New publications from Vertical Publishing

New publications from Vertical Publishing

Added In: Articles › Reviews

Winnie Shiraishi

Vertical Publishing specializes in contemporary Japanese fiction, which includes novels and the occasional high quality manga reissue. Vertical’s mission is to draw from the rich pool of Japanese writers and present them to a wider audience through translation. Rather than publishing solely the “classics”, Vertical provides a fresh sampling of Japanese novels. Two fairly recent additions to Vertical’s catalog include Yusuke Kishi's The Crimson Labyrinth and Yoichi Funado's May in the Valley of the Rainbow.

The Crimson Labyrinth (translated by Masami Isetani and Camellia Nieh) is an offbeat suspense/horror tale of what appears to be a reality TV show gone awry. Yoshihiko Fujiki is a 40- year old unemployed former corporate worker whose job loss results in a loss of identity. His wife leaves him and he is soon evicted from his corporate housing. Most of his days are spent attempting to stave off hunger and find a place to sleep. In a country that still puts so much value on male identity through corporate affiliation, Fujiki has no community.

Fujiki wakes up one day after what he at first fears is a blackout. He quickly realises that he is in unfamiliar territory, possessing only a few items including a pocket game machine. The game machine includes a list of instructions, the most important being “You must survive the labyrinth to win the prize money as promised and be returned to Earth”. He soon discovers other players; the first a woman named Ai, claiming to be a comic artist who herself has a troubled past. Fujiki is never entirely sure whether or not to consider Ai an ally, but they quickly find themselves paired up. As other players are introduced, their commonalities appear to be their real world mundane lifestyles - they are typical workers, teachers and secretaries with few readily recognizable distinctions or talents. At least, that is how they are presented through Fujiki's eyes and it is up to the reader to determine whether or not he is a reliable narrator.

The suspense of the novel is developed through the progressive revealing of new rules to the game. Each player has a different machine with separate, but perhaps complementary, instructions. Yet it is painfully clear that none of the players really trusts each other enough to reveal the contents of their own instructions. As the group struggles to survive and descends into violence, Fujiki finds himself changing for the better…or maybe for the worse.

Yoichi Funado's May in the Valley of the Rainbow (translated by Eve Alison Nyren) is part coming – of - age story, part political thriller that begins in a small rural village, Garsoponga, in the Phillipines. The tale begins with a unique character, young Toshio Manahan - the child of a Filipino woman and a Japanese father, being raised by his grandfather. Most of Toshio and his grandfather’s meager income is derived from cock fighting. Toshio becomes an unofficial guide to a place of surreal beauty known as “The valley of the rainbow”, which pulls him into a messy, political entanglement. At the same time the small rural town is susceptible to political infighting - Toshio's grandfather is a former guerilla and other guerilla groups dominate life in the area. The return of a woman named Sylvia Galan de Oshita, now known as "Queen", touches off a series of events that will drastically affect Toshio’s worldview. Galan has returned to the village after inheriting money from her wealthy Japanese husband, and her ability to spread money around begins a cycle of disquiet and violence in this sleepy little town.

The strength of the novel lies in its ability to present larger political issues in a condensed, tight framework. Toshio's grandfather (and we later learn many others) was a guerilla some years back. Eduardo Chavez is perhaps one of the most intriguing characters. He is the community leader who longs for more power than his small village can possibly provide. His manipulations seem petty and often have consequences far beyond those that he expected. There is also the Japan-Philippines relationship, the uncomfortable and complex history of colonization and economic (under) development. Toshio knew little about his mother and has no connection to the Japanese father who abandoned him. His tale often includes encounters with other children like him; children with absent fathers and no real options living on the margins of society. Read carefully, the novel is a disquieting look as the realities of politics, war, and power throughout Asia. Yoichi Funado has written many political thrillers in Japanese, and Eve Alison Nyren does a fine job providing a smooth, readable translation of challenging material.

More information about these books and others are available at the Vertical Publishing, Inc. website. Currently there is no direct ordering from the site but books can be ordered through local and online booksellers.