I have here two novelists – first, Tatsuhiko Takimoto, best known for the light novel Welcome to the NHK, which spawned a manga and anime adaption, as well as Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge, which spawned a manga and live action movie adaption – second, Yuuya Satou, who has written a number of novels that are not known at all stateside but have won numerous awards. The novelists have similar styles, however, only one of them is not total shit.
I have been a pretty big fan of Tatsuhiko Takimoto for some time now thanks to his light novel, Welcome to the NHK, having been available in English for some time now. If you have seen the anime or read the manga and liked it, I urge you to pick up the novel as it is easily the best version of the story and gets across it’s true meaning most effectively. Anywho, Takimoto is one of many cutting edge Japanese writers who are commonly read in the Japanese magazine Faust. Faust has been brought to America in the form of two books that I can’t even begin to recommend enough – these books are more worthwhile than just about anything else in my collection combined, save for the stuff that’s actually written by the authors in Faust.
Both volumes of Faust (which I have long planned to do a large number of posts about) contain two ‘counseling sessions’ – a sort of parody of the advice columns you see in magazines wherein, rather than the author give advice to readers, they pretty much give advice to themselves. In both volumes, the two ‘counseling’ columns are done by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Yuuya Satou.
These two authors basically have the same schtick. Both of them are real-life hikkikomori, lowlife, otaku scum who pretty much write about the life of a lowlife, filthy, otaku scum. This is what makes Takimoto’s NHK so gripping – the story is incredibly true to life and relatable because you can really feel how the author has experienced the things he writes about and if you’ve experienced them as well, it resonates with you. Takimoto’s writing has often been called his ‘attempts to keep himself sane’ and it shows. He writes like his life is in the balance of every line, and it can often give the text an intensity beyond the comedy of the lines themselves.
This, however, is not the case for Yuuya Satou. Yuuya Satou is a total fraud. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a hikkikomori otaku lowlife, but he completely fails in the way that Takimoto succeeds in making his lowlife-ness interesting. Satou completely rubs his hikkikomori lifestyle in your face and tries to make a spectacle out of it. Takimoto writes his stories like a confession, whereas Satou writes them like an announcement. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. Satou writes about being a hikkikomori in the way that a hikkikomori would not write about being a hikkikomori. It’s almost like he’s proud of it, or showing off. He parades his supposedly sporadic and insane thoughts around with a gracelessness that says ‘lol look at me i r hikki’. And yes, the counseling sessions are all translated by the same person (Andria Cheng), so we do know it’s not her fault. (On the note of translators, Andrew Cunningham, who translates a lot of Faust, the Boogiepop novels, and other things that make me a fanboy of him, has stated his hatred for Yuuya Satou several times himself.)
To give you a real idea of the difference between these two writers, I offer an excerpt. (before I offer the first, a translation note: “A Soapland is a type of Japanese brothel, in which prostitutes bathe with their clients as well as providing other services. It’s not unusual for married men to go to a Soapland, or for young men to loose their virginity at such a place.”)
” “Should I go to a Soapland or not?”
Ever since I got this question in the last issue, I can’t stop thinking about this huge problem.
Of course, Kenzou Kitakawa’s answer is always “Go to a Soapland!” but if I simply copied him here, everyone would no doubt accuse me of being a copycat. However, my top priority is to provide answers for all of those who seek advice, so isn’t it my supreme responsibility to verify the usefulness of that phrase, “Go to a Soapland!” even if everyone points a finger at me? And in order to give the most honest reply, shouldn’t I make solving the Soapland problem my top priority?
Yes… Regarding the previous column, I, Takimoto, spinelessly turned my back on the Soapland problem and simply avoided it. “If I wrote about something as immoral as a Soapland in a national magazine, I’d never be able to face my father again!” I thought cowardly, and made self-preservation my top priority. And, of course, being so pathetic makes me a failure at giving others advice. Y-you big loser! I could have solved the age-old question of “Will going to a Soapland really solve all of my problems?” What kind of advice columnist am I? You damn opportunist! you should be ashamed of yourself!”
-Tatsuhiko Takimoto, translated by Andria Cheng
This is the beginning of Takimoto’s counseling session in Fasut voulume 2. The story goes on to follow Takimoto as he actually does go to a Soapland and start saying how it’s the best advice ever, only for his assistant to stump him with female advice questions which he can’t answer, so the assistant gives the advice. Takimoto’s entry is constantly entertaining in watching him fictionalize an ever-so-slightly overblown version of himself who is every bit as awkward as every other hikkikomori otaku there is. The way he washes between his obvious desire to go to a Soapland and his pure awkwardness and fear that keep him at bay is constantly hilarious, and his story feels exactly like it would if I’d tried to go to a Soapland.
But the best part is that he really does end up giving real solid advice in the end. Takimoto does, in fact, know what it take to make it through life (after all, he’s read all the self-help books!) and even as his ‘go to a soapland!’ advice feels like it works, the real advice his assistant gives is also totally great and usable and almost inspirational to read. So even while it’s entertaining, self-derogatory, and hilariously hopeless, it still gives a real message of hope.
So what does Yuuya Satou’s counseling session read like? I warn you, it’s hard to make it through. This excerpt comes right after a long beginning in which he says a bunch of random shit then explains how his address was left out of the previous volume and he expresses disgust at an advice column lacking an address.
“So, anyway, since that’s my opinion on the matter, you can see why I’m past my deadline and can’t finish my work. I tried to drink some alcohol, get drunk, and sleep for six hours, but I only got a few pages done. I tried eating some curry and then sleeping for eleven hours, but I still didn’t make any progress. Then I thought I should get down to business and slipped into bed prepared to sleep for eight hours when I realized something.
I hadn’t been outside lately.
And if I had, it was only at night.
I remember a friend of mine had said, “Your skin looks whiter than usual.” He was right. I feel like my skin is a lot lighter since I became a writer. Almost like I used a skin lightener or something. I can recommend this method to all those who want to lighten their skin but can’t afford it. All it takes is a lot of time! The pro is that it’s perfect for those with sensitive skin; the con is that you start to forget how to carry on a conversation.”
– Yuuya Satou, translated by Andria Cheng
Yeah, sure, he’s a hikkikomori, so he’s pale, and impersonal, and bla bla bla. But none of that has to do with anything! Unlike Takimoto, who spurs all of the hikkikomori stuff into the subject of the writing, Satou just goes on random-ass tangents to talk about his strangeness. Now, I don’t have a problem with constantly changing the subject. Maijo Otaro is another Faust author who brilliantly uses frequent subject changes to pull you through a story with no predictability and tons of insanity. However, Satou does not take you anywhere with his tangents. He starts ranting about something for a while, and then eventually he just forgets he was ever saying anything and goes back to whatever he was talking about before like nothing happened. It’s like he just gets up randomly to the PC, types whatever is on his mind at the moment, and sits back down.
And the worst part is that he doesn’t even manage to give any advice. While Takimoto may be wallowing in his uselessness, he still puts a fulfilling amount of advice into his column so that it doesn’t seem like he’s just wasting space with random musings of his daily life. Satou cannot be asked for so much – in the end, he just decides that he can’t give advice and asks the audience to give advice on being a better writer. Real original – you’re useless, so you can’t really give any advice. But why should we care? Why do we care about your unrealistic, uninteresting, unrelatable uselessness that you can make a column about how you can’t give advice?
Yuuya Satou is a hack. He has missed the point of writing a gonzo-style hikkikomori story and instead comes across more like the teenage girls who call themselves ‘random’ and ‘individualistic’ because they have a tendency to scream ‘COOKIES!’ randomly in crowds. I just don’t buy it.