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The Wall Street Journal's Live Mint loves RED COLORED ELEGY

Updated August 1, 2011


Sachiko Yamaguchi and Ichiro Nishimoto are ordinary people, in so much as people in creative professions are ordinary, and they lead ordinary lives where their predominant concerns are making ends meet, marriage, love, and death. Yet, like everyone who leads ordinary lives - and most of us do - they have extraordinary aspirations. Some would call the couple shallow and, indeed, they seem far removed from happenings in the world around them, obsessed primarily with their own lives. In that too, they are not different from most people.

Sachiko and Ichiro are the protagonists of a lovely graphic novel by Seiichi Hayashi. It was written in the early 1970s, and Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly - a publisher of alternative graphic novels - published an English translation in 2008. I only recently laid my hands on this book on an increasingly rare visit to a book store (most of my reading is downloaded in electronic form now, on the Kindle store for books and comiXology for comics).

Red Colored Elegy appealed to me for three reasons. One, its sparse text and simple illustrations make it an easy read. Two, I definitely sense pop art and anime influences in the graphic novel and that lends an entirely different sort of visual appeal to the book. There are other visual cues as well; to Disney's Snow White​ and the Seven Dwarfs and the manga magazine Garo where Hayashi was trying to make a mark around the time he wrote the book. A Japanese will probably find more visual cues.

The third reason will need some explaining. It is difficult to author a 230-page book, even if it is only a graphic novel, where much of the action seems to be taking place in the minds of the characters. Yet, I do not think it would have been possible to do so in any medium other than a graphic novel. To me, this alone elevates Red Colored Elegy (if it needs any elevation) into a classic though I did find the portrayal of Sachiko a bit sexist; still, the book was written in the early 1970s, when Japan itself was a sexist society.

A graphic novel comes about not just because its author can draw or knows someone who can draw, but because he or she wants to tell a story that is made for the medium. There are some works that transcend media. There are others that work well only in one. Red Colored Elegy would have made a bad book and a worse movie, but it makes a wonderful graphic novel.
 
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Seiichi Hayashi

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Red Colored Elegy




  The Star praises BLACK BLIZZARD and RED COLORED ELEGY

Updated May 12, 2010


Stitches in Time

by Rizal Johan

Two underground manga classics have never looked better with Drawn & Quarterly’s reprint treatment.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Seiichi Hayashi. Who are they? The answer: Writers and artists of manga; Japanese graphic novelists; two different generations of pioneering and influential comic book writers/artists.

Back in 1956 and in a spate of creativity, Yoshihiro spent 20 days drawing the 127-page classic, Black Blizzard, which has remained largely out-of-print for decades.


The tale revolves around a fast-paced, cinematic piece of crime-storytelling about a piano player accused of murder and a career criminal cardshark. Handcuffed together, they make a daring escape during a snowstorm and their stories unfold when they seek shelter in a forest ranger’s hut.

Fifteen years later, Seiichi would make a social statement with Red Colored Elegy, a B&W work produced during 1970 and 1971 about an unmarried couple living together, leading melancholic, quiet and desperate lives.

These two very different yet beautiful pieces of work have resurfaced recently thanks to Canadian-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly. The English translations lend an American feel to the books but it feels honest as the language is delivered to suit the tone of the story rather than being a translation for translation’s sake. Indeed, there is a clear attempt to retain as much of the original artwork as possible in both books. Some word balloons, for example, were deliberately not translated on the panel (in some cases, they served as sound effects while in others, it was clear that the original artwork be retained) but mentioned as footnotes instead.

Black Blizzard has an interview with writer/artist Yoshihiro who admits that he feels rather “embarassed” about the attention received by his book. As the older artist looks back at what he did as a young man (he was 21 at the time), he finds it “conflicting” seeing it in print again. Nevertheless, Yoshihiro is grateful that after 50 years, there is still an interest in his work.

Interest in Yoshihiro’s work has steadily accumulated since his visionary short-story collections The Push Man And Other Stories, Abandon The Old In Tokyo, and Good-Bye (all championed by Adrian Tomine of Optic Nerve fame) were reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly. His acclaimed and sprawling memoir A Drifting Life, released last year, has received three nominations at the upcoming Eisner awards in July.

Red Colored Elegy, on the other hand, only has a brief bio on Seiichi at the end but the book itself is clearly semi-autobiographical. The protagonist Ichiro is a struggling comic artist whose creative desire and soul is drained and exhausted by working for a publishing company. The ‘Elegy’ in the title thus laments on the loss of freedom of expression and the rebellious nature of youth which has left the man bent, defeated and wallowing in self pity. Seiichi opens Elegy with a beautiful, heart-wrenching poem of an artist who is trying to find his way through his art and to hopefully, discover himself in the process: “My life is an open book, I live it page by page, For what I don’t know, But like a ghost in the fable, killed for nothing, I give my life to each page I draw.”

Elegy does not have a thriller-style plot like Blizzard. There are fleeting moments of introspection, depression, drunkeness, awkwardness, laughter and uncertainty between Ichiro and his girlfriend Sachiko. They are not revolutionaries or hot-headed heroes but young people trying to live life according to their own terms. Sadly, these terms are not necessarily agreeable between the two either.


From Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s graphic novel Black Blizzard.
Blizzard is a rather straightforward two-fisted crime story of a piano player Susumu who is framed for the murder of a circus ringmaster. As common with the best crime stories, fate plays a big hand here especially when Susumu is handcuffed to a criminal and their lives are intertwined more than they actually know. And it all takes place during the length of an actual blizzard. Oh, and there’s the twist in the end which pieces everything together.

While both books make great additions to your coffeetable, they also offer a glimpse to the past in the evolution of manga and the individuals who took it upon themselves to tell very honest stories, be they in the form of a genre or the abstract but deeply personal journey of adulthood.

More importantly, these books represent a testament to individual expression from a different era. Without the need of editors, assistants and other invisible hands, Yoshihiro and Seiichi made works that were instantly groundbreaking and influential at the same time. And that’s one of the best lessons these books have to offer.
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Seiichi Hayashi

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Red Colored Elegy




RED COLORED ELEGY on About.com

Updated February 27, 2009


Best Quirky / Artsy Manga - Red Colored Elegy
Author and Artist: Seiichi Hayashi

A young creative couple struggles with making ends meet while sorting out their codependent relationship and the social upheaval that surrounds them. Loneliness, doubt, fear and betrayal are woven into this mesmerizing and cryptic story.

Originally published in 1971, Red Colored Elegy is a unusual graphic novel that gives American readers a glimpse into gekiga, or dramatic, experimental and edgy stories created outside of manga's mainstream.
 
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Seiichi Hayashi

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Red Colored Elegy




  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by The Japan Times

Updated February 27, 2009


Drawing new life out of an old story
By DAVID COZY
RED COLORED ELEGY by Seiichi Hayashi, translated by Taro Nettleton.
Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008
THE JAPAN TIMES


Here's a rough synopsis of the plot of Seiichi Hayashi's "Red Colored Elegy": A young couple, committed to their art, struggle to keep themselves, their art, and their love alive. This will strike no one as wildly original. What is surprising, however, is that, despite its hoary story line, "Red Colored Elegy" is a success.

This is a testament to Hayashi's artistry. Some artists make a splash with work that appears to be (and occasionally is) entirely original. Other artists, generally the more gifted, are able to take even stories millenniums older than Hayashi's and make them new. Part of the fascination of such artists' work is in seeing how they manage to make us forget that we should have tired of their plots long ago.

"Red Colored Elegy" is a comic book. This probably isn't the first time that la vie boheme has been presented in this form, but the fact that "Red Colored Elegy" is not an opera, novel, or movie may go a little way toward making it new. The genre into which "Elegy" falls, however, is not sufficient to explain the work's success.

More pertinent is its relation with the gritty realism to which many of Hayashi's contemporaries hitched their creative wagons. Artists working in a genre still associated with men in tights may feel that unless they eschew the flights of fancy that characterize more commercial offerings they will never be taken seriously. Hayashi, too, keeps a foot in the realist camp — his bohemia is in no way sanitized — but he also introduces fantastic elements into his world of jobbing illustrators, scandalized families, and turbulent relationships.

Thus there are pages on which Ichiro, a struggling manga-ka, argues about his future with a walking, talking pot of ink; others that are taken up with film strips, each frame of which features the face of Ichiro's lover, Sachiko, lamenting her deadly dull job as a tracer; and one in which the moon, looking down on Sachiko and Ichiro's tumultuous love, weeps.

"Red Colored Elegy" was produced in the early 1970s, so it is no surprise that Hayashi's protagonists conform to stereotypes that, in those years, may have gone unexamined. Ichiro, ambitious male that he is, is willing to give everything for his art. The four frames in which he struggles to create a comic, in their economy, display Hayashi's skill. We see, on the right side of the first frame, Ichiro sweating at his drawing table. To the left of the frame are spatters of ink. In the three frames below the first the artist continues to sweat, and is continually dissatisfied, and in each of these frames the spatters of ink on the left become wilder, larger, more unruly. Hayashi shows us Ichiro struggling, but it is the spatters that bring the struggle home.

Sachiko, on the other hand, though also an artist, or at least artistic, and also surviving on the fringes of the art world, has other things on her mind. When they meet after a breakup, she tells Ichiro, over the four frames that take up another page, "I'm . . . I wanted . . . a baby." We see their conversation, but it is King Kong glaring in the window that helps us understand how threatening Sachiko's desire is to Ichiro.

"Well," Sachiko had reminded Ichiro earlier, "I'm a girl," and as such, one gathers, there are things more important to her than comics.

The story may be old, and some of the characterization dated, but "Red Colored Elegy" remains a compelling work of art. One hopes Drawn & Quarterly will release more of Hayashi's work so English readers can see how, in the last three decades, his talent has developed.
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Seiichi Hayashi

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Red Colored Elegy




RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Straits Times

Updated February 27, 2009


Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi
Grace Chua
2 November 2008
Straits Times


Red Colored Elegy was produced between 1970 and 1971. This 2008 edition by cult Montreal comic publishers Drawn & Quarterly is the first English-language release. Seiichi Hayashi's timeless tale of a pair of young lovers is not an easy book to read.

The story of their doomed relationship plays out in a tumultuous, elegiac loop, over sparsely worded pages. Ichiro is an aspiring comic artist while Sachiko, who has escaped an arranged marriage, is a tracer for an animation company. She and Ichiro have left home to live together unmarried - less socially acceptable then than it is today - and they struggle to make ends meet.

All Ichiro wants is to succeed at his art and not be tied down by people and relationships. Sachiko, on the other hand, wants only what a woman was limited to in the 1970s - security, stability, someone to depend upon.

The grainy realism of Hayashi's woodcut-style backdrops, elaborately etched and cross-hatched, are juxtaposed with simple, almost cartoony figures of Sachiko and Ichiro. Their figures are flat and somewhat cubist; talking, making love, arguing and writhing in solitary emotional torment on their apartment's bare white floor. When finally, each ends up alone, the agony is far from over.

Hayashi draws from many deep sources: Picasso, Mickey Mouse, French film, classic Tezuka manga, James Dean.

Ultimately, this is a story about struggling to make art, about love, about communicating with, and hurting, your partner, about fighting to find the right words and then losing. Its story, regardless of time or place, is universal.

If you like this, read: Sleepwalk: And Other Stories by Adrian Tomine (1998, US$12.21 or S$17.91, Amazon.com). This book collects the first four issues of Tomine's award-winning comic Optic Nerve, in which people struggle to relate to each other as friends and lovers in an alienated world.

 

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Seiichi Hayashi

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Red Colored Elegy




  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Ghotimag

Updated February 5, 2009


Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi
Guy Lancaster
GHOTIMAG.COM
02/02/09

From across a gulf of over thirty years come Red Colored Elegy (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) and The Savage Sword of Conan (Dark Horse, $17.95), two re-printings of classic comics from the 1970s. Each reflects that era’s distaste for authority and flirtations with nihilism, though in radically different ways. Red Colored Elegy is a tender and tragic tale about the pursuit of meaning through art, while The Savage Sword of Conan… isn’t.

Seiichi Hayashi’s Red Colored Elegy, like the novels of Haruki Murakami, plumbs the depths of ambition and intimacy to find only uncertain emptiness behind it all. It follows a young man and woman, Ichiro and Sachiko, as they attempt to discover fulfillment in what they do and in each other. Ichiro works for an animation company drawing cells but really wants to do comics and spends much of his existence in a tobacco-tinged melancholy dreaming of what might be and trying to face down his insecurities, while Sachiko, who shares his futon and wants to share his life, tries to come to terms with his persistent mood but, despite her love, really wants something more. Ultimately, they cannot express their fundamental selves to each other and drift further and further apart.

To contrast, Roy Thomas’s The Savage Sword of Conan, like the Robert E. Howard stories upon which it is based, plumbs the depths of ambition and intimacy to find only a vile wizard or some diabolical witch behind the evils that beset the world—often with great beastly creatures in tow, “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson wrote. Unlike Ichiro, Conan is not introspective but is rather a simple man and easily satisfied, though ale and wenches aplenty can never blunt his sense of justice when faced with authorities cruel and exploitative. He remains insouciantly alone, forever the barbarian on the edge of civilization but with his dignity and honor too refined to leave him a mere savage, even though much of the time his sword is drinking deeply of the blood of enemies and monsters as he makes his way toward ubiquitous sacrificial altar where there is bound some maiden sure to be libidinously grateful for her salvation.

Red Colored Elegy recalls, at times, J. O. Barr’s The Crow in that it tells its story as a song, often advancing an impressionistic mating of poetry and art, of fantasy and reality, though it also calls to mind Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth for its ability to concentrate longing and despair into just a handful of panels. Indeed, the book echoes the lyricism and emotional resonance of a Joy Division track, replete with art that sometimes mimics the simplicity of a Disney cartoon and sometimes renders the world in as much exquisite detail as a Hiroshige print. With regard to Conan, its soundtrack is not Joy Division but rather a honky-tonk version of some Norse ballad being played loudly in a parking lot decorated with broken Old English 800 bottles—subtlety and impressionism are not its forte. The various artists impart with perfect lack of subtlety the raw beefiness of our hero as well as the sinuosities of women whose clothing knows no minimum, even in snow-laden mountain passes.

For all their differences, Red Colored Elegy and The Savage Sword of Conan have something in common (in fact, Red Colored Elegy could well be the title of a Conan story, as it recalls the bloody, deadly business he’s in). These two books are, fundamentally, tales of outsiders, the sorts of stories comics have told best even before a certain alien landed on earth and was adopted by a Kansas couple. They are stories of alienation, of betrayal, of the heartless systems that suffuse the world and our Luciferian need to rebel against them through art, dreams, or body-splitting violence.
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Seiichi Hayashi

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Red Colored Elegy




RED COLORED ELEGY, MILK TEETH and AYA OF YOP CITY reviewed by LA CityBeat

Updated November 28, 2008


Comicopia
By Gabrielle Paluch
November 5, 2008
LOS ANGELES CITYBEAT

In many ways, this year marks the tragic end of an era in political cartoons. In case you needed another reason to believe life was ironic and cruel: The iconic New York Review caricaturist David Levine is suffering from macular degeneration, and may be slowly going blind. On the upside, Fantagraphics Books is putting out a collection of his drawings of American political figures which truly highlight the incredible sensibility and wit that will be missing from the comics world. For those of you in need of guidance, wanting a comics/graphic novels fix and not knowing where to turn – enjoy our picks!

Red Colored Elegy
by Seiichi Hayashi (Drawn and Quarterly)
If you ever look up at the moon and think it’s crying, that means you’re either drunk or depressed and sexually frustrated. Or all of the above, perhaps, in Japan in 1971 – how romantic!

Red Colored Elegy is the tale of Japanese illustrator Ichiro, his relationships, fears, and bent head all rendered in minimalist fashion. Author Seiichi Hayashi uses sparse line work and animation techniques borrowed from film to express the troubled relationship between Ichiro and his girlfriend Sachiko stylistically, resulting in a moving and stunningly poetic work that inspired an album of the same title by Japanese folk singer Morio Agata.

The romance between Ichiro and Sachiko not only inspired a romantic ideal for a generation of Japanese readers, it also offered a representation of how centuries-old customs in traditional Japanese culture have influenced relationships in modern times, as though Ichiro and Sachiko were wrestling not just with each other in the images on the pages, but also with all the implicit expectations of their ancestors. As is typical of much Japanese film and literature, it’s unclear by the end what exactly has happened, who loves whom, and who is whose sibling, stuff like that. But that’s half the fun!

Hayashi’s influences include underground Japanese comics of the time (which broke with traditional manga subject matter) as well as French New Wave cinema – two forms which sound like they would have a really cool hipster baby. Drawn and Quarterly has been releasing lots of underground manga from the ’70s translated from the Japanese, like Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Good-Bye. The manga from this period as well as the Nouvelle Vague which inspired it share a common disjointed form of storytelling, something that seems to be very of the moment in contemporary media. Now we can enjoy the confusion and frustration of generations past in all its sublime beauty without even having to learn Japanese. (GP)

Milk Teeth
by Julie Morstad (Drawn and Quarterly)
There are as many ways to tell a story as there are stars in the sky. Julie Morstad tells stories in images from imagined places in this collection of her drawings, published in the petits livres format by Drawn and Quarterly. The amount of work that went into this tiny little book is astounding. While there is no linear narrative to speak of, each drawing tells the story of an idea – the story of the girl with bees flying out of her ear, or the man with the fishbowl beard. It seems only appropriate to respond to Ms. Morstad’s charming, brilliantly idiosyncratic creations in kind. (GP)

Aya of Yop City
by Abouet and Oubrerie
(Drawn and Quarterly)
Let me break it down for you. Most characters in this book are connected, like the skirt chaser Mamadou, who is the real father of Adjou’s baby, but everybody thinks that the rich boy, Moussa, is the father, because Adjou’s parents want to believe the lie, only to get the money that comes from a rich family. And that’s only one part of the story in the second book from writer Marguerite Abouet and artist Clement Oubrerie.

In Yoptong on the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, the hip wear bellbottoms and brightly colored pagnes (skirts). Though the African continent is so far away from us, character’s problems are similar to ours – or at least to an episode of Jerry Springer. Abouet’s story is a soap where old world traditions clash with Afros and reckless young adults just want to drive their Toyotas.

We are treated to the citizens of Yop and their lives – the promiscuous young adult community often meets in the public park after nightfall and most of the children of the city are conceived on park benches. The tone of the book is so hopeful, because it’s told through Aya’s reactions – so when Hyacinte is caught dancing with a girl the same age as his own daughter, people get mad, but the situation becomes a cartoon cloud of fists and shoes.

Oubrerie’s art makes for a colorful Africa, where characters mime their feelings in exaggerated motions – like Moussa, who wants to be a playboy, but his character looks like a snake slithering up to women. Colors go from neon bright on clothes to faded and washed out in the heat. Panels that take place outdoors show the heat shimmering from the ground, making faces and shapes seem distorted and desperate.

Starting the series on the second book makes for a good read – it stands alone as its own separate story – but after the cliffhanger ending, you’ll want to go back and read the first and devour the third book, whenever it comes out. (Nathan Solis)
 
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Abouet & Oubrerie
Seiichi Hayashi
Julie Morstad

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Milk Teeth
Red Colored Elegy
Aya of Yop City




  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Madinkbeard

Updated November 28, 2008


Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi
Derik Badman
November 2, 2008
Madinkbeard


By nature comics are elliptical, an art of omission: from iconic art styles to the gaps in time and space created by the panel breakdowns. For the majority of comics, the reader’s work at filling in the gaps, both visually and narratively, is relatively light. You don’t have to put much thought into connecting two panels of a Peanuts strip or moving between the panels of a fight scene in a Kirby comic. This clarity of connections is often used as a criterion of quality, though the converse is not necessarily true. Some comics require the reader to work harder at filling in the gaps, at making the mental leap from one image to the next, one page to the next. I like comics that make me work at them, not because of lack in the creator’s skill, but because of an attempt to tell a story in a novel way.

In reading Red Colored Elegy, I get the idea that Seiichi Hayashi was working at something different. He does not spell out all the plot points nor does he tell us every last thought and feeling of the characters, rather he uses allusion and metaphor to let the reader draw out conclusions (what conclusions there are to be had) and to create emotional and narrative effects. The elliptical construction of this manga forms a narrative that is more loose and insubstantial than any plot summary I’ve seen would have you believe.

Summarizing the plot of the manga seems almost beside the point, but… The story shows us Ichiro and Sachiko, a young Japanese couple struggling in their jobs and personal lives during the end of sixties. They are isolated and isolating, pushing themselves away from their families and, often, each other. Ichiro works at home as a freelance animator (I think he would be an “inbetweener” drawing the repetitious minor images between the key images) while Sachiko seems to be a “tracer” at an animation studio. Ichiro wants to make comics (he says that a lot); Sachiko is less clear in her wishes. Both seem distraught, depressed, and almost aimless. There really isn’t much of a plot, and that’s fine. Red Colored Elegy is about mood and feeling and a time in young lives when everything can seem oppressive and depressive.

What makes Red Colored Elegy worth reading are the breakdowns and the imagery. Hayashi makes many innovative choices throughout the book, offering glimpses of alternative ways of making comics that are still rarely used almost forty years later.

The first few pages of the manga are worth spending some time on, as they offer a group of jarring transitions and address the themes that will take up the rest of the story. The first page is a single image, a high contrast drawing that looks like it is a copied photograph of a man. He has a star in his eye and another that seems to be shooting out of him. A poetic text is attached that is either translated poorly or excellently, because it reads like juvenilia (it is highly possible in this context that it is purposefully so), and which acts like an epigraph (”My life is an open book, I live it page by page. For what, I don’t know…”). Does this clue us in to pay attention to the page as a unit of narrative in the manga? Certainly, it does point at the existential void in the protagonist’s lives.

This page is followed by a scene were Ichiro (we find out his name later) is walking along with a headless cartoon character who is telling him to quick his animation job. Ichiro seems to stab the character (blood/ink spurts out of him), and we see a barbed wire fence with the character’s white glove hanging on it. At this point in the story, it is not decisive whether this is a real or imagined event, though after a full reading, we can tell that this is some kind of mental projection of Ichiro’s. This imagined violence bubbles beneath the surface of his life like many youths.

The single page that follows contains what looks like two film strips side-by-side (eight frames of which we can see) showing more copied photographic images of a young woman’s head. We see her words; she appears to be talking to someone (”I thought you were going to draw comics,” “I should quit my tracing job,” “maybe I’ll get married”). All of these fragments are clear indicators of the story to come, and that first quote, would lead me to believe that this is Ichiro and Sachiko renewing a formerly casual acquaintance, starting the relationship that we see in the rest of the book.

The four panels that take up equal portions of the next two pages are of elliptical connection. The first panel shows Ichiro and Sachiko walking along, the former with his shoulders hunched, the latter with her head lowered. On a distant horizon we see the silhouette of a person riding a bicycle. A line from the bicycle into the black that makes up the background below the horizon leads to a white star situated between the two characters. The second panel shows Sachiko kneeling and bent forward in front of a small mirror. A word balloon shows her words “I don’t understand him.” The third panel shows another seemingly photographic face, this time inset into the moon surrounded by a night sky. Black tears stream down the face and the mouth is open as if in an anguished cry. The last panel shows Ichiro standing under hanging laundry, speaking out the words “Am I drunk?” (I should add here, that Hayashi’s compositions are often quite excellent, and this page is a good example of that.)

These six pages are, to the first time reader, exceedingly opaque. What is going on? Who are these people? How does one page relate to the next? The reader is left to create their own connections or to just read on through without forming any. The characters, drawn in an very simple outline with few details, can be difficulty to differentiate (and how does the photographic imagery relate to the simple drawings). The panel of Sachiko kneeling in front of the mirror is primarily identifiable as her because of a single line that crosses over her leg above the knee, delineating the hem of her skirt. These simple and subtle differentiations are found throughout the book. The reader must pay close attention.

The image of a star is repeated a number of times in these early pages, as it is in the rest of the book. I see the star as a symbol for the characters dreams. One wishes upon a star, yet the star is distant and surrounded by darkness, isolated like the protagonists, never touching. The lack of connection is reinforced by the “I don’t understand him” comment. The two characters are often seen talking across each other (one later page: Sachiko: “I felt unsure of myself.” Ichiro: “What did you’re sister-in-law tell you?” Sachiko: “Let’s get another futon.” Ichiro (thinks): “I want to draw comics.” (37)).

The hanging laundry/clothes is also a repeated motif. In the panel of Sachiko kneeling we see what looks like clothes hanging in the corner of the panel. Are these clothes and the laundry that follows, the banal chores of daily life, the grounding to the dreams? On the two page spread described above, the top two panels have stars in them, while the bottom two panels having clothes: the dream above, everyday life (seen as chores, something to escape) below. Other symbolic images are found throughout the manga, such as cherry blossoms, a persistent image in Japanese art/literature, which hint at the fleeting nature of life, youth, and beauty. Similarly, I noticed in reading the book, that neither Sachiko or Ichiro are ever drawn in such a way that you can see their faces fully. They are always in profile, from behind, or in a three-quarter behind view. They always seem to be at least partially turned away, a visual metaphor that further accentuates their isolation and communication issues.

While the narrative has numerous convention panel sequences, Hayashi often juxtaposes panels that fit together in unusual, indirect ways. One page (21) offers a kind of metaphorical panel transition of undecidable subjectivity. The top panel shows Ichiro and Sachiko standing under a blossoming cherry tree. Sachiko has just told Ichiro that her parents have arranged a marriage for her. “It concerns you too you know,” she says. “Me?” he replies. They are separated by space and his word balloon. The following panel shows Snow White and Prince Charming in a smiling embrace as blossoms fall around them. I’m left wondering, is this a mental projection of one of the characters, a picture perfect romance filtered through animation (an apt image since they both work in the field)? Or is this an ironic commentary by the author/narrator, commenting on the storybook naivety of such an idea? Either way, the juxtaposition of the two images raises connections, questions, thoughts, and feeling through a method that is rarely seen in comics. A diegetic panel juxtaposed with one that is indeterminately extra-diegetic.

We see something similar late in the book (222). The couple decide to end their relationship. Sachiko points her finger out like a gun; “Bang!” goes the sound effect. The following panel shows Ichiro lying dead on the ground, blood splattered and spilled. This is more directly metaphorical, yet still a striking transition (and it sends us back to that early sequence of Ichiro asssaulting the cartoon character).

Some of the sequences are more difficult to parse. One (58-60) starts with Sachiko’s father, in a single page image, one eye open, one eye closed. The four panels of the next page show: a lizard’s tale with a flower blossom, the father’s head with blossoms/leaves blowing in the background, a lizard’s head with clouds in the background, and a hand holding a razor blade with blossoms again in the background (this time in white on black). A turn of the page brings another full page image showing the father, slumped over, grasping his wrist as blood spurts from it. I have no idea why the lizard is there. I’ve puzzled it over and think there is some symbolism I am missing (like the cherry blossoms, perhaps something cultural).

The French Nouvelle Vague is mentioned on the back copy as an influence, an influence which is obvious from the start. Experiments with montage and cuts were a hallmark of film directors like Godard. An even more explicit connection is found in a two page spread where panels of Sachiko and Ichiro are intercut with panels containing a text, a single sentence spread across five panels: “What a middle school grad needs to do to succeed” (26-27) is quite Godard-esque (including the graffiti-esque way the text is written, adding a connection to the May 68 events in my mind). Godard often intercuts text with images like that.

Occasionally Hayashi inserts panels into the narrative that are outside of the normal (most common) visual style of the book. His drawings are primarily sparse and spare. The couple’s apartment is identified by a futon in a white space. Characters are loosely and often inconsistently delineated with a minimum of detail and a flat use of white, black, and one shade of gray. But one image (46) of the couple making love is drawn with harsh hatching and a thicker line than previous panels, a star shines from the corner. Their pose is like a fight, clawing and grasping at each other, their heads arched away from each other. The stylistic shift emphasizes this page, the figures, and the emotion. The star seems to remind one of something more in the distance.

Later in the book, we turn the page, and come to face-to-face with a single two-page image drawn in a more detailed style (lots of attention to word grain) that shows the top of a building with a wire of some kind running off it, perhaps electric or maybe telephone? I’m still not clear what the purpose of the image is. A number of these two-page images punctuate the narrative, most often carrying a strong metaphorical or symbolic weight.

Hayashi frequently overdoes the angst of his characters. A few times in the book he repeats an almost identical sequence where, across four long horizontal panels, Ichiro, in despair and verbalizing it, hunches himself over into a ball on the ground, or, in a very similar way, flees across the page in despair. These images of Ichiro (and at least once, Sachiko) seem overly melodramatic, particularly after each successive repetition. The character’s are often amped up by visual symbols like an often used lightning bolt image.

The repetition of images and the connections made between panels at a distance are some of what makes this book so interesting, a plethora of examples of Groensteen’s concept of braiding (tressage). This gives the manga as a whole a narrative density that transcends simple plot. All these formal elements force the reader to read closely, to think, and to make connections in ways more involved than most comics. This makes Red Colored Elegy an unusual and exciting reading experience, so much so that I am tempted to just go through this book page by page and point all the seeming non sequiturs, jarring transitions, repeated imagery, and other formal aspects of the book. But I must leave some to be discovered.
...
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BURMA, ACME 19, RED COLORED ELEGY and JAMILTI reviewed by Georgia Straight

Updated November 26, 2008


Seven graphic novels to draw you in
By Amanda Growe and John Lucas
October 16, 2008
GEORGIA STRAIGHT

Burma Chronicles
(By Guy Delisle. Drawn & Quarterly, 263 pp, $19.95)
Guy Delisle's books play to our fascination with unusual parts of the world. His latest, Burma Chronicles, comes after journeys to Pyongyang and Shenzhen (detailed in graphic novels named after these cities). Here, he and baby Louis follow his wife, Nadège, who works for Médecins Sans Frontières, to Burma. The art is playful and cartoony, lending humour to the numerous episodes that make up the book. While it captures aspects of life in Burma from the political to the pedestrian, at times reading the book feels like being subjected to someone's vacation photos in which they, rather than the place they visited, are the star.
> Amanda Growe

The ACME novelty library #19
(By Chris Ware. The Acme Novelty Library, 80 pp, $15.95)
The latest installment of Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library collects Rusty Brown strips first published in the Chicago Reader between 2002 and '04. Rusty himself doesn't appear, however, as this volume focuses on his father, William "Woody" Brown, and the girl who stomped on his heart-and indirectly launched his career as a science-fiction author-in strait-laced 1950s Omaha, Nebraska. As usual, Ware's drawing is deceptively simple yet painfully precise, which in this case underscores the horn-rimmed innocence of his socially stunted protagonist and the transgressive nature of his first sexual relationship. Lightening the tone just a shade, Ware's tributes to 1950s pulp-magazine covers are as fun as the strips' story line is emotionally devastating.
> JL

Red Colored Elegy
(By Seiichi Hayashi. Drawn & Quarterly, 235 pp, $24.95)
Though you never find out what's red in Red Colored Elegy, it's safe to assume the book is an elegy for main characters Sachiko and Ichiro's tortured relationship. It's the '70s, and the two are living together despite the fact that Sachiko's family wants her to have an arranged marriage. As they struggle to strike a balance between getting by and working at what they love, they alternate between affection and contempt. Their biggest conflict, however, is over whether they are a couple. While the story sometimes falters, the drawings-which often evoke the clean lines of Inuit art-make this translation of an influential comic from the '70s worth your while.
> AG

Jamilti and Other Stories
(By Rutu Modan. Drawn & Quarterly, 174 pp, $19.95)
This collection of early short works by Rutu Modan, creator of last year's acclaimed graphic novel Exit Wounds, showcases the Israeli artist's ability to tell a compelling story in just a few pages. It also chronicles the development of her drawing, from the muted tones and stylized figures of "The King of the Lillies" to the deceptively straightforward cartoon realism of "Your Number One Fan", for which Modan adopted the ligne claire style pioneered by The Adventures of Tintin's Hergé. Of the seven stories here, "Jamilti" is the most affecting. Through its depiction of a fleeting encounter between a Tel Aviv nurse and a Hamas suicide bomber, Modan reveals something about the absurdity of war and the power of human connection.
> JL
 
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Guy Delisle
Seiichi Hayashi

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  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Anime Infatuation

Updated November 26, 2008


Manga Review - Red Colored Elegy
October 19, 2008
ANIME INFATUATION

“I wish everything, and everyone, would all go to hell, to hell!“

Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi is a brightly coloured hardback published by Drawn and Quarterly in dramatic contrast to the raw, depressing honesty of the manga. This is a refreshingly dark, emotional, artistic manga from the 1970s that will draw you into the personal life of one man.

Ichiro and Sachiko have a difficult relationship, Ichiro is unhappy because he wants to earn money as a manga artist, but instead works for an animation company. The strain on their relationship is conveyed through scenes and body language more than dialogue, often the silent panels speak louder than any other panel sequences in the book about how the characters are feeling:



This is a welcome departure from the reams of manga that transport you to a naive fantasy world. This brings you down to reality with an uncomfortable thud. It examines the relationships between Ichiro and Sachiko, the problems of arranged marriage, their combined fights and failings, their fears, and the death of Ichiro’s father.

Hopefully it will inspire other artists to draw with such emotional honesty, highly recommended for collectors of unusual manga titles.

Art - 10/10 It is incredibly difficult to rate such a unique art in manga, some people will love this, some people will find it wildly pretentious maybe even ugly. One thing is for sure, the minimal art style fits incredibly well with the content. The lack of detail or background art successfully carry across the bleak emotions. A classic manga style might not have fitted the themes so well. The pace in the animation cell style panels is particularly interesting as it pulls you into a delicate moment of their lives. It is also unusual to see the characters merge into one when they are entwined. Gone are the expected one to two page character spreads replaced by landscapes which further evoke a depressing atmosphere.

Story - 8/10 I haven’t read anything quite so depressing since Ai-Ren (which I loved) and I can’t recommend this enough for fans of dark manga which pull you in emotionally. You read this because you want to feel something, not for the story development. It is like a diary of moments, which individually may leave the reader feeling lost and empty, but the collection gets across the frustration of the characters. The story progression feels intentionally confusing at times and by the end it does not appear much has been resolved, apart from a sad certainty of inevitable misery.

Characters - 8/10 It is difficult to truly know characters with very little dialogue - or is it? This challenges the idea that the reader must be aware of everything, and is genius in the way it picks out moments which drive home how the characters are feeling. They may not be likeable, but they are struggling in the harsh reality of the 1970s, believable in their despair.
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BERLIN, CITY OF SMOKE and RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Vue Weekly

Updated October 10, 2008


BERLIN BOOK TWO: CITY OF SMOKE, SLOW STORM, RED COLORED ELEGY
GRAPHIC NOVELS ARE GETTING DEEPER
BRIAN GIBSON
VUE WEEKLY
September 25, 2008

If graphic novels (or comix, or bandes dessinées, or comic-strip novel, or all of the above), now with their own section in major bookstore chains, are in danger of becoming too mainstream, the sheer length of time some take to hit the shelves should keep them from becoming beach-reading bestsellers. But this sense of authors slaving away over their craft only makes them seem cultishly literary and more novel than graphic sometimes. Plus many graphic novels are, like their purely textual cousins, more and more concerned with drawing out small, painful human experiences on the page than surrealizing other worlds, showing super-heroics or animating animals.

Novelist Sherman Alexie pointed out the literary realism qualities of Jason Lutes’s melancholy debut, a tale of fading magicians, Jar of Fools (“I think Jason Lutes writes like Hemingway ... but he draws like Faulkner would have drawn”). Then Lutes settled into one of those slave-away spells (see: Spiegelman, Art; Ware, Chris), taking two years just to research and blueprint his trilogy about late 1920s and early ’30s Berlin. Now, seven years after Berlin Book One gathered the eight-issue first part, in drifts Berlin Book Two: City of Smoke.

The lovely tension between picture and text continues, with young artist Marthe Müller and left-wing journalist Kurt Severing, having struck up a romance in Book One, now struggling to reconcile her enthusiasm about the riotous culture of Berlin and his deepening cynicism about the politics in the Reichstag. Book One drew out a motif of perspective—artistic, social and more philosophically. Lutes doesn’t build quite as complex an architecture for City of Smoke—though that’s the only clue that this part is the trilogy’s bridge between beginning and end—but key elements have become only more complex.

Sexuality in the bourgeois corners of Weimar-era Berlin, with its cabarets, jazz clubs and private parties, has become smokier, more fluid. The book brims over with sensual scenes. After the May Day massacre of 1929, the country is becoming more polarized into fascist or communist as the ruling Social Democrats weaken and the Great Depression nears.

But Lutes is doubly ingenious in reflecting the period. First, he shows the none-so-simple people within those polarities: the gay, unemployed immigrant who is curious about this new National Socialist party, the schoolteacher who marched on the side of the “Reds” but is now told by her husband to support fascist order. Lutes’s interest in so many common lives beyond his protagonists—not that Marthe or Kurt are heroes at all—not only widens the book’s scope but offers a generous portrait of a Germany threatened by violence and autocracy.

Second, Lutes’ addition of an American jazz band not only further mirrors the racism of the day, but leads to a small, personal answer to the political questions that Germans like Kurt are feeling powerless to resolve.

The panels, with their attention to the details and atmosphere of the streets, clubs and even countryside of Weimar Republic Germany, accumulate in power. A moment of violence rents the page with a shock. A clarinet jazz-player riffs through the panels. Political debates around a table actually come alive. (Not least because, sadly, polarized political fronts and a plunging economy are still bitter facts of life.)

This is the kind of work that will become a landmark of the comic-story form, not so much because it redefines it as elevates it to such a purely powerful level. City of Smoke transcends poetic glimpses, photographic angles, cinematic cuts and a novelistic scope to reaffirm the ultimate uniqueness of the genre.

...

The pair in Seiichi Hayashi’s Red Colored Elegy—which focuses so unblinkingly on the human that some panels offer one or two people adrift in white space—isn’t as odd as in Slow Storm, but their dilemma is expressed more strikingly. First issued in Japan in 1970-71, Hayashi’s book offers a startlingly different dialect of comic language. Sudden cuts, simple drawings spliced with moody full-page images and a story that moves in emotional bursts—it’s easy to see why the book was likened to French New Wave cinema.

Ichiro and Sachiko are drawn in a naïve way, befitting their youth, but their sad earnestness brings them alive. The ennui of modern life rubs up against family traditions; a son, made callous by the daily urban grind, tries to shrug off his father’s death. A woodcut-like image of Fuji above roofbeams follows panels where the couple, struggling to get by on cartooning work, fight or plead or draw with slashes of energy. The effect is electrifyingly angst-ridden. Even stripped down to minimal prose and often spare pictures, this old book shows once again how the genre keeps finding new ways to draw out just how humans feel so caught in one time and place. V
 
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  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Eddie Campbell

Updated September 11, 2008


Red Colored Elegy
Eddie Campbell
THE FATE OF THE ARTIST
WEDNESDAY, 27 AUGUST 2008


Red Colored Elegy (Hardcover) by Seiichi Hayashi published last month by Drawn and Quarterly.
This Japanese work was originally drawn (and presumably published) in 1970/71 and I find my self more inclined to imagine what I would have thought about it then rather than what I think about it now.

It's 236 pages long, but that is beside the point. More germane, it's a long strip cartoon about the stuff of life; it's about sex and love, the attempt to make a living from art, and your parents dying. In 1971 I would have found this inspirational. There was an idea getting around that comic books could amount to something more than routine bouts of costumed pugnacity. When Will Eisner was asked directly in a 1968 intervew whether he thought the idea of a novel in comics form was viable he said he thought the time wasn't right for it. When asked about Gil Kane's His Name is Savage, just released at that time, he he said that he felt that it was not entirely successful. He doesn't make his point clear, but we feel that he meant that it had not set its goal high enough, that it only sought to raise a comic book to the level of a paricularly violent Lee Marvin movie. When he saw his own A Contract With God published ten years later, it was the ambitiousness of his theme that he was most pleased with, a man and his relationship with his God, as he has said often. When he called that suite of short stories a 'graphic novel' he meant to draw attention to this thematic ambition. Neither the form nor the format was the relevant issue. In the same month that book came out (oct 1978) he started a serial in his regular Spirit magazine (Kitchen Sink Press) titled Life on another Planet. He called that a 'graphic novel' too (as printed on the first page). Its serial nature was beside the point. Back then we lived in a world of ideas and possibilities. Today our pinched and mean world is all taxonomies and guys with measuring tapes. Over on the Comics Journal board somebody posits that a so-called 'graphic novel' must have at least 100 pages; elsewhere this week somebody else states that Watchmen cannot be considered a 'graphic novel' because it was first issued in serial form (and in the stupid nature of his cockeyed classifications it must therefore be 'a trade paperback').

Red Elegy is a good read, though this reviewer at amazon says he had trouble making sense of it. I would guess that's because today's reader has a more linear brain than 1970's reader. It reminds me of 'world cinema' in the '60s and of that noble movement in which cinema viewers were expected to be viewing at a somewhat higher level than tv comsumers in their sitting rooms. There was an idea abroad in the world that cinema was the art of our times, absurd in these times now that the whole medium appears to have descended to the level of comic books.

It would have appealed to me at the time particularly for suggesting new pictorial ideas and sequential schemata, which the Kane book and so many others of the seventies, the reputations of which I will not enrich by mentioning them by name, failed to do. If I could, I would have obtained a copy in Japanese and kept it on my shelf, and would have contented myself to imagine what was being said and done. I like the way it indolently takes its time. There's not a great deal of hard information in here, and when there is some, it is delivered obliquely. Some other reviewers have mentioned that characters are not well enough differentiated. In fact there are only two that matter. He and she. And if occasionally you confuse the two of them, well hey, welcome to 1970.
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RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by The Comics Reporter

Updated September 11, 2008


Flipped!: David Welsh on Red Colored Elegy
COMICS REPORTER
September 8, 2008

Drawn & Quarterly is one of those publishers you can simultaneously admire and like. Its catalog is ambitious and varied, offering handsome production values and sensible distribution to emerging cartoonists. But they've released a lot of very accessible work; you don't need to be steeped in the language of comics to enjoy books like Aya or Get a Life, or revel in the timeless charms of Moomin.

Drawn & Quarterly has dabbled in comics from Japan, starting with the seminal (and bleak) work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a pioneer in the field of gekiga. The realistic drama of gekiga stood in contrast to the escapist adventure and romance of most manga. Another seminal example of the category is Seiichi Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy, originally serialized in 1970 and 1971 and recently released in English by D&Q.

In it, Hayashi follows the relationship of Ichiro and Sachiko. The twenty-somethings are living in a time of political activism and cultural evolution, but their focus is on interpersonal turbulence. Ichiro is an artist, doing freelance in the animation industry, but he'd rather be making comics. Sachiko's ambitions are less concrete; she works, but she doesn't define herself by her career, and she seems to want security, but not in the conventional sense promoted by her parents.



If there's a gray area between the admirable and the likable, there's a similar space between a period piece and a classic. For me, Red Colored Elegy resides in both of those gray areas. It feels important that D&Q has published it in English, though there's absolutely nothing novel about the subject matter now. In terms of topic and even style, it could have debuted this year instead of almost four decades ago, and the book's vintage goes a long way towards distinguishing it from the pack of comics with similar concerns.

Some context in the form of supplementary text pieces might have helped distinguish why the book was seminal. A look at the culture of the period, the creative climate of comics in Japan, and the political forces that were driving the mood of its youth might have provided a more persuasive setting for a story that ultimately feels very contemporary.

That isn't to say that Hayashi's work isn't bracing. If Red Colored Elegy is a cusp-of-adulthood relationship drama in a very familiar vein, it's an uncommonly good one. Hayashi's approach is very restrained and conscientious, particularly in its ability to convey the unspoken. Since communication is the crux of Ichiro and Sachiko's problems, the ability to convey the inability to express is essential.



Because their greatest failing as partners in a relationship is the inability to guess what the other wants, paired with an unwillingness or inability to express their own desires. That feels real instead of just mundane, and things benefit from the fact that there's a balance to the way the characters are developed. They're joint protagonists, equally to blame for their problems but not unsympathetic because of that.

With relatively minimal dialogue and a style of illustration that could be viewed as crude, Hayashi ends up with an effect that's much more lyrical than lazy. In some sequences the lovers almost merge physically, but by and large, their body language is much more adversarial. They often appear in profile, facing off against or away from each other. And physically, they're the most real. Their facial features are more detailed and their physicality more defined.

Hayashi can give in to a tendency to overstate. The pages are sprinkled with the occasional pin-up that range from showy to grotesque. Some provide startling counterpoint and are very effective, but others cross the "t" with unnecessary vigor. There's a similar thing going on with the dialogue. Things can get awkward, even mawkish, when the characters come closest to expressing what's on their minds.

But maybe those missteps are more of a reflection of Hayashi's ability to show instead of tell. He's conditioned to readers to interpret the oblique instead of responding to the explicit.
 
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  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Book By Its Cover

Updated September 4, 2008


RED COLORED ELEGY by Seiichi Hayashi
BOOK BY ITS COVER
8.19.08


I have seen this striking cover around and always wondered what was inside. Thanks to Drawn & Quarterly who sent this book over so I could see. Turns out it’s an underground Japanese comic written in 1970 about two young loves, animators Ichiro and Sachiko. Sachiko is living with Ichiro and trying to avoid her arranged marriage. Together they drink and smoke and make love. But they have issues which they cannot get rid of. The drawings are so simple and stylistically graphic and really quite beautiful. The story is told through short almost abstract scenes with very little dialogue. Instead small actions like the movement of hands or the sitting positions of characters show the emotions. It’s one of those comics where you really do need the pictures to help you figure out what’s going on.
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RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by ComicMix

Updated September 2, 2008


Wed Aug 20, 2008 — by Andrew Wheeler
Review: 'Red Colored Elegy' by Seiichi Hayashi

A classic gekiga graphic novel from 1971

Red Colored Elegy is like no other manga you’ve ever seen, a blast of pop art- and film-inspired storytelling from 1971 that was hugely influential to a generation of Japanese youth but has never been published in English until now. It’s like the American underground comics of the same era in being a break from the mainstream comics of its place and era, but unlike them – and unlike anything else I’ve seen before RAW in the ‘80s – in its style and visual language.

Sachiko Yamaguchi and Ichiro Nishimoto are a young couple, both connected to the manga/anime world, living together in Tokyo but unsure of what to do with their lives, in the way of all restless young people everywhere. Ichiro wants to be an artist of some kind: he abandoned painting when he couldn’t make a living at it, and quits an animation job to work on a graphic novel that he can’t sell. Sachiko is a tracer for another animation company; she has only the ambitions of a girl in a story by a man: to get married, to have kids, to run a house, to have a life.

Sachiko’s family, off wherever she comes from, wants her to have an arranged marriage, but she refuses. Ichiro’s father dies, part way through the story – he seems to die twice, the way the story is told – and Ichiro doesn’t go to the funeral. The plot of Red Colored Elegy is elliptical, doubling back on itself the way an argument among lovers keeps hitting the same sore spots. Not a whole lot happens, directly – the drama is in their heads.

Sachiko and Ichiro are painfully young and earnest, bohemians who know they’re destined for something great without quite being sure what that is. Hayashi tells their story through simple shades and outlines – his main characters are sometimes difficult to distinguish from the others, due to the extreme simplicity of his art – and through a vast array of visual references. Scenes from movies, from paintings, from comics – anything visual – is grist for Hayashi’s mill. The effect of the whole is stunning and all-encompassing.

The story of Red Colored Elegy is on the sophomoric side; these characters are so young and so obsessed with themselves. But the way that story is told is amazingly inventive and exciting, so that even a grumpy old married guy like me can feel the urge to break free and create new art and new lives. It’s completely surprising, breaking every law that we ever thought governed manga, and it’s a thrill to have it finally available in English.
 
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  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Panels and Pixels

Updated September 2, 2008


"Red Colored Elegy" by Seiichi Hayash
PANELS AND PIXELS
AUGUST 14th

Inspired heavily by French "new wave" cinema, "Elegy" tells the melancholy story of Ichiro and Sachiko, two young lovers torn between what society and their families expect of them and their own personal hopes and dreams.

Hayashi borrows heavily from film and animation, loading the book with symbolism (i.e. moths flickering around a lamp).

He also keeps his backgrounds and figures as minimal as possible, all the better to portray the characters' dissolute and existential lifestyle.

While I found the star-crossed lovers a bit self-absorbed for my cynical, Western taste, I was in awe of Hayashi's stylistic choices. Ultimately, "Elegy" had me thinking about comics in ways that I hadn't before, and I treasure it for that.
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RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Panels and Pixels

Updated August 14, 2008


GRAPHIC LIT: CLASSIC MANGA
Panels and Pixels
Aug 14, 2008

""Red Colored Elegy" by Seiichi Hayashi, Drawn and Quarterly, 240 pages, $24.95.

Inspired heavily by French "new wave" cinema, "Elegy" tells the melancholy story of Ichiro and Sachiko, two young lovers torn between what society and their families expect of them and their own personal hopes and dreams.

Hayashi borrows heavily from film and animation, loading the book with symbolism (i.e. moths flickering around a lamp).

He also keeps his backgrounds and figures as minimal as possible, all the better to portray the characters' dissolute and existential lifestyle.

While I found the star-crossed lovers a bit self-absorbed for my cynical, Western taste, I was in awe of Hayashi's stylistic choices. Ultimately, "Elegy" had me thinking about comics in ways that I hadn't before, and I treasure it for that."

 
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  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Anthem

Updated August 14, 2008


ANTHEM MAGAZINE
"New Things"

08/01/08
SEIICHI HAYASHI'S "RED COLORED ELEGY"
Text: Nik Mercer

1960s Japan was a tumultuous era of revolution in which the dramatically separated left and right viciously and violently came head-to-head for a battle of political and social domination. The oft overlooked post-war time is noted as being a point in the nation's history when it could've morphed into a distinctly liberal society, but somehow failed to entirely.

Seiichi Hayashi, a manga artist, film (and commercial) director, art director, illustrator, and children's book author was a product of the turbulent time, and his 1970-1 masterpiece, Red Colored Elegy (Drawn and Quarterly) aptly depicts the frustration, confusion, and disillusionment the near-liberalization of the Nipponese yielded from the perspective of a young couple, Ichiro and Sachiko.

The two attempt to lead a healthy relationship built around their organic and natural love, but ultimately fail to overcome the traditions and inhibitors that their homeland's society places upon them (Sachiko's parents attempt to arrange her marriage, for example). In the end, Ichiro, an aspiring cartoonist, spends his days moping about, smoking cigarettes, sleeping, and fighting (often with surprisingly violent force) with Sachiko, a more diligent worker. Yet Sachiko herself is angst-ridden by the world she lives in. It's decidedly male-dominated, and she can't figure out how to carve her own path in it. At one point, she considers shaking up with a man six years her elder at the firm of her employment, but realizes the dishonesty in her thoughts.

While the underlying plot is somber, the core themes—love, growing up, individual vs. society—have no cultural, linguistic, or societal boundaries and make the read especially compelling and introspectively worthwhile. Red Colored Elegy is easy to derive unique meaning from.

Part of this is due to the fact that Hayashi's style is so incredibly sparse. In fact, his 235-page tome barely resembles the manga Westerners have become familiar with. There're no doe-eyed heroins, childish, almost girly male leads, and cartoonish villains in this post-modern work (it truly is a text and not just fluff). Hayashi omits the facial features of most supporting characters or else silhouettes them; he replaces possible backdrops with empty space, forcing the reader to make his own setting and backgrounds (literally like animation cells); he highlights motion not with action lines or speed marks, but with extra panels to divide time. (The panel technique is characteristic of manga. It slows the pace down—or speeds it up—by zooming in on a couple microseconds. Hayashi does it with incredible elegance.)

In his book, words are pictures and pictures are words. The synergy between word and line, text and drawing is what makes this read so enamoring, despite its slightly befuddling scenario (little historical context is given, although the action clearly takes place in the early-1970s).

Hayashi's genius is that he was able to essentially pare down his manga story to its bare minimum—if he removed any more, it would truly be a blank slate—without losing the raw emotive power it has. Comics in general often get a bad rep for not letting the mind wander like novels do. If anything, though, Red Colored Elegy lets you wander and fill in the blanks more than any piece of prose with it's delicate positioning of text, lines, panels, characters, and select contextual objects.

Buy Red Colored Elegy
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RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Impressions

Updated August 14, 2008


Manga for grownups
By Nancy Tousley
IMPRESSIONS, A Blog for the Calgary Herald
Aug 6, 2008

For a graphic novel that is nearly 40 years old, Red Coloured Elegy reads almost as if it were a freshly minted story.

In a way, it is: Drawn & Quarterly has just brought out the first English edition of Seiichi Hayashi’s book about starcrossed young lovers in post-war Japan. Its first appearance was in 1970-71 as a serial in Garo, the influential avant-garde manga magazine. It is manga for grownups, read primarily by the restless, protesting youth of the so-called “manga generation,” the first to grow up with Japanese comic books, who read manga as a form of rebellion.

Is it a coincidence or was the release of Red Colored Elegy timed with the anniversary of the atomic bomb explosions at Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9 in 1945?

Red Coloured Elegy is a slice-of-life story about two alienated 20-year-olds struggling with their relationships and jobs. The subject seems so current now (see Adrian Tomine), but it would have been unusual then. Even the underground manga, of which Red Colored Elegy was one, were full of samurai. Elegy is full of contemporary daily life, sex scenes and anguished feelings of isolation and failure.

The protagonists, who are only a little younger than their creator — who was born in Manchuria in 1945 — are would-be cartoon artists doing grunt work for low pay in the exploitive manga and anime industries, which got started in the mid 1950s. Ichiro makes a living cutting cels for commercial anime, while he tries hard to become an underground manga artist. He dreams of presenting his work to the publisher of Garo. Sachiko has left home to avoid making an arranged marriage and is working as a “tracer girl” at a sexist manga studio. She’s hoping to move up from the boring job.

Distressing to both of their families because they are living in sin, and away from home, the kids are painfully adrift, their life together in a kind of limbo.

Hayashi, who was in his mid 20s when he wrote Red Colored Elegy, sets the story in the 1960s. Japan, still recovering from defeat and the terrible effects of the Second World War, was in a turbulent transition marked by anti-American student protests, censorship, labour unrest, the erosion of traditional ways, accelerating change and great creativity. This context — the context of the manga generation — colours the background story, and when Sachiko’s traditionalist father finally commits suicide after three earlier attempts, he is probably another casualty of the devastating war.

However, the focus of this story, permeated by the pain of young love, is on the hapless couple. Ichiro and Sachiko seem to be at cross-purposes. He immerses himself in creating his own manga. She begins to doubt that he loves her. She wants to get married; he doesn’t. They barely talk and the exchanges that lead them to lovemaking are combative, as if Sachiko has to work overtime to get Ichiro’s attention. They fight, she runs off in the rain, they make up, and make love underneath the futon.

Erotic pictures, or shunga, were a sub-genre of ukiyo-e, woodblock prints that idealized urban life in 17th to 19th century Japan and were a form of mass-produced popular art. Hayashi acknowledges the influence of ukiyo-e and shunga-e in images like the ones of the couple in the futon and the branches of flowering plum. The personified ink pot Ichiro walks along and talks with, the fireworks and silhouetted eaves, and other images point to the great master Hokusai, whose sketch books published from 1814 to 1878 were the first books to be called manga.

Red Colored Elegy’s genre is gekiga or dramatic pictures, which was pioneered after the war as a new kind of storytelling by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who reacted against manga as children’s entertainment. He portrayed the serious, dark side of life in post-war Japan in realistic images and bizarre stories of individual tragedy. Good-bye, the third collection of stories by Tatsumi that Drawn & Quarterly has published, was also released recently.

Tatsumi would be an influence on Hayashi, too, along with Walt Disney, American comic books, manga, Japanese and American movies, and who-knows-what else. The talking ink pot is really a hybrid, part Hokusai, part Disney, while the visual style of Red Colored Elegy as a whole mirrors modern, Americanized Japanese culture of the time.

A compelling storyteller, Hayashi, who is also a filmmaker, moves back and forth between simple black line drawings on a white background, realistic scenes fleshed out with fine hatching, silhouettes and dramatic passages of black that set tone, mood and dark atmospheres. There are moments of waking fantasy and scenes from dreams interspersed with the narrative.

Hayashi’s style is marked by his use of innovative cinematic effects. He cuts from one time and place to another, into a dream sequence or a character’s thoughts. With the stacked horizontal panels of manga, he creates long sequences of movement — the story is punctuated by pas de deux — that drive the story forward with intense emotion. In one bleak scene, a woman is assaulted on a country road by a soldier, while the voice over is present-time conversation about a girl who quit the company and got married.

Sound is brought into the action by words drawn into the panels: ha ha, thud, atchew. Talk balloons are often left blank to signify silence, the words that Ichiro and Sachiko would like to say to each other and cannot. Long passages of silence and rraw emotion, often expressed by a lone character as physical actions, have something of the pacing and intensity of Japanese film.

Red Colored Elegy comes at the end of the period in which gekiga reigned over the underground, just as it was about to be absorbed into mainstream manga.

Hayashi was an artist in the second generation of gekiga standing on the cusp of what came next. His book is a classic, stamped by its time and universal in its timeless love story. It's great to have it in this beautiful new edition.

Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi (Drawn & Quarterly, 240 pages, $24.95) and Good-bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, 208 pages) $19.95) are distributed by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the United States and Raincoast Books in Canada.

 
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  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Anthem

Updated August 4, 2008


08/01/08
Seiichi Hayashi's "Red Colored Elegy"
Text: Nik Mercer
ANTHEM

1960s Japan was a tumultuous era of revolution in which the dramatically separated left and right viciously and violently came head-to-head for a battle of political and social domination. The oft overlooked post-war time is noted as being a point in the nation's history when it could've morphed into a distinctly liberal society, but somehow failed to entirely.

Seiichi Hayashi, a manga artist, film (and commercial) director, art director, illustrator, and children's book author was a product of the turbulent time, and his 1970-1 masterpiece, Red Colored Elegy (Drawn and Quarterly) aptly depicts the frustration, confusion, and disillusionment the near-liberalization of the Nipponese yielded from the perspective of a young couple, Ichiro and Sachiko.

The two attempt to lead a healthy relationship built around their organic and natural love, but ultimately fail to overcome the traditions and inhibitors that their homeland's society places upon them (Sachiko's parents attempt to arrange her marriage, for example). In the end, Ichiro, an aspiring cartoonist, spends his days moping about, smoking cigarettes, sleeping, and fighting (often with surprisingly violent force) with Sachiko, a more diligent worker. Yet Sachiko herself is angst-ridden by the world she lives in. It's decidedly male-dominated, and she can't figure out how to carve her own path in it. At one point, she considers shaking up with a man six years her elder at the firm of her employment, but realizes the dishonesty in her thoughts.

While the underlying plot is somber, the core themes—love, growing up, individual vs. society—have no cultural, linguistic, or societal boundaries and make the read especially compelling and introspectively worthwhile. Red Colored Elegy is easy to derive unique meaning from.

Part of this is due to the fact that Hayashi's style is so incredibly sparse. In fact, his 235-page tome barely resembles the manga Westerners have become familiar with. There're no doe-eyed heroins, childish, almost girly male leads, and cartoonish villains in this post-modern work (it truly is a text and not just fluff). Hayashi omits the facial features of most supporting characters or else silhouettes them; he replaces possible backdrops with empty space, forcing the reader to make his own setting and backgrounds (literally like animation cells); he highlights motion not with action lines or speed marks, but with extra panels to divide time. (The panel technique is characteristic of manga. It slows the pace down—or speeds it up—by zooming in on a couple microseconds. Hayashi does it with incredible elegance.)

In his book, words are pictures and pictures are words. The synergy between word and line, text and drawing is what makes this read so enamoring, despite its slightly befuddling scenario (little historical context is given, although the action clearly takes place in the early-1970s).

Hayashi's genius is that he was able to essentially pare down his manga story to its bare minimum—if he removed any more, it would truly be a blank slate—without losing the raw emotive power it has. Comics in general often get a bad rep for not letting the mind wander like novels do. If anything, though, Red Colored Elegy lets you wander and fill in the blanks more than any piece of prose with it's delicate positioning of text, lines, panels, characters, and select contextual objects.
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RED COLOR ELEGY reviewed by Shojo Beat

Updated June 25, 2008


Summer Reading: Not Your Average Manga Season
By Erjc Searleman
SHOJO BEAT
July, 2008

“Red Color Elegyby Seiichi Hayashi gives us a peek into the Japanese temperament of 1970. Historical, political, sexual, and personal, Hayashi’s work will open your eyes.

On one level, Red Colored Elegy is simply about a young couple's stormy relationship. But, like all great literature, it works on many different levels, exploring the spectrum of life as it splinters into the future. Hayashi has more on his agenda than young love. He’s playing around with narrative devices, obviously inspired by the medium’s potential. The end result is stunning.”

 

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  RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated June 11, 2008


PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
May

Red Colored Elegy
SEIICHI HAYASHI. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 paper (240p)

An underground Japanese comic from the 1970s, Red Colored Elegy tells the breakup story of two young animators. Hayashi uses animation techniques and an experimental style to beautifully lament Ichiro and Sachiko's failed relationship. Traced photographs, blank word balloons and nearly cubist sex scenes are effective in telling a surprisingly narrative story in a minimalist style. Ichiro was trained as a painter and began work in animation for the money, but now he wants to draw manga. Part-time animator Sachiko runs from her arranged marriage and moves in with Ichiro instead. The two lovers drink heavily and risk being ripped off by animation companies in the shadow of politically volatile student protest movements. Feminist ideals and talk of labor unions take a backseat to a personal and painful story of everyday life. Although a brief introduction explains the historical context, more information on such story elements as the avant-garde Garo magazine would have been welcome. Readers unfamiliar with Japan might not understand the cultural pressure Sachiko faces or expenses for a Buddhist funeral that Ichiro cannot afford to pay. Yet the book, presented left-to-right, is completely accessible for an experimental work, and the story is heartbreakingly universal. (May)

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RED COLORED ELEGY reviewed by The Comics Reporter

Updated May 29, 2008


May 29, 2008

CR Review: Red Colored Elegy
Creator: Seiichi Hayashi
THE COMICS REPORTER
May 29, 2008

I can't imagine any comics fan who can afford a copy of Red Colored Elegy not wanting one for their library. I don't know that I've ever read a comic quite like this one. Seiichi Hayashi's seminal work examines a relationship between two young people set against a backdrop of disappointment and ennui and economic hardship that flows into the foreground in an almost suffocating manner. I found this at times to be the most depressing comic I've ever read, in the fragility of its two leads as they hope for better circumstances while being buffeted by lesser ones. It's also elegantly drawn and designed, with a lot of attention paid to figure work in terms of how the two relate to one another. Some of it, such as a trip to the beach where the pair never quite get on the same page, are as realistically observed as anything I've ever read in comics, and devastating for that emotional truth.

I don't have the insight to figure out how people in Japan latched onto this early '70s work; I'm too far away from these characters and the time in my life I could have looked at the world this way to figure out how anyone could have seen the pair as role models or the situation as anything than an invitation to start crying. What sticks with me is a lot of the cartooning solutions that Hayashi brought to the page, the way that very simple cartooning can be taken in bold new directions through something other than a prodigious display of old-school craft. I'm afraid to read more than a page again, but every page I will read likely holds within it a different approach to page than any I'm used to, and that's cause for happiness.
 
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