A couple of hiccups aside, Faust Volume 1 is a compelling read that's worth every penny of its premium MSRP.
Writer/Artist:CLAMP, Takeshi Obata, Ueda Hajime, NISIOISIN, Yun Kouga, take, and Kouhei Kadono
What They Say
Faust is a collection of fiction inspired by the fantastic world of manga and featuring artwork by some of the best in the business. Also included are columns, interviews, and other bonus features!
"Outerholic," by NISIOISIN (illustrated by CLAMP): CLAMP fans everywhere will appreciate the original art in this tale excerpted from NISIOISIN's upcoming novel set in the world of xxxHOLiC about a woman compelled to choose disaster.
"F-sensei's Pocket," by Otsuichi (illustrated by Takeshi Obata): What would you do if you could make all your dreams come true? Here's the story of a girl who is really very ordinary - until a bunch of magic gadgets suddenly blow onto her porch.
"Outlandos d'Amour," by Kouhei Kadono (illustrated by Ueda Hajime): For a boy who can make lightning strike, the only thing harder than learning how to control his powers is falling in love.
"The Garden of Sinners," by Kinoko Nasu (illustrated by Takashi Takeuchi [TYPE-MOON]): Too many young girls are flying and dying. It has to stop - and only Shiki can put an end to it.
"Drill Hole in My Brain," (Written and illustrated by Otaro Maijo): The ill-fated love story of a boy with a hole in his head and a girl with a horn on hers. It was great while it lasted, but the end of their affair just might mean the end of the world.
Faust's presentation is divided into distinct prose and manga sections, where the former is printed left-to-right and the latter preserves the artwork's right-to-left orientation. The manga section is further subdivided into color and black-and-white sections; the 20 pages that make up the color artwork are printed in color and then inexplicably repeated in black-and-white. (I don't know why Del Rey included the black-and-white versions of these three stories, seeing as the color versions make them superfluous, but whatever the reason it certainly doesn't hurt the book to have both.) The black-and-white portion of the manga section also includes an extra story not found in the color section, which was drawn in black-and-white to begin with.
The print quality is uniformly good; text is sharp, the black-and-white artwork is at least as good as typical non-glossy paperback releases, and the glossy color artwork reveals a beautiful range of tones and color saturations. Fortunately, Faust is printed on standard paper stock rather than the flimsier paper used for some of Del Rey's earlier light novel releases. Compared to Zaregoto, for example, Faust has about 30% more pages but is nearly twice as thick, and it doesn't feel like the pages are about to tear at any moment.
The release includes two "bonus features" consisting of an interview with The Garden of Sinner's creators and an essay on the Japanese/American cross-cultural exchange of comics. Though I didn't see any explicit mention of what makes these latter two features "bonus" items (they're segregated from the rest of the prose but read very much like the other essays), their subject matter implies that they've been prepared specifically for Faust's North American release.
Most of the prose section is sparsely illustrated, containing only a page or two of drawings per story/essay. "F-sensei's Pocket" is the main exception to this, even then containing just six-and-a-half pages of illustrations among sixty-five pages of text. The artwork found in this section understandably varies in style from story to story; most are purely functional, while others add to the atmosphere of the writing. Ueda Hajime's illustrations for "Outlandos d'Amour" are among the most eye-catching of the bunch, with a look that's somewhere between watercolor and finger painting. Otaro Maijo's charcoal illustrations for "Drill Hole in my Brain" are also striking, though they're done more in the style of promotional artwork than illustrations.
The shorter manga section obviously depends much more on the artwork, though even here it's to varying degrees from story to story. The first three stories are basically defined entirely by their artwork; they're very atmospheric pieces, with appearances that range from organic ("Tsukikusa") to CGI-heavy ("Maple Tree Viewing") to somewhere in-between ("Nikko Dance Party"). The remaining manga one-shot, "After School: 7th Class", uses a much more conventional -- and exclusively black-and-white -- artwork style; Yun Kouga's line art is, nevertheless, attractive throughout the story.
Andrew Cunningham and Paul Johnson have done an excellent job adapting the works in Faust to the English language: the writing reads very fluidly and avoids the unnatural "canned" feel that many light novel translations have been saddled with. Despite the fact that there are only two translators to the volume's many authors, each story features a unique tone that captures its distinct sensibilities. "Drill Hole in my Brain" is staccato and lewd, for example, while "The Garden of Sinners" applies a very matter-of-fact voice to the narrative.
All the stories are prefixed with editorial introductions discussing the authors' previous works and occasionally describing the general style of their bodies of work. Footnotes are peppered throughout the entire volume; most point out cultural notes while a few others discuss translation choices. These notes are extremely helpful in understanding "F-sensei's Pocket", which makes frequent references to Doraemon as fundamental parts of the story. They're less essential to the basic plot in other parts of the volume, but it's interesting nevertheless to get elaboration into way Cunningham and Johnson handle some of the more problematic puns.
The only grammatical or typographical error I noticed was a single glitch in the lettering for "After School".
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This volume's sprawling contents are spread across six short prose stories, four essays, and four one-shot manga stories that cover a wide range of subjects and styles. Because of the sheer volume of material here, it's not really practical for me to talk about all of these stories and essays in depth; but with that said, I'll try to pick out some of the book's high and low points.
Faust's selling point for most readers will probably be the excerpt chapters from NISIOISIN's much-anticipated xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC novel and Kinoku Nasu's The Garden of Sinners. (It's not much of a coincidence that both titles are also going to be released in their entirety by Faust publisher Del Rey.) Seeing as I haven't read the xxxHOLiC manga, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the ANOTHERHOLiC excerpt worked as a one-shot short story. The premise, involving a young woman who can't resist the temptation to sabotage her own life, is clever; the writing flows smoothly; and the ending is conclusive enough for the story to stand alone well outside the context of the whole novel.
The Garden of Sinners excerpt doesn't hold up as well, mainly because it dedicates too much time to meandering rather than developing the plot. There are some lofty ideas thrown around, like the psychological effect of extreme heights on human perception, but Nasu doesn't tie them into the main storyline well enough to justify how much time the characters spend discussing them. Without the rest of the novel to see where he's going with this, it's hard to tell whether these off-the-cuff rants actually go somewhere later on or whether they're just there to fill in space. Either way, the story ranks as one of only two segments in this volume that really fall flat. (The other is Ryusui Seiryoin's 2-page gag short "Yabai de Show". Despite translator Paul Johnson's best efforts, the dialogue really hinges too much on a single Japanese pun to work well in English.)
Apart from being the volume's stand-out story, Otaro Maijo's surreal "Drill Hole in My Brain" is Faust's best claim to its self-described "avant-garde" status. The editorial notes compare Maijo's style to William S. Burroughs, and it's a fitting comparison: "Drill Hole" is vulgar, sexually-charged, hallucinatory, and still wonderful to read -- in no small part due to Andrew Cunningham's literate translation. Other highlights in the prose section include Otsuichi's "F-sensei's Pocket", which presents a fun mixture of high-school melodrama with Doraemon; and "Yaya Sato's Counseling Session", where Sato advocates (with tongue firmly in cheek) that all problems can be solved by one-sentence catchphrases.
The manga section leads off with three gorgeously illustrated and colored short stories. These three stories are all between 4 to 8 pages long, heavy on atmosphere, and light on plot. They're really mood pieces rather than stories with traditional narratives; this isn't the sort of thing I've ever developed much of a taste for, though I do really like the artwork (and so I think readers with more appreciation for these kinds of works will probably enjoy them quite a bit).
Yun Kouga's and NISIOISIN's "After School: Seventh Class" is more up my alley, since it's written as a typical one-shot manga piece with a more involved storyline. The plot deals mainly with the psychological tension between a warden and his inmate, a prodigy of such profound genius that she fears she could design a weapon that would destroy the entire world. Like a couple of the prose shorts here (such as Kouhei Kadono's "Outlandos d'Amour"), I have mixed feeling about how open-ended "After School" turned out to be, especially since it's meant to be a self-contained work and not an excerpt; otherwise, it's got a solid narrative paired with appealing artwork.
When I first reviewed an advance copy of Faust several months ago, I was impressed by how entertaining and surprisingly accessible it was: it's the rare title that lived up to the pre-publication hype and then some. Rereading the same book in its final published form, my enthusiasm hasn't wavered since then. The quality, variety, and even sheer quantity of material in here is impressive. Nasu's and Seiryoin's misfires in the prose section are about the only things keeping me from giving Faust a perfect A+ grade for content; heck, "Drill Hole" and "F-sensei" alone are worth the price of admission.
I strongly recommend this release to readers who like the sound of a Japanese pop-culture anthology and/or are just generally a fan of light novels; even those who aren't so interested in the subject, or who are skeptical about the book's $16.95 price point or prose-heavy contents, should still consider giving it a look. And I can't wait for Volume 2.