Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tensai Bakabon, Intro

I've wanted to take on Fujio Akatsuka's "Tensai Bakabon" series for a while, and this is the first opportunity to do so. Fujio was one of the people that briefly lived at Tokiwa Manor with Tezuka, Ishinomori, Fujio Fujiko and the rest of Tezuka's staff. He turned to gag manga fairly early, and achieved success with several stories before starting up "Tensai Bakabon" (The Perfect Idiot). This is a fairly well-known series, having been made into a long-running TV anime. But, I doubt that most westerners are familiar with it.

"Bakabon" is primarily a short (14-16 page) gag strip consisting of stand-alone stories similar to what you'd find in Mad magazine in the 1950's (Fujio had stated that Mad magazine was one of his influences). Bakabon is the name of the main character, a school kid that was born a genius but later turned into an idiot. His father, called "Bakabon no oyaji" (Bakabon's old man) is actually incredibly clever (in the first few volumes, anyway) and big-hearted, but he's prone to pulling childish pranks and taking stupid risks. Then there's Hajime, Bakabon's smarter little brother, and Bakabon no Okasan (Bakabon's mother) - the one member of the family that's level-headed. Bakabon's father tends to steal the spotlight away from the rest of the family.

I want to focus on "Bakabon" for a few reasons. First, it's actually really good, and deserves more attention from western fans (especially if you like Mad magazine). Second, Fujio tended to play with the manga format, breaking through panels, ignoring border lines, running a series of blank panels as part of a joke, etc. By messing with the rules of manga, he opened up a lot of possibilities for later gag artists. Third, he never let continuity get in the way of telling a gag. He has Bakabon's father die in the second volume as part of the joke, then brings him back again in the next chapter as if nothing had happened. To Fujio, telling a joke is much more important than creating a stable universe with a story and fixed timeline. Fourth, it's because I can.

Fujio contributed at least two phrases to popular Japanese culture. The first is "Shee" (pronounced "shay") which is accompanied by a fixed pose as a show of astonishment. The second is Bakabon's father's "kore de ii no da" (that's good as it is). If a situation reaches a specific conclusion, even if everyone else thinks it's weird or unacceptable, father will let it ride with "that's good as it is".

I'm picking the following two chapters (none of the chapters in this volume have titles - they're just numbered starting with chapter 1) because they're short and are good examples of Fujio's messing with the rules. I will reprint one panel from a different story because, from what I can tell, it may feature a tribute to Shigeru Mizuki, creator of "Gegege no Kitaro".


A few notes to start out with. First, many of the characters refer to themselves as "washi" instead of "watashi" (the polite form of "me") or "boku" (the currently acceptable masculine casual form for "me"). At the present, "washi" is used mainly by older men.

Second, the small "っ" (tsu) character is generally used for two reasons. Obviously, it's for doubling up on consonants, such as with "atchi" (あっち). It's also used to show emphasis in written speech, either in place of, or in addition to, the western exclamation mark (!). Fujio uses the small tsu extensively in this manga as emphasis. I'm not going to bother explaining this every time it happens, and I'll leave it up to you to figure it out on your own.

Third, a signature element in this manga is Bakabon's papa's use of "da" and "no da" at the end of sentences. Typically, "da" is a casual masculine form of "desu", but it's not normally used as often in speech as it is by "papa". "のだ" is a declarative form of desu, used when making a flat statement. As used by "papa", "のだ" becomes more of a verbal tick, and reinforces the impression that he's kind of an idiot.

Fourth, Bakabon's father, or as he's referred to in the chapter titles, "Bakabon's old man" isn't given a name. So, I'll call him "father", "papa" or "dad" when I have to.

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