The original Papuwa was my first fandom, a dozen years ago and more, when my Japanese was certifiably worse than it is now even if my eyesight was better. The dialogue is still a slog and a half: extreme male Japanese, and popular culture referencing male Japanese at that, with Shibata's peculiar notion of dialogue. No wonder none of it sticks in my head. How did I handle this in 1993?
But taken in great chunks the magic comes stealing back again. (No pun intended, those who know Papuwa.) Never mind the changed art style that makes my much loved Servis ojisama look grotesque: never mind the non-stop gag and the notable absence of the kind of yaoi fodder that made Papuwa the polymorphous perverse dj paradise it was back in the day. (I believe one reason Enix cancelled the first series was that it was getting too BLy for adolescent male tastes. Enix now knows that the innuendo ropes in the female audience- they were the first to publish Saiyuuki, after all- but Shibata is less the raving fangirl she was.) These are still the glowing figures that first dazzled my complacent settled western eyes and thinking habits. I'm still nostalgically attracted to them, and the setting of eternal sunshine on that impossible island where it's still four years after the first series ended, not a dozen. Papuwa-tou always got confused with Japan in my mind; time works differently in Japan too.
But... thirteen years since it all began. Shibata has a note on one of the endpapers under her picture: "I'm turning 37!!?" Trains go on and we grow old, sensei.
So the rereading is accompanied by thoughts of Ono no Komachi's famous poem- famous because it's printed on the 100 Poems From 100 Poets card game you play at New Years, but also because it's cool in that indescribable way classical poetry is:
Hana no iro waThe colour (iro) of the flowers grew pale, while my body pointlessly wanders through (furu- more like wavering) and gazing on (nagame) the world (yo). But iro is also love, sexual feelings, that pass with age. Furu also means fall, and nagame means both 'long rains' and 'look on a scene', giving the compressed image in one word of a woman watching the long rains of spring fall-- looking at the dying flowers from behind her screens in the tedious idleness of an upper class Heian woman's life, feeling the world full of rain lately and wondering where her youth went to. No of course you can't translate all that happily but Donald Keene tries
Wa ga mi yo ni furu
Nagame seshi ma ni
The flowers witheredSublime to, well, something a little better than ridiculous but not by much: to have this somewhere handy and not hiding in a 700 page novel in the back bunker behind a stack of boxes:
Their color faded away
While meaninglessly I spent my days in the world
And the long rains were falling.
If you see a train this evening,And that, boise girls, references something even farther away in time than Papuwa even if closer in space than Tokyo, an apartment in south-western France in 1975.
Far away against the sky,
Lie down in your wooden blanket,
Sleep, and let the train go by.
Trains have called us, every midnight,
From a thousand miles away,
Trains that pass through empty cities,
Trains that have no place to stay.
No one drives the locomotive,
No one tends the staring light,
Trains have never needed riders,
Trains belong to bitter night.
Railway stations stand deserted,
Rights-of-way lie clear and cold:
What we left them, trains inherit,
Trains go on, and we grow old.
Let them cry like cheated lovers,
Let their cries find only wind.
Trains are meant for night and ruin.
We are meant for song, and sin.