By Hiroaki Samura. Released in Japan as “Sister Generator” by Kodansha, serialized in various magazines. Released in North America by Dark Horse Comics.
Well, first off, there’s not a samurai in this thing. It’s an anthology similar to the one we saw recently from Kaoru Mori, aka “I need to do something different occasionally and show off my chops”. As with most anthologies, the quality is highly variable, but the author is good enough that even the stories I didn’t really get into here had something to offer. It’s a good short story collection, all told.
The collection itself was published by Kodansha, and it’s likely no coincidence that the three strongest stories in it ran in that company’s seinen magazine Monthly Afternoon, also home to Blade of the Immortal, the work that Samura is most famous for. This North American version uses Emerald as the title story (Sister Generator is an amusing title, but I think would convey the wrong image over here), and it’s a straight-up Western, with gunslingers, saloons, and an orphan playing a tortured game in order to save her family’s good name (and her chastity). As with the best Westerns, the morality is incredibly ambiguous, but there’s a heartwarming center to it despite it all.
The stories are interspersed with some short gag comics that ran in Ohta Shuppan’s QuickJapan for a while, all based around Japanese schoolgirls snarking around whatever fashionable trend they’re dealing with at the moment. It reminded me quite a bit of Furuya’s Short Cuts series, and while these aren’t quite ko-gals, there’s the same surreal quality to a lot of their conversations (probably my favorite is where two of the girls compare their fan fiction, and we find that one of them basically writes straight-up bad porn). I like these sorts of stories, but I can see how they might be a weak link for any other readers. Another weak link might be Shizuru Cinema, a short story from Media Factory’s Comic Flapper, which I think ended up being a little TOO weird and diffuse for me. (The same could be said about Brigitte’s Dinner, but that won me over with its stark imagery.)
The real winner, though, is “The Kusein Family’s Grandest Show”, a dark and twisted story about a family where all is not as it seems. I don’t want to give away too much about the plot – the way you can tell I really love a story is I either spend 5000 words or 6 describing it – but it shows a very dark take on daughters taking after their mothers, what we leave behind, and exactly what it means to fulfill a man’s dying wishes. The mood, dialogue, and sinister plot all combine to create something almost poetic – although it’s a subdued, erotic poetry. The whole volume is worth it for this story.
As with a lot of short story collections, you want to come out of them saying “I’ve got to get more of this author’s work!” As such, I’m really interested in both Blade of the Immortal and his other NA short story collection, Ohikkoshi. The man can certainly spin a tale. And if all else fails, you can take pride in his amazing mahjong hand, as seen in perhaps the most obscure manga in this collection.