IF YOU think that alternative manga is just sex and violence, you can correct your opinion by reading Yuichi Yokoyama’s Garden. This manga has no blood or guts and no bare skin. Yet the surrealistic story takes the reader far beyond normal imagination.
THe American publisher Picture Box has recently published in English four works by Yuichi Yokoyama: Garden (Niwa), New Engineering (Njuu doboku), Travel (Toraberu) and Color Engineering. The latest is Garden, which came out in late 2011.
More Yokoyama’s works are available in French. Some have also been translated into Spanish and Italian.
In Japan, Yokoyama has created manga mainly for underground papers, such as Comic Cue. In the west he started to get fame in 2004, when his albums Travaux Publics and Combats were published in French.
Yokoyama (1967- ) works in Saitama near Tokyo. He creates more graphical design and illustrations than graphic novels. Also many pictures of Garden are available as separate, very colourful paintings.
Yokoyama’s manga moves very near the borders of the art form. Yokoyama himself calls his style ”neo-manga”. I have not read other works of his, but as far as I know, Garden is his most graphic novel like work. In Garden, also text has a significant role – not only pictures and sounds.
A LARGE group of creatures tries to enter a garden. They have been told that it is ”a very good garden”. Alas, the garden is closed. The story of the manga begins, when the creatures find their way into the garden by a hole in the fence.
Many of the creatures have human-like bodies and peculiar heads. Some look like Kiss, others resemble astronauts, some look like American superheroes. One has a carrot for a nose, one has a hole in the place of a face, some have feathers or scales. Not all are human-like – some have bodies compiled of geometric forms.
The creatures begin a strange trip across the garden. There are many strange buildings, artificial plants, cars used for strange purposes, artificial ponds, waterfalls falling in all directions, currents of balls, peculiar habitats … There are also nameless police-like forces, that the travelers try to avoid.
Many things in the garden resemble things in the normal reality: sofas, football games, computers, housing areas. But their compositions and proportions are so wrong that they are nearly unrecognisable.
The essential elements of the story are movement and the flow of time. As an even front or queue the creatures move from one place to another. And there is one more essential element: from the viewpoint of the story, nothing is strange.
THE GARDEN is filled with sound. Sound effects in large even katakanas tell often as much as the pictures. Yuichi Yokoyama’s sound effects are simple but forceful: gorogorogoro, zazazaza, dododododo, pakipakipaki.
The manga has also relatively much text. Events are commented sometimes with speech bubbles, sometimes with the thoughts of the travelers. The creatures also represent their own theories about the purposes and working mechanisms of the strange buildings.
Many texts are very simple: ”Let’s go that way.” ”There are mountains.” ”The river bottom is made of sand.”
Sometimes the texts seem to comment unnecessarily things that are quite obvious when you see the pictures: ”The photographs are silently falling from the trees.” ”Those are soap bubbles.” Still, the text has a meaning. It creates a sense of normal: even though something looks strange to the reader, it is quite normal to the creatures in the story.
THE HANDLING of sound effects in the English translation of Garden is the strangest I have ever seen. The manga has been translated by Taro Nettleton and Ryan Holmberg.
The orinal sound effects are so essential for Yokoyama’s art that they have of course been kept. But there are altogether four different ways of translating them in he book!
ピカ glow or パチャン pop – there is the original sound effect and its English counterpart.
ゴオオオオ gwooooh or ゴロゴロ gorogoro – there is the original sound effect and its romanisation.
バン ban (slam) or ドス dosu (thud) – there is the original sound effect and both its romanisation and its English counterpart.
ゴゴゴゴゴ gogogogogo (sound of the patrol unit approaching) or スルスルスル surusurusuru (sound of tool sliding out) – there is the original sound effect and an explanation of its meaning in English.
I was relieved to find out, that all the tree translation methods were never used for the same sound effect … But honestly speaking, the fancy way of translating sound effects did no harm to the story. Actually, it fit well with the psychedelic atmosphere of Yokoyama’s work.
GARDEN is an ingenious manga. Yokoyama has created two strange parties: the strange garden and the strange creatures traveling in it. These two parties meet each other, time after time. Hidden but near the surface is the possibility to see also our normal reality in very different ways.
In spite of its peculiarity, Garden is not hard to read. You could even read it as fast as ”normal” manga – but of course you would miss everything essential… You can also read it very slowly, admiring every image. And I can assure you, every image is a work of art.
Though the peculiar things in the garden are explained, the explanations are quite as peculiar as the things themselves. The lack of explanations if emphasised by the fact that the book has no title pages or lists of content.
Can you imagine a better way of illustrating modern reality?