Japanese Graphic Novels: Opus, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, & The Solitary Gourmet

I. Opus [1995/96] by Satoshi Kon★★★★

I am a huge admirer of Japanese director Satoshi Kon (1963-2010). In his animations Perfect Blue [1997], Millennium Actress [2001] and Paprika [2006], he created worlds that fuse reality and fantasy, playing with such concepts as memory, identity and perception. Opus is his manga work that was released before his first animated debut, and it also mixes up reality and make-believe to a curious effect. In this story, Chikara Nagai is a manga artist who is creating a manga series titled Resonance. One of his characters is special agent Satoko who has telepathic powers and who is set to bring down the leader of a mysterious cult known only as the Masque, who, in turn, has a goal to “brainwash” the Earth’s population. Nagai draws the ending to his manga instalment, but then realises that one of his characters does not want to submit to his sad fate, as Nagai’s real-life and fantasy worlds collide. This is a tale of a creator who “lives and breathes” his work, and, in consequence, is becoming lost in his own creation (similar to A-ha’s music video Take on Me), but the focus is also the characters, who all start to experience an existential crisis.

Perhaps Opus does get too bombastic and not all of its story threads make sense, but I also did not expect it to have so many genuinely funny moments. Overall, this manga is an intense and thought-provoking one, which dives into the mysteries of a creative process, while also satirising it and providing action-packed entertainment.

II. The Strange Tale of Panorama Island [2008] by Suehiro Maruo & Edogawa Ranpo★★★★

Step out of this world and into another reality”, promises a new Panorama Island recreation centre opened at what once was a simple fishing village on the island of Nakanoshima. In this graphic novel, adapted from a novella by Edogawa Ranpo, “the godfather of modern Japanese mystery fiction”, Hitomi Hirosuke is a young, struggling writer who assumes the identity of his dead friend who looked exactly like him. Genzaburo Kodoma was a rich and privileged man who died suddenly from an alleged asthma attack, and Hirosuke is now prepared to do anything to take the place of his friend to enjoy the riches and prestige. However, now that he may have the unimaginable amount of money and influence, he also considers making a reality what he had only tentatively envisaged in his latest manuscript – a Paradise Island for all.

Few stories excite me as much as stories of doppelgängers, see my list here, and, though the original novella was published in 1926, this manga now appears to have plenty of Patricia Highsmith’s anti-hero vibes, coupled with a “mad” project spectacle. The story explicitly references Edgar Allan Poe (Edogawa Ranpo was a huge admirer), and the artwork, which does include a couple of explicit adult content scenes, draws inspiration from such diverse artists as Maxfield Parrish, Arnold Böcklin (Isle of the Dead) and Valerio Cioli (the sculptor of the Fontana del Bacchino in the Boboli Gardens in Florence).

Though the artwork narrative transition is quite abrupt in some places and the ending can be seen from miles away, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is still an intriguing tale of horror and deceit, as well as limitless ambition and architectural wonder (The Great Gatsby-level extravaganza meets Jules Verne-type awe), beautifully rendered through the detailed sequential art.

III. The Solitary Gourmet (Vol.1) [1997] by Masayuki Kusumi & Jirō Taniguchi ★★★1/2

Japan has a special relationship with food, and food preparation is elevated to an exquisite form of art there. It is no wonder then that so much story-material in Japan is devoted to that topic, for example, see my review of the Oishinbo (“The Gourmet”) [1983 – 2014] manga series and this post. In this story by Masayuki Kusumi, a businessman, who specialises in imported goods, is travelling around Tokyo as part of his work and happens to sample the country’s varied cuisine in different districts of the city, while also venturing further afield, for example, to Osaka. In the Taitō-ku ward of Tokyo, he first stumbles upon a tavern that serves him unbelievably delicious stir-fried pork and rice, and then eats such dishes as tsukimi udon and katsu sandwich as his work takes him around different places on different days. He eats on a train, during a baseball match, and even indulges in simple conveyance-store food.

The story introduces the reader to all kinds of delicacies, from Korean japchae to yaki manju (chicken dumplings) and the mamekan dessert. Jirō Taniguchi (1947 – 2017) was a popular magna artist known for his manga works The Summit of the Gods [2000-2003] and A Distant Neighbourhood [1998]. In The Solitary Gourmet, he created images that are a feast for the eyes, being so detailed and easy-to-follow. This manga may be thin on the actual narrative plot and does become quite repetitive, but it is still a well-illustrated tale of geographic and culinary exploration, and a heart-warming tribute to the Japanese cuisine.


8 thoughts on “Japanese Graphic Novels: Opus, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, & The Solitary Gourmet

  1. These all look gorgeous, and intriguing storylines too. I was also very much impressed with A Perfect Blue and Paprika so a manga by the same artist would be a draw. Sadly I don’t get to read much manga though I would look all of those up.
    Lovely reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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