Good Bye Review

Good Bye

Story and art by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Published in English by Drawn and Quarterly (2008, 1 volume)

Created during 1971-72

Just to give you an idea on how important this piece is to me, if I had read Good Bye before I made my Top 10 manga list it would have been up there. Yoshihiro Tatsumi is, without a doubt, the greatest mangaka to have ever graced this earth (in my opinion). His ability to tell cohesive, yet extremely challenging stories makes his work a pleasure to read, ponder, re-read and then discuss with others. As soon as this piece arrived on my door step, I immediately read through all of it within an hour. When I put the book down, I was overcome with a feeling I had never felt before; I was more excited to re-read it than my initial read, because I realised I had experienced something truly special. Sure, some of his characters are overly-negative and underdeveloped, but the progressive themes and outstanding imagery Tatsumi utilises more than make up for it.

In order to do this piece justice, I’m going to break down each of the short stories, and discuss why they are, for the most part, outstanding. However, there was a slight decline in quality towards the end. The primary theme Tatsumi explores in this piece is the repression of Japanese society, particularly in a post-war setting.

  1. Hell

During a visit by Prime Minister Eisaku Satō to the 25th Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Koyanagi, a photographer, recalls an assignment he was sent on after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This is not only the best story in this book, but the best short story I’ve read in any medium. It was full of powerful imagery, gruesome details, and a stark reminder of humanity’s evil. The plot twist within it was the most shocking revelation I’d ever experienced. If you decide not to read this manga, at least find this story and read it, you won’t regret it.

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2. Just a man

The protagonist is a salaryman who loathes his wife, a figure of disparagement and emasculation. He decides to cheat on her,  and blow his retirement package on gambling to spite her. A very morbid story about unfulfillment and regret, it’s surprisingly terrifying. The idea that our lives, ultimately, can be unsuccessful and devoid of happiness is a stark reminder about the unpredictability of existence.

3. Sky burial

The protagonist, believing he is being pursued by crows, secludes himself in his home, dropping out of college and breaking up with his girlfriend. While his paranoia increases, his ability to differentiate between reality and his delusions decreases. This disenfranchisement from outer society is Tatsumi’s first portrayal of a younger person. While reading through it, the protagonist’s indifferent stature cannot mask his inner angst about the direction of his life, and the feelings of loneliness that encircle him. An interesting read with parts I could identify with.

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4. Rash

A sixty-year old retired salaryman lives alone in a hut alongside a river. He develops a recurring rash which he discovers to be psychosomatic (caused by mental factors). His journey to cure his ailment, as well as his interactions with other passersbys makes up the core of the plot. It’s a bittersweet story of self-growth, determination and acknowledgement of flaws (after all, we are human). The symbolic ending hints to sexual repression, which is touched on in more extreme measures later in the piece.

5. Woman in the mirror

A salaryman comes back to his old town and recalls an incident involving an effeminate school mate who liked to cross dress. A challenging piece that explores both status and expectations from society, it focuses on the rigid beliefs around how men should act. Interestingly, Tatsumi draws the cross-dressed character as very beautiful, perhaps in an act of progressive social challenge. For the time it was written, I was very surprised at how psychologically advanced it was, providing a story frighteningly realistic, and portraying an experience I don’t doubt happened during a time of repression and conservatism in Japanese history.

6. Night falls again

A lonely factory worker spends his time watching strip teases in new town. This piece, while not spectacular, embodies Tatsumi’s favourite theme to explore; the sexual repression of post war Japanese society. It was enjoyable, but around this point of the collection, the stories become slightly repetitive, with no powerful imagery or story to differentiate them from each other.

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7. Life is so sad

A bar hostess waits for her husband to get out of jail, fending off advancing customers in order to remain faithful. However, he does not trust her, causing frustration and inner turmoil within her. This was the weakest piece in my opinion, with a relatively uninteresting plot. There may have been themes explored, but they were white-washed versions of previous stories.

8. Click click click

A man who has been successful at the stock market spends his time doing volunteer work. He also has a shoe fetish, and pays women to wear and emasculate him using them. Another piece that explores the hidden sexuality of Japanese society. While “night falls again” focuses more on the existence of sexual repression in Japanese society, this story attempts to depict the people it effects. By emphasising the good deeds of the protagonist, the reader is unsure as to whether his lude acts should alter our opinion of him, ultimately questioning whether it should question character at all.

9. Good bye

Mariko is a prostitute serving American soldiers at the end of world war 2. Her tragic cycle of falling in love with soldiers who eventually leave her culminates into a disgust for men, including her dead beat father. For a title piece, I was slightly disappointed. On my first read, that is. After reading it multiple times, I began to understand its significance. For one, it highlights the monopoly America had over Japan post WWII, with Japanese civilians serving the Americans. The repression felt by the Japanese builds up, and is usually let out through perverted acts. Mariko’s wish to be taken from her shack to America represents a resentment for her father and Japan, whose loss of the war has led to her dilapidated lifestyle. A highly interesting piece which could illicit hours of academic debate, with each theme unraveling decades worth of historical events.

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Yoshihiro Tatsumi retains his classic art throughout all his stories, harassing the classic “Gekiga” style. His style is relatively simple, relying on accurate portrayal of movement and fascinating stories to balance his pieces. While usually outstanding, it did suffer when used in a short story context, with certain protagonists looking very similar. It was obvious that the themes the story explored were more important than the characters themselves, but a more memorable cast would have nonetheless made piece more captivating.

It’s incredibly hard to do Good Bye justice in the form of a short review. Each short story, between 20-50 pages long, could have a 1000 word essay written on its story and themes alone. Aside from Tatsumi’s other piece “A drifting life”, this is the greatest one volume of manga I’ve ever read. If you want an incredibly immersive experience, where you are intrigued, challenged and horrified in a series of enjoyable stories (which should be everyone!), this is a must read. However, its dark and disparaging demeanour may put off the causal reader.

Art – 9

Story – 9

Writing – 9

Overall – 9/10

Image sources: https://www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=23538537, http://www.heystorytellers.com/my-year-of-comics-good-bye-by-yoshihiro-tatsumi/, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/t/tatsumi_yoshihiro.htm, http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/02/reconsidering-tatsumi/

 

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