Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma, translated from Japaneses by Kumar Sivsubramanian and Elizabeth Tiernan. 2005, English edition, 2008. Ponent Mon, edited by Fanfare (U.K.) 194 pp., appended with excerpts of an interview by Miki Tori with the creator.
Question addressed: What do I know of the background of this book – about its author, how it came to be written, or the place where it is set, and so on – that might interest the reader and stimulate their desire to read?
Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma is the author’s account of his life in the 1980s and 90s during which he worked and gained acclaim as a manga artist, twice “dropped out” and “lived rough” by himself in the woods and on the streets, did manual labor as a gas pipe fitter, and received long-term treatment at a rehabilitation hospital for his alcoholism. Although it is a “personal manga” that recounts abject situations, as the interviewer Miki Tori notes, it is told via images and text with a “delicate distancing” that allows humor to carry the reader through the concerning and disturbing undercurrents of its “reality”.
Disappearance Diary and its creator are highly acclaimed in the Japanese manga industry. In 2005, the book won the Grand Prize from the 9th Japan Media Arts Festival Manga Division and the Excellence Prize at the 34th Japan Cartoonists Association Awards. The author, Hideo Azuma, is a revered manga artist who is credited with being the “father of lolicon” a popular if controversial subgenre of manga.
While appreciated by manga experts and enthusiasts, Disappearance Diary is also ideal for readers unfamiliar with manga. Azuma’s interesting, absorbing, funny, and unsettling story is told as manga and is largely about manga. Throughout the book but especially in the second section which covers Azuma’s early years and rise as a manga artist, a reader is almost unconsciously learning about manga, both the industry and its visual language. For example, a reader new to manga learns something about “roughs”, inking, adding backgrounds, editor’s expectations, other artists, subgenres and consumers demands. At the same time, readers are exposed to many of the stylistic and formal aspects of manga. For example, Azuma depicts himself as a “chubby little guy” with one overlarge and hooded eye. Both his “cuteness” and his distinctive eye are aspects of the visual language of manga. Similarly, many of the females in the book are depicted in a “cute and sexy” manner common to a lot of manga and explored/ exploited more fully in the lolicon subgenre. The publication of the English edition of this manga as a left to right read also enables new readers to learn and perhaps become more curious about manga before wrangling with the awkwardness of reading a book from right to left.
In his introduction, Azuma tells the reader that “This manga has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible.” Despite Azuma’s cool and distanced look into his life, a sense of his physiological anxiety comes through in the drawings of himself and textual observations. A reader does not come away feeling they now know Azuma. In fact, his story leaves a reader more curious than ever about him (as and artist and person), his wife (how does she put up with him!), and manga.