Dream Fossil (Yume no Kaseki)
Story and art by Satoshi Kon
Original Publisher: Kodansha (2011)
Length: 1 Volume (15 stories)
Whenever I describe the works of Satoshi Kon, I use the term “cinematic”, which is the most accurate way of describing how these pieces are experienced in my mind. That’s not to say they’d be better as works of animation, yet an indescribable fluidity means my mind processes Kon’s panels and pacing differently to other manga. In “Dream Fossil”, a compilation of short stories by the prolific mangaka and animator Satoshi Kon, I was provided an opportunity to reflect on many aspects of living. In an interview with long time friend of Kon, musician Susumu Hirasawa, a small description is given of a reader’s experience with Kon’s work:
“the reality of [Manga/animation] is projected inside the viewer’s mind, and so to an extent, complements what’s on screen. Kon’s style, in a single scene, forces the viewer to internally fill in the gaps while simultaneously creating a sense of realism close to what live action achieves.”
This anthology of stories has led to an experience similar to what Hirasawa has outlined, and through my own person I am able to transition seamlessly between the pages. This ultimately led to an exceptionally real, profound and personal journey, allowing me to better understand myself as I came to understand what I was reading.
Some critics of this compilation have labelled the stories as disinteresting, claiming nothing of value is ever explored in them. I could not disagree more. In fact, these are some of the best short stories that I’ve ever read. I’m not fond of short stories; they’re my least favourite writing template, and I often cite underdevelopment or lack of immersion as a key reason for this. But Kon’s work are the perfect fit for this medium. Particularly when discussing the stories he sets in the modern world, he is able to create compelling, self-contained stories that require no further elaboration or explanation. Instead of creating grandiose settings or using ambitious forms of storytelling, Kon focuses on one issue of existence, and hones in on it using various characters. His characters are just… living. And they FEEL like they’re living. In fact, Kon’s rejection of any clichè, grandiose motifs in itself provides a sense of depth within the characters.
It’s also important to note that Kon’s works contain several elements of the surreal, whether that is actual manifestations of spirits, or plots that progress to smoothly to be coincidental. So even when “not much” happens plot wise, the reader must weigh the writing, art and characters in order to truly understand what they may represent.
… But sometimes it really is just uplifting, wholesome entertainment, and I can’t help fall in love with the unabashed sentimentality within these stories. By using our current world as a backdrop, Kon can spend his efforts creating compelling plots which flow excellently. The nostalgic sentiments linked with summer, holidays and high school also aid the piece in providing positive undertones within the reader. When reading other short stories, I often find myself detached, and flick on ahead to see how many pages are left. This is mostly done out of worry, as I don’t understand how an author can finish off their stories cohesively within such a short timeframe. But Dream Fossil’s charming, stylish stories that never bite off more than they can chew kept me fully immersed throughout their entire segment, which always concluded with a satisfying ending.
I never found any weakness with Kon’s art or writing style, though some of his settings weren’t suitable for short stories. There were a few period pieces in this collection (one set during a war, and another set during feudal Japan), and I felt there wasn’t enough time for Kon to fully flesh out the environments. This resulted in the reader learning about characters in an either lacklustre or underdeveloped settings (for example, the war-time piece is just set in a desert), and it often hindered the stories ability to captivate. And as I’ve mentioned, captivating wasn’t an issue for most of these pieces, so I knew Kon was capable of it. But these pieces just had lingering questions in regards to their environment, and when the audience wasn’t told, it didn’t lead us to speculate (or peak interest), it just looked underdeveloped. Again, when constructing a short story, it’s hard to both convey setting, develop characters and progress a story, but Kon had created the perfect marriage between the three in others works, so it was evident that the weakness was coming from the pieces themselves.
While his period pieces were lacklustre, I was intrigued by the way Kon explored science fiction. His sci-fi themed stories were reminiscent of “Akira” a pillar of modern manga in both plot and character design. It was only after reading the epilogue of this piece that I learned Kon was, in fact, the assistant of Katsuhiro Otomo (creator of Akira) at one point in time, which explains their similarities. I had already written off most of Kon’s non-normal world stories, until I read the last story in this collection, a piece called “Toriko – Prisoner”. It was Kon’s debut work, and in my opinion, a highlight, in spite of the piece containing a certain “emptiness” that is only filled when a creator develops further. While some of his other alternate setting works struggle to convey time and atmosphere, Kon seamlessly transitioned the reader from the regular world to this dystopian future. There were enough similarities that the reader could make sense of their environment, and only after this construction did Kon add startling differences to jar the reader. In a genre saturated with poorly constructed and generic worlds, this story hones in on one aspect of Kon’s futuristic society, as opposed to trying to create a new world, and explores the themes excellently. Kon was only 21 at the time of this piece’s creation, yet his eye for detail and tasteful balance between writing and artistry shows. In saying that, this is the only story were there is a visible drop in artistic quality, but his panel use and action sequences often rectified this. After all, Kon’s worst art is still better than most artists at their peak.
While I wouldn’t suggest this for a reader looking for a Satoshi Kon introduction, “Dream Fossil” provided me with an experience I was really craving; sophisticated, masterfully mapped content with profound overtones and exceptional storytelling. In a world were overcomplicating is seen as the solution for immersion, these stories provide a refreshing simplicity that leaves the reader content with their journey. I felt much happier than I had before reading the piece, and afterwards was left to bask in a sea of reflection slowly created by Kon’s work.