handsomely slipcased volume by someone I’d never heard of, Gajo Sakamoto, about a character I’d never heard of, Tank Tankoro. That I’d never heard of either means nothing, of course. The fine print on the label pasted to the cellophane wrapper indicated that this Tankoro character was “the preeminent robot superhero manga from pre-WWII Japan” and that it had somehow gotten lost even in Japan and wasn’t rediscovered there until the 1970s, at which point it was republished to much joy and acclaim.

A very convincing sales pitch and, as I said, the slipcasing was very handsome. But I didn’t buy that first time. But two weeks later . . . then I bought. I ripped off the cellophane wrapper, took the book out of its case and started leafing though. Good paper, high quality printing, I thought, and funny.

I leafed through to page 73 and noticed a bunch of guys and a canon, but no ammunition. I turned the page and saw a nice two-page spread (74-75), in four color printing (the earlier pages had been only black and red). On the right-hand page some guy had a basket stacked high with octopi while on the left-hand the guys with the canon were wondering “What’ll we do with them?”

Of course, I new exactly what they were going to do with them, and started chuckling at the notion of using octopi as canon balls (while also thinking that that wasn’t too kind to the octopi). And, yep! that’s what happened on pages 76 and 77. And then 78 and 79 formed another two page spread, which you can see on the web, here (page 78) and here (page 79). The octopi formed a chain stretching from Tankuro up there in the air down to the guys on the ground, who were trying to reel him in: “It’s like beach net fishing.”

What an utterly absurd and wonderful conception. Of course, it didn’t work. Tankuro freed himself, because he’s the hero. I was hooked.

The series was originally published in 1934 and seems mostly about war between unnamed combatants, though at the time Japan was fighting in Manchuria. Tank Tankuro and his monkey sidekick, Key-Ko, are on one side and Kuro-Kabuto and his troops are on the other side. But that doesn’t happen until after the octopi incident. Before that Tank just went up against this or that villain.

The drawing is vigorous, forceful, and simple in a way that leads you think, oh, I could do that. You couldn’t, of course. But kids reading it could and probably did think that and were not likely bothered by the difference between their imitations and Sakamoto’s original.

The story is episodic and more than a little surreal, as the octopi incident indicates. It’s worth noting that the octopus is a well-established motif in Japanese art, as well as in Japanese cuisine. So, in introducing octopi into his manga in this way Sakamoto was using a motif that had well-established meanings for his audience. But not, I suspect, as live feed canon fodder.

Then there’s Tank himself. As Sakamoto tells the story (in an essay appended to the volume) he’d been working on a strip that doesn’t seem to have been getting much response (p. ii):

The serial was a samurai story, but one day, there came a time when I had to strike out in a new direction. After much consideration, I came up with my very own superhero character. I decided to put a human inside an iron ball and make him act in amazing and unheard of ways.

Which Tankuro does. In an introductory historical essay Shunsuke Nakazawa points out (p. xiv):

Almost all other protagonists in pre-war manga were personified animals or pure human beings. These characters had a basically good nature, and could be a role model for their child readers. Tankuro was not as simple. I goes unexplained whether he was a robot, a super strong human being, or anything besides that. No one could fully explain his identity. He was not as safe and friendly as other peaceful and tamed characters of the time.

So, we have a character that’s drawn as a samurai in an iron ball and who functions as a trickster-like demi-urge, a being at once natural and mechanical who’s at home on land, in the air, on and even under water.

That’s what makes Tank Tankuro an important character in manga history, his indeterminacy. In that respect he’s more like Tezuka’s Michy, in Metropolis, than like the Mighty Atom (aka Astroboy). The Mighty Atom was quite clearly an electromechanical construction, but Michy was fashioned of synthetic cells and so straddled the distinction between organic and mechanical, as does Tankuro. It’s out of this indeterminacy that all those fantastical mange and anime creatures will grow in the post-war years.


* * * * *

*A major comics store in Manhattan.


Comments

Add a comment:

Name:
Email:
Location:
URL:

 

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: