Spotlight: Iou Kuroda

Spotlight: Iou Kuroda

August 1, 2011 |  by

I wish I had a reason for my delinquency, but work and research is no excuse for my great delay in terms of handling my spotlight. While I promised to do this every month, sickness and sudden workload kept me from opening my manga for months. Then again, I tasked myself in putting down gargantuan authors for those months and perhaps I’ll just make it up to all of you when I make up for those lost spotlights by the end of the year.

But for now, before everyone thinks I just spotlight BL authors, I present to you the man who captured my heart with an eggplant, Iou Kuroda.

I love eggplants

I’m quite sure that most readers would not associate Iou Kuroda with food or an eggplant for that matter. His only English release is Sexy Voice and Robo and that hardly has any eggplants in it. Truth be told, I didn’t see a glimpse of Iou Kuroda in a manga first. I first saw it through an anime called Nasu: Summer in Andalusia.

From Nasu: Summer in Andalusia

The story was about a man going through the Spanish leg of a biking circuit and at most it captured the pains that came with cycling especially the sacrifices he made to join the circuit. My world stopped and moved with Andalusia. The film made me experience those strange moments of intense concentration like as if I was Pepe pushing himself down the last mile. I forget everything that surrounded me and my mind was focused on the goal. I felt satisfaction in eating that delicious eggplant at the end, and then I wondered, “What was that all about?”

It was a surreal moment of attachment and detachment and eventually I found myself researching on the movie before finally finding myself a copy of the manga. I had thought that I will be reading four volumes about cyclists. As it turned out, Nasu was all about eggplants and more.

Eggplants are the center of the universe

Nasu turned out to be a perfect appetizer for Iou Kuroda. I realize later, of course, that Iou Kuroda’s best at samplers than grand main courses. The manga was a collection of shorts where the humble eggplant stands for a lot of things other than just a vegetable.

In Nasu we see the eggplant shared, invade cities, and come alive. And while we’d like to think that the manga is just about eggplants, Kuroda’s brilliance shone in his ability to make the eggplant the center of the universe. You will read the manga and realize that it’s hardly about the eggplants itself but what they symbolize to us. They can remind us of our home, love, happiness, fears, and dangers. And while it is but an eggplant, Kuroda showed that it could be THE eggplant that can change our lives.

Reading through Nasu opened a new world of manga for me, one that was not bound by cohesive plot but by relationships, symbols, and banality that we often forget. It was through Kuroda that I felt that if I only paid attention, then maybe the eggplant I love consuming can mean so much for me.

From Nasu

And the universe is filled with people

After Nasu, I find myself stumbling through his other works such as Dai-Nippon Tengu-to Ekotoba, Sexy Voice and Robo and a series of other shorts. While the stories contain almost mythical if not curious assumptions about life, his stories revolved around observations of people and one’s own will in responding to it.

He captures these relationships well and while I’m not a gekiga expert, I can see a bit of gekiga in the way he chose images for his panels. It’s almost cinematic in a very rough and sketchy way. At the same time, I see a bit of guro in him, although not exactly as grotesque as Suehiro Maruo. His style has a sense of darkness in him in a way that when I see those wavy lines that illustrate the walls and even the characters, you can sense their own unease, their own imperfections even. He may not win a drawing award in terms of details but he wins in capturing the heat of the moment and the reality of his story. And if it’s about people, then he captured them well. There are no polished curves or straight lines when it comes to representing people. There’s a bit of dirt in all of us and while we’d like to think we’re pure, even the purest of us aren’t.

I wonder if he had that intention in writing down a junior high school girl for Niko in Sexy Voice and Robo. It may be a loli complex at work, but at the same time, I’d like to think that this was just how Kuroda views the world. The world is steeped in complicated symbols and meanings no matter how simple or pure we present it to be. There’s good and bad in everyone and happy endings can also turn into bad endings.

His rugged cartoon style leaves his art open to interpretation. In fact it reminds me of those lovely monochrome cartoon prints of old. His art makes his story seem like a classic and yet the freshness of the story puts it in a contemporary age. I’ve seen tons of mangaka who tried this art style but failed to meld their story with their style. This makes Kuroda one of the few talented mangaka who knew how to express their thoughts well with his art.

And the universe seems to be related to Osamu Tezuka

Some endless research on Iou Kuroda eventually landed me on a short story of Metropolis. I would assume that this was in Comic Cue’s tribute to the celebration of the 50 years of Tezuka’s Metropolis.

While I haven’t read Tezuka’s Metropolis nor do I have a good memory of the film, Kuroda’s take on the plot of Metropolis was comedic, sarcastic, and meaningful. It was a young man’s take on the story and you can see the youth in Kuroda’s art but at the same understand where his story is heading. I realized that early on, Kuroda was a sentimental man and that he writes stories to remind us of things that we forget so that we can start paying attention to the people that surrounds us.

I wish I have the chance to read more of Iou Kuroda’s works. If I have only read a few and got affected by him this much, then I long to read the rest of his works and see how those can change my life.

The Reading List

Sexy Voice and Robo: The only work of Iou Kuroda that is legally available in English. Great story about a girl changing people’s lives one call at a time… among other things.

If you have a chance (with enough google-fu and Japanese skills), do try to read on his other titles as well: Nasu, Daioh, Kurofune (where Metropolis can be read), Daikinboshi, Dai-Nippon Tengu-to Ekotoba (Japan Tengu Party Illustrated).