Panel to Panel
by Nathan Patton
Continuing their new initiative of releasing English language works by influential Japanese cartoonists, Drawn and Quarterly once again revisits the underground comics scene of the early ’70s. Seiichi Hayashi’s “Red Colored Elegy” is a timeless work of visual poetry and would be considered experimental even by the standards of the modern era.
Ichiro is dissatisfied with his job as an animator and obsessed with his goal of focusing only on comics. He spends more time whining than he spends actually trying to further his career. And when his girlfriend, Sachiko, runs away from an arranged marriage in order to be with him, he’s even more distracted.
It becomes clear almost immediately that the main character of this book is the relationship between Ichiro and Sachiko and not either one of them individually. Any time spent watching one without the other serves only to inform the motivations behind their actions, or severe inaction in the case of Ichiro.
Ichiro seems to be at all times sleepwalking through a dream state of faceless, emotionless people. His quarter-life crisis and obsession with his own failures takes his attention away from Sachiko, who thrives on his attention.
“Red Colored Elegy” is not easy to read, especially in the beginning. It is often not much more than a stream of consciousness, jumping from moment to moment without taking the time to catch its own breath. The pacing is deliberately schizophrenic and brilliantly evasive. The result proves as intense as what the characters seem to be experiencing.
The art is just as schizophrenic as the pacing, going from clumsily scrawled, minimalist characters to photo-realistic portraits of inanimate objects. Characters with whom Ichiro has no connection often have the most detail. Hayashi mostly communicates the state of mind of the characters without the aid of words. Ichiro and Sachiko are drawn in crooked positions as if the weight of their emotions is literally on their backs.
“Red Colored Elegy” is one of the most three-dimensional takes on the dissolution of a relationship I’ve experienced. And while every decision is thoroughly examined with clarity and brevity, Hayashi offers no judgment on the decisions the characters make.