07 Aug, 2007
The Otaku Bookshelf: Three Goth-Loli Must-Haves
By: Erin Finnegan
The order you consume the following media does not matter, nor does it matter if you are fashion-impaired (like my boyfriend); you will be equally delighted by Kamikaze Girls the book and the movie, and that is a Ninja Consultant guarantee!1
Kamikaze Girls (Novel)
By Novala Takemoto
Translated by Akemi Wegmuller
Distributed by Viz Media
After reading some of DMPs light novels, Kamikaze Girls felt like reading literature. Initially, I hesitated to pick up the book due to it’s white slip cover and pink embroidery design. It was jut a little too girly for me, despite my Decora2 Halloween costume and childhood love for My Little Ponies. I held the novel in my hand at the comic book store and considered: was it a light novel? Was it a novelization of the movie, or was the movie based on the book? Unsure of myself, I choked at the cover price AND FOOLISHLY SET THE BOOK DOWN, MISSING OUT ON HOURS OF POTENTIAL JOY.
Months later I snagged the Mangacast’s review copy (thanks Ed!). Approximately halfway through the book I started devising plans to build a time machine in order to send the book to my high school self. I quickly grasped that the movie and manga were based on the novel.
The story is written in first person by Momokoko, a hardcore Lolita3 fashion victim raised by a “useless” single father who’s dual-logo pirated Versace/Universal Studios merchandise has got him in trouble with the local yakuza. As the story begins Momokoko has found herself relocated to Ibaraki prefecture, which is out in the sticks, quite literally in cowtown.
Momoko does not make friends in Ibarakiâ€”her fashion subculture is far too extreme for hicks, and her obsession with the Rococo period in France does not win over her classmates. She meets Ichigo, a Yanki4, when she tries to sell her dad’s pirated merchandise through a classified ad. Ichigo is Momoko’s fashion-opposite, but both girls are followers of obscure subcultures, and they slowly become friends.
The ending is a little too happy, a little too perfectâ€”Momoko happens to have a talent gets “discovered.” Ichigo is really pretty when she doesn’t do her own make-up, and becomes a professional model. I wish everyone could discover their career path so easily! I found this slightly irksome as an adult, however, I know it is the ending I would have wished for as a teenager.
Towards the end of the book I learned that the author, Takemoto, is actually a dude. I was totally shocked! How could a man write such great female characters? Takemoto truly captures a teen girl’s voice and plays it out with such dignity, such veracity, and such style!
This is the most lovingly translated book that I have ever read, (the second best being A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami, also recommended). The jokes are all very funny, and the author’s voice comes through very clearly, in a tone that I’m certain is true to the original. There are several translation notes and a brief glossary. If anything, the glossary could have used a few more definitions, but I never felt totally lost. I heard from Ed Chavez that the translation team worked really hard on this. Akemi Wegmullerâ€”if you’re reading this, I appreciate your hard work! Thank you for doing a good book justice with an excellent translation!
Kamikaze Girls is a love letter to teenage girls written by one’s future self. The ultimate message of the story is: don’t worry about your future. Have confidence in yourself, and you’ll discover your talents. Be true to yourself and your friends, and everything will turn out alright.
…ever since I started wearing Baby’s clothes, I realized that to carry them off properlyâ€”to truly do them justiceâ€”I’d have to improve myself, starting with my attitude toward life. Because if you dress like a Lolita without having the Lolita spirit, the clothes won’t suit you. At all.
Kamikaze Girls (Movie)
Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima
Distributed by Viz, 102 minutes
I missed this movie three times in theaters, and I feel like Judas denying Christ three times. I own the DVD now, and making all my friends watch it might be my only hope for salvation.
Kamikaze Girls the film rockets along at roughly Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels speed from the first frame, using mixed media and graphic design to quickly lay out for the audience exactly when the Rococo era was and what it meant, all from Momoko’s extremely biased point of view. Momoko then proceeds to narrate the story of her conception and birth to hilarious effect, and this is handled even better in the movie than it is in the book.
By the time Ichigo rides in to town 20 or 30 minutes in the movie just keeps getting better. Even though Ichigo’s laughably tricked-out scooter is described in great detail in the novel, nothing beats seeing the ridiculous contraption on screen. Anna Tsuchiya, the actress playing Ichigo, gives a great performance. In the book Ichigo is a little dumber, but Tsuchiya really brings a new dimension to Ichigo’s character. She was also wonderful in A Taste of Tea, which I reviewed recently.
My second-favorite scene in the film is Momoko’s first encounter with the clothing brand “Baby, the Stars Shine Bright” (the brand name is said in its entirety, in English, dozens of times throughout the film). “My old self,” she narrates “was killed on the spot.” From a lacy sleeve an old-fashioned Rococo gun pulls the trigger, killing Momoko, and her new self is born.
Recently Kamikaze Girls has been airing late at night on the ImaginAsia channel (available on Time Warner here in New York City). When I see it on TV, I just leave it on, because Kamikaze Girls has such a high re-watch value. It’s definitely worth the cost of the DVD.
Director Tetsuya Nakashima also directed Memories of Matsuko, which won the Audience Award at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.
Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno: Tokyo Teen Fashion Subculture Handbook
By Izumi Evers and Patrick Macias
Illustrated by Kazumi Nonaka
Published by Chronicle Books
As long as you’re purchasing Kamikaze Girls in either form, you may as well buy Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno: Tokyo Teen Fashion Subculture Handbook, at the same time. If you’re like me, and your interest in Yanki fashion subculture was peaked by Kamikaze Girls, and you want more information, this book is your one-stop-fashion-subculture-source in the English language. Those Fruits books at Barnes and Noble are not going to break it down for you with timelines and charts! You will need Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno to get the whole story.
Part history, part anthropological study, part fashion magazine, Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno works as your safari guidebook to the strange world of teenage girl fashion subculture in Japan from the 1970’s to the present. Many of the specimens examined in the book are long since extinct, but the pop culture echoes of these groups lingers on in movies, anime, manga, and live-action television dramas.
Macias and Evers take you on a trip through time in the streets of Tokyo, where bored suburbanite girl have flocked to in weird outfits for decades. Nonaka’s illustrations break down the difference between Sukebans, Decora Girls, and Gothic Lolitas, as well as even more obscure sub-groups like the Kigurumin. It’s all laid out for the reader in a handy fold-out evolutionary tree.
Anime fans watching the current release of season two of Super Gals from Right Stuf can final get some answers, explanation, and historical context to the Gal style. Old school fans of Kimegure Orange Road can finally learn why Madoka carried guitar picks as weapons (she was parodying the days of sukeban girl gangs who carried razor blades).
Since this is a book about teenage girls, I was surprised to find that my male friends took an interest in flipping through the book and picking out their ideal sub-culture girlfriends. Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno specifically outlines what type of guy different gals would want dateâ€”at least for the first half of the book. No one wants to date a Kirgurumin or an O-Gal! The latter were nearly homeless, smelly versions of kogals, who return home only to change clothes, and the former wore adult-sized, animal-themed pajamas on the streets of Shibuya.
Although Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is of special interest to anyone obsessed with Japanese pop culture, I am confident that it is also a wild (yet accessible) ride for normal people. I am thinking specifically here of my high school days, wherein obligatory trips to the school library resulted in teen girls flipping through the library’s latest fashion magazines instead of checking out any actual books. Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is loaded with enough pictures that even non-readers will find it fascinating, non-readers being a group that sometimes includes American teenage girls.
My only complaint about Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is that I did not like the style of the illustrations. Although the illustrations were very accurate and informative and somewhat cute, their artistic style annoyed me. Fortunately, there are plenty of photographs of actual schoolgirls throughout the book that make up for it. The photographs are priceless anthropological studies of eras past.
Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno doesn’t take long to read, but it’s hours of fun passing it around to one’s friends. I loaned my copy out to a friend, and haven’t seen it since.
1 Not a guarantee. Inversely, you could be equally disgusted by both.
2 To find out more about Decora, read Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno.
3 Gothic Lolita; Read more about it Schoolgirl Inferno.
4 Again, read Schoolgirl Inferno.