More and more, we're seeing a whose appeal depends on big-name creators outside of the manga world. While the late Satoshi Kon has been the biggest beneficiary of this trend, today's review is another prime example of such a work This is most assuredly a manga that would likely have never seen the light of day if not for the fact that it's based around one of anime's most notorious and celebrated directors.
INSUFFICENT DIRECTION (Kantoku Fuyuki Todoki), by Moyoco Anno. First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2014.
"Rompers" is a manga artist, but she had no idea what she was getting into when she decided to marry "Director-kun." She didn't realize just how deep her husband's otakudom ran, and it seems no matter how hard she tries, Rompers can't help but getting sucked into his strange, insular world. Even when she tries to do responsible adult things like rearrange the apartment, enjoy a relaxing vacation, or even just try to get some work done, it all seems to end with distraction and a lot of obscure pop culture references, all while Director-kun smiles on beatifically.
Insufficient Direction is a very odd sort of comedy. It's the sort of manga that would never see release here if not for its celebrity connection, and it's the sort in-joke heavy ribbing that only a loving spouse could create.
In case you weren't already aware, Moyoco Anno is the wife of well-known animator and director Hideaki Anno. His is a long and storied career, although most fans of anime and manga are only aware of the stories surrounding him and the creation of Evangelion. Thus, it can be a bit disconcerting to resolve the popular image of him as a madly depressed auteur with the 'Director-kun' we see here. Director-kun is an almost child-like at times. He's blissfully unaware of the strangeness of measuring shelf space in units of Kamen Rider figures or being able to drop lyrics from obscure 1970s tokusatsu shows the way normal people drop Simpsons quotes. Instead, he seems to approach everything with a positive outlook and his near constant, sly, cat-like smile. Moyoco Anno admits afterwards that she exaggerated some of his qualities and some of the events that inspired the story, but even accounting for that it's weird to see such a happy-go-lucky and dorky side of such a well-known person.
Mind you, while Anno may exaggerate his qualities, she's not really mocking them or him. Moyoco Anno is more than willing to have some fun at her own expense through her own exaggerate take on herself, Rompers. She's shown to be quite the otaku herself when it comes to manga, and while she gets exasperated at times with Director-kun, she doesn't fight all that hard against getting suck into her husband's interests and often has fun in the process. It keeps their dynamic from turning into just another stereotypical sitcom couple, where the harried wife plays killjoy to her man-child husband, and instead it plays out more like a fun slice-of-life story.
I am not joking in the least when I say that this story is SOAKED in obscure Japanese pop culture. From the first title card (styled in the manner of Evangelion's) to the final frame of the last page, their conversations, floors, shelves, and more are littered with references big and small. Movies, anime, music, tokusatsu - all of this and more come up in all sorts of ways, and even a well-read otaku might struggle to recognize half of what's referenced without a Google search. What's really interesting is that for all the pop culture ephemera that come up, the one thing that isn't mocked are the collective works of the Annos. Aside from those title cards, no mention is ever made of Director-kun's shows or films. Aside from a few staff meetings Anno makes no commentary on her own manga. I guess that does help keep the story from getting too self-referential or too self-contragulatory, but it's a puzzling little absence from this manga.
In a way, Insufficient Direction is not just a pun, but something of a misnomer. It implies something rather aimless, and while the chapters deal with a lot of mundane events, it's really just the story of a very dorky couple who bond over their foibles and their geekiness, and that couple just happens to be a well-known josei mangaka and her husband the animation legend. They have a lot of fun together, and the story makes their lives inviting enough to make the reader long for a bit of the same.
This is probably the closest Anno has ever gotten to a purely super-deformed work. For herself, she uses the same old giant, crazy-eyed baby that's she used for her omakes for years. For Director-kun, she draws him like an overgrown toddler, complete with all-black casual wear, a big pot-belly, bare feet, a messy crop of curls, and that near-constant beatific expression on his scruffy face. When you do see other people in this manga, they tend to be drawn in a manner more typical of Anno's other manga - that same lush, slightly bobbleheaded look. She does take a rather casual approach to backgrounds, save for the Anno's ever-messy apartment, where black shelves seemingly overspill with various boxes and things. It's generally a bit simple compared to Anno's other works, but for a story that's meant to be sillier and more casual in tone that's perfectly fine.
I have to give Vertical some serious credit if simply for the fact that some poor soul had to do a LOT of research for the translation notes. There are pages upon pages of them, with a short paragraph explaining each show and each in-joke. There's also a brief interview with Hideaki Anno about this manga. It's nice to get his perspective not only on this story, but also his approach to his own works, and he takes a very gentle and self-effusive approach to both himself and Director-kun.
While I suspect that this would be a hard sell for anyone who isn't already familiar with either Anno, Insufficient Direction is a rare and humorous glimpse into the lives of these two and well worth a look.
This book is published by Vertical. It is currently in print.
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