.Gifs of this kept floating past my Tumblr feed and another friend recommended the anime of Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-San / Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san to me the other day, and, so, that seemed like the saturation point. Time to give it a try.
As I was telling a friend this morning, I found this one somewhat impenetrable. I know a lot about the American publishing industry (at least in terms of the back end, how novels get published) and I think that may have worked to my disadvantage here. To be fair, I have never worked in a book or comic bookstore, though my wife has. Perhaps this would be highly relatable content to her. There is, for instance, a lot of freaking out whenever stock is delivered. Which, I guess, makes sense, though I don’t exactly find it… hilarious, and I get the impression that I should.
There is not a lot of the manga scanlated. If you go to the link I provided at the top, you will only find about two chapters at this point. This is a shame because the scanlators do that thing that they do, where they provide translation notes and explanations of Japanese culture to help the jokes and references that would be obvious to a Japanese audience make more sense.
So, the schtick is that we follow Honda, who is a bookstore employee. Everyone at this bookstore has some kind of mask over their face, presumably because they are loosely based on real people that the mangaka knows/has worked with. Honda, himself, however, is fully skeletonized, for reasons that are unclear–perhaps he is overworked?
There is a lot in this anime and manga that depend on a much deeper understanding of Japanese culture than I currently posses. I mean, as an American I find myself baffled by the things that Honda-san gets “sweaty”/freaked out over. And maybe it’s more that I’m an extrovert? Almost every single customer interaction seems to send him into a panic. I mean, I’ve worked with archivists that were more outgoing! But, I think this is an office culture thing, too–a fear of screwing up. (We really see that particular fear playing out in the anime episode where Honda is forced to go to job training and faces the horrors of role-playing, etc., which I CAN actually relate to, though I found it more accurate than hilarious, you know?)
I think the reason that it kept popping up in .gif form on my Tumblr dash, however, is because the mangaka skewers foreign otaku and, particularly, foreign fujoshi. There is an entire episode/chapter under the banner of:
Which, you know, I feel like I need that screenshot from the Facebook complaint box with the option checked, “I see myself in this picture and I don’t like it.”
I mean, if I’m honest, that might be a lot of what I find “meh” about this. I felt the same way with the first several seasons of “The Big Bang Theory.” I don’t find my life particularly hilarious. I mean, it’s not that I can’t laugh at myself, but there is an entire set of panels in this chapter that is devoted to a woman finding a particular mangaka’s work that she loves and screaming about it for joy.
That’s literally me
So… am I laughing? Because a fat lady got excited over something she loves in public? I mean, I realize this is the sort of behavior that is not seen as particularly “Japanese,” but even in the manga, as Honda has written it, none of the customers reacted badly. They just ignored the lady, LIKE YOU DO.
This is funny, how?
This is 9/10ths of the humor, so it falls flat for me. I mean, I know Americans/Europeans are weird (believe me, I see it every day), but I don’t generally find cultural differences knee-snappingly comedic?
To be fair, I had this problem with Princess Jellyfish, too, which just makes me an outlier and probably “too sensitive.” Or maybe I’m just SO ACHINGLY nerdy that I fail to find jokes that point out extreme geekiness as odd because it is LITERALLY my life.
I suspect a healthy combination of both of those is true, actually.
But, it is interesting for the insights into bookselling. One of the things I always enjoy about slice-of-life is exactly this: seeing how people do what they do in daily life. So, even though I don’t understand the humor in the panicking over re-ordering particular manga because I’m at a loss about the cultural references, I do get the IDEA of it all. I can still appreciate learning that certain things cause books to sell out–like being mentioned on a popular game show or when an author dies.
Those things are true here, too, even if I don’t know WHICH shows or authors are being referenced.
What’s funny to me is that Tumblr has clearly taken the .gif I kept seeing out of context. Honda meets a “handsome” American looking for what amounts to tentacle porn.
The .gif and the Tumblr comments make it seem as though Honda’s discomfort is because he finds this guy attractive, but, if you watch/read the whole scene, Honda’s freak-out is actually over the fact that this clueless dad is trying to find R-rated material for his tween-age daughter.
The confusion is over the fact that Honda does seem to find him handsome, but I think it’s meant to be in a more ‘admiring’ way. I mean, I’m all for adding queer content where there is none, but I was suitably disappointed when I watched this because it was NOT nearly as gay as I hoped. Though, they do talk in a later episode (and presumably chapter) about how little true GLBT content there is in manga as opposed to all the BL/yaoi, when a foreign gay couple come in asking after ‘gay’ content and are shown (much like in US bookstores) the tiniest section of a tiny shelf.
Anyway, it was definitely worth checking out. If you’re interested in this one, at the moment, I would recommend watching it, since you can get 9 episodes at least. It doesn’t even look like you can legally buy the manga yet, and, as I noted, there are only a couple of chapters scanned/pirated.