The Illusion Group Subsidiary Companies’ Matchmaking Disaster – Breaking Soul of a Thousand Years, Part 2

Finishing up The Breaking Soul of a Thousand Years by Seba ( 蝴蝶 Seba 的《千年微塵》), the story continues with Junxin and Yinman staying with Huying for a few months before Yinman decides it’s time to go home.  But do they have a home?  Huying gives Junxing the key to a place to live that was somehow connected to Yinman for hundreds of years.

The manager of the place is unusually old, and the elevator is slow.  When they reach the 14th floor, Yinman is overcome with emotion at the sight of it.  Once they are there, she remembers Junxin as a child, growing up healthy and strong day by day.  She reflects on how quickly human children grow, how she has been able to raise a child from a different race and different nation, but she doesn’t remember beyond that one year.  She goes into their new home and requests a desk and her computer.

In the next scene, Junxin spends some time every day of their long summer vacation at the coffee shop, which is called the Illusion Café, which is Huying’s place.  Junxin is actually searching for Yulang to help him attain a cure, and Junxin may be the first human to become a disciple of a nine-tailed fox spirit!  Junxin and Huying talk with Manager Jiuniang, and Huying convinces her to help teach Junxin fairy magic, too.   They have their first lesson on the spot.

When he returns from his lesson, Yinman asks about it.  Junxin thinks of Shuiyao, whose connection to them is unclear at this point in the story, and he tells Yinman that he didn’t expect the training to be so difficult.  This magic includes boundary formation and has something to do with an aquarium.  Manager Jiuniang taught him some hand techniques and special spoken methods.  Yinman asks him to demonstrate some of them with a glass of water, but he’s skeptical since he didn’t master controlling the aquarium.  Yinman’s dust is somehow in the water.  They decide that Yinman should also study the techniques with him, and she asks that he show her everything.

The next day, Huying is astonished at the change in Junxin after his clumsy lesson the day before.  He feels a little uneasy with the idea of a human learning fairy magic and Taoist internal alchemy.  His brother Yulang, also a nine-tailed fox whom Junxin was seeking before, suddenly makes an appearance at the coffee shop.  Junxin meets with Yulang and likes his research, while Yulang likes Junxin and considers that Junxin would be his equal as a disciple, though perhaps Yulang won’t admit that to himself.

They have a lesson with swords, which leaves Junxin feeling like he’s been pummeled all over.  They also train with a spirit gun and discuss the difference between using something called heaven’s fire versus foxfire.  Junxin asks if Yulang will give him some foxfire, and Yulang counters with a question: what will he use it for, and does he dare try using it at all?  Junxin says he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t try it.  Yulang uses his fingertips of both hands to give Junxin foxfire, though Junxin expected Yulang to kiss him to transmit it to him. Here is the folkloric background on foxfire:

In chapter 3, “The Master Carries on the Nine-tailed Fox Sorcery Through His First Human Disciple,” Huying questions his brother about the wisdom of teaching Junxin some of their tricks, whetherhe intends to help Junxin or kill him, if it’s all just quackery.  Huying also knows Yinman is studying with Junxin and has great talent that she is unaware of.  They both realize Yinman is probably picking up her studies faster than Junxin.  Still, Huying is feeling uneasy.  It turns out that Junxin has been investigating the “meteor shower transformation” from a few years earlier while studying with the manager and knows that it does have something to do with Yinman’s shattered soul.

Chapter 4, “A Bloody Crime, An Innocent Multitude,” takes a much more fantastic turn and is the most interesting segment of the novel.  This time there are references to this story being set in Taiwan since it talks about summer there.  Huying is in the Illusion Café having a discussion with his kitchen staff about the cold weather and the need to get more fresh cream.  Huying sends Junxin out to get the cream, and Junxin runs into another female patron at the door named Linyin Zhu, a human woman who has recently married.

Some of the other fairies in the café observe her and tell Junxin they didn’t think she could possibly get married because they previously tried matchmaking for her.  They run the Illusion Matchmaking Company, and their efforts were to no avail since she had some sort of physical defect and had general bad luck due to the circumstances of her birth.  The rest of the segment gets into her history: her birth, her guardian, her school years, reasons why she hadn’t gotten married.  After the matchmaking company couldn’t help her, she started coming to the café because they are now her friends.  The matchmakers now marvel at the news she is married and think there’s something clearly abnormal about her.

Junxin leaves the café and walks home, taking in the city.  He sees Linyin in a flower shop and observes that she is beautiful in an average, human way, not like Yinman’s fairy-like beauty.  He sees nothing abnormal about her.  He witnesses her buy a flower and meet a man waiting for her.  They look like they are very much in love.

When he gets home, Yinman tells him someone came to the door and rang the bell, but she couldn’t see who it was.  They then joke about what happens when humans swallow the dust from the broken souls destroyed by the meteor shower.  Strangely, Linyin shows up at their place looking for a psychiatrist.  When she sees Yinman, she recognizes her, so Yinman asks him to let her in and wonders why she’s looking for a psychiatrist.  Linyin says she can’t sleep and has dreams of a meteor shower as well as other terrible nightmares of eating people.  They ask who she dreamed she was eating, and she said it was her sister, but she emphasizes again that this was a nightmare, not reality.

Linyin is in some kind of trance or stupor while she’s talking with them.  She keeps telling them not to look at her, unaware that she is growling like an animal.  Huge, beast-like claws burst out of her hands.  Junxin shatters them, leaving her hands bloody.  Yinman quickly uses the fairy magic to form  a barrier so Linyin’s attacks ricochet off of it, leaving the woman with a bleeding head injury.  Junxin calls up the spirit gun as Linyin throws up some of the dust.  She is terrified of the gun and jumps from their 14th floor balcony, but she transforms into a bat or something and escapes because of the dust!

Junxin is upset by this and decides to go see Huying, making Yinman first promise not to open the door again if anyone rings the bell.  Huying is at the Illusion Café where they are deep in discussion about the matchmaking company.  Junxin asks what Huying knows about Linying and the effect of Yinman’s dust on the human body, which causes a brief commentary on human genes and the Zhu family bloodline.  Huying thinks Linyin’s grandfather intermarried with the fairies and explains how that would affect his family line.  The head of the Zhu family retains some unusual abilities, something about a mandrill which is a sort of monkey, and it goes into the contrast between his two daughters, of which Linyin is the least favored.  There is some mention of this mandrill actually being a famous monster moshenzi, which is a legendary creature from Taiwan’s mountain villages (Chinese only):

The group finally concludes that this problem with Linyin has to do with Yinman’s dust, not her family’s physical deformation through this monster after reasoning out which influence would have been more powerful on Linyin.  The three fairies fall silent.  It’s not a simple matter.  Huying adds his opinion.  Junxin leaves the café, knowing he will sooner or later study controlling monster transformations.

In the next scene, we see Linyin back at home.  She wakes up but realizes she is still dreaming, can’t break free of the nightmare, and her hands are bloody.  She only wanted to see a psychiatrist.  Going into the bathroom to wash the blood off her hands and wash her face, she sees no wounds on her forehead or hands.  She only feels unusually hungry and goes to the kitchen.

Her servant already went home, but she eats a chicken thigh and throws it up.  One of her hands looks like a monkey paw with long claws.  She wonders if she’s crazy since she can’t wake up.  She eats a rose and is still hungry.  Going over to the aquarium fish, screaming about not admiring “her,” she can’t restrain herself from grabbing the fish out of it.  She is lying to herself, she realizes.  She does very much admire her sister.  So much.  Reflecting on all of the things her sister had that she does not, her happy home, her beauty, her cleverness and so much more, Linyin doesn’t think it’s fair.  She eats all the fish in the aquarium, begging for someone to save her.

Her husband appears and doesn’t recognize her at first because she looks like a monster.  He feels very pained because he loves her.  She imagines she hears her sister and says she ate her, asking again why she won’t wake up from this nightmare!

Junxin is wondering where Linyin went and hears a ghost screaming and banging on a window somewhere.  I thought this part was really confusing since I can’t clearly figure out where he is when he sees her.  Maybe he’s walking around and passed her building, which is described a little here.  He sees this demonic woman crying tears of blood and kneeling beside the body of a young man.  Junxin senses her plea for someone to save the man she loves.  Junxin might not be perceiving all of this normally since it talks about him searching for her and the man.  He finds her quickly, takes out his spirit gun and shoots flames into her.  It doesn’t kill her, and she is still so hungry.

In the end, they decide Linyin’s problems are somehow connected to a mouse spirit.  Huying tries to heal her, and ultimately Linyin spends a lot of time in a sanitorium recuperating.

Chapter 5, “You, My Most Beloved,” has Junxin return home to prepare Huying’s medicine for her, which is some concoction of the dust fragments that contain her lost years she can’t remember.  Because of this medicine, Yinman is starting to remember more years of her life.  She now can remember 4 years, though nothing significant.  She remembers living at a Taoist temple for 12 years as a hermit in a book depository reading and interacting with the depository’s curator.  Junxin asks if she wants to meet the curator again, but Yinman says her newly recovered memories aren’t of people.

A scene with the Illusion Café kitchen staff talking about their hair comes next, but after that Yinman is sitting on a plane with Junxin traveling to see the curator.  The curator, a woman, is now aged and full of emotion at meeting them.  Junxin is like her son, and he would come see her for summer vacation every year.  She knows the situation, just not how serious it is.  When they arrive, Yinman asks the curator if she recognizes her.  She says she does.

They are at a library, and the curator is dressed in black, sitting in the library’s historical archive room.  Yinman recognizes her from when she lived at the temple but can’t remember her name.  Right now the curator goes by the name Yinchen, though she uses another name later in the chapter.  Yinchen asks about how Yinman’s memory is coming along. Yinman remembers almost nothing else but has been waiting 50 years to see Yinchen again.  Why?  She tells Yinchen she loves her.

They later go out for a walk, and Yinchen talks with Junxin about Yinman’s situation regarding making her broken soul whole again.  She feels sorry for him for not realizing Yinman will then go with her fairy monster clan instead of staying with him.  After a few weeks, Junxin and Yinman return to the capital, though Yinchen promises to come visit them since they are like family.  She notes that she is now old and won’t live much longer.

I am mostly going to skip the next chapter, “The Illusion Private Investigating Firm,” since it mainly focuses on Huying with his kitchen help and a number of companies under the “Illusion Conglomerate,” which includes a private investigation firm and the matchmaking company which is not doing well due to a number of modern marriage trends.  Junxin signs a contract with this Illusion Business Group, so he and Yinman have now become employees of the Illusion Private Investigating Firm.  Meanwhile, Huying talks to him about the time he fell in love with a human woman named Huo’er (“Fire”).  I think he changed into an immortal through asceticism, and he had already been a fox spirit for awhile by the time he got involved with her.

The last chapter I’m going to cover in this series since I’m running out of time and this post is already very long will be chapter 7, “Day of Fury.”  The first scene starts with a loud booming noise.  Junixin blew a hole in the roof of his new house where he and Yinman now live in an abandoned mountain village.  While Yinman is becoming more and more monster-like in her manner and is throwing up dust, Junxin is studying how to use a foxfire-forged flying sword, which is difficult to handle, which is how he has made the hole in the roof.  Yinman thinks he needs to get someone to fix it, but Junxin says he will take care of it.  The story then gets briefly into a village legend about  a girl who fought in an angelic war, moves on to talk more about the private investigation firm, and then wraps up with Huying arriving to assess the hole.  Still, Junxin is very impressed by how profound fairy magic and the Taoist arts are.  He wonders if he should go deeper into the mountains to use the foxfire sword after the roof incident.

The remaining chapters are titled “A Heavenly Summons,” “The Heavenly Grandson Suddenly Appears,” “A Meandering Route Without End.”  It seems from what I see of the chapter subheadings that some supernatural things start happening to Junxin throughout the rest of the novel.  I’ll end it there so we can stay on schedule and finish out the year on time.  I have lots of great stuff planned for 2018.

Part two of a two part series.

Next time: we close out 2017 with a bang looking at Ryukishi Zeronana’s noir horror mystery Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni: The Time Wasting Chapter!

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Disintegration on the Night of the Meteor Shower – Breaking Soul of a Thousand Years, Part 1

Today’s new series will cover the Chinese language novel whose title translated into English on the cover is “The Breaking Soul of a Thousand Years,” which is 蝴蝶 Seba 的《千年微塵》.  The title translates literally to something like “The Thousand Year Speck of Dust,” however, and the author’s Chinese portion of her name is the word for butterfly.  I was looking for author Seba Hudie’s blog, since it is printed in the cover, but it now just takes me to a Yahoo Taiwan page.  I did find a few newer blogs for this author, and here are the links for readers interested in perusing them:

The book was printed 2007 and runs 222 pages.  I’ll have to check to see if it is part of a longer series, though I think it probably is, and here is the link to the book, though it is currently out of print and unavailable from the publisher:

It has always seemed to me that East Asian publishers tend to take books and videos out of print more quickly than we do in the West, so I’m not entirely surprised to hear this.  The cover art is quite beautiful and very western in its inspiration.


The Book’s Cover Art

The novel has a prologue and ten chapters. The prologue describes a ten minute meteor shower in the capital city on a cloudless, moonless night.  The whole city loses power during the event.  The shower affects two groups of observers differently: humans are fascinated by the shower, but demon spirits disintegrate into dust and return to their homeland.  But the city is also the scene of a bloody, cruel battle.   The rest of this short chapter introduces the reader to a few characters, such as the fierce female manager overseeing the city during the battle, Mai Qiaoqiaoyin, and Shuiyao.  Like her name Qiaoqiaoyin (quietly lurking) implies, Mai is trying to avoid attracting the attention of the manager. The so-called “meteor shower transformation” had strongly affected the city even a half a month later.  She, I guess the manager, doesn’t know how to handle the situation.

So we are then introduced to Shuiyao, whose name has a connection to ancient Chinese astronomy that is still preserved in the modern names for Wednesday in both Japanese and Korean’s kanji form  (水曜日, すいようび or  수요일).  Shuiyao in Chinese by itself can be translated as illuminated water.  This is a rather beautiful image given that this character is a soul shard, shattered by the meteor shower, who asks the city manager for permission to lead the other shards.  The soul shards are imprisoned in sparkling crystal vases of some sort but carry a sense of noble if sinister grief.  It’s a peculiar sort of character to create and a strange image to try to grasp.  Reading fantasy in a foreign language is kind of special anyway, since words may not have their conventional meaning, which students are already struggling with to begin with, but so far it seems the English title printed on the book is a pretty literal description of the story.  Conceptually, it’s pretty far out.

Chapter 1 is titled “Spring Rain Like Tears in the Capital City,” and it shifts to a completely different set of characters.  The plum rain season this year is particularly long, and a male character named Huying (fox shadow) is watching a storm through the window, listening to the sound of the rain in the otherwise quiet city.  Someone dressed in black rain gear silently enters the gate.  There was also a mention of a female character Huhuo (foxfire), but I don’t know who that is yet.  Huying watches the humans outside with fascination, and two people catch his attention because they carry some of the demon quality particularly strongly since humanity is related to the demonic spirits in some complicated way.  They enter through the glass door as Huying rises to greet them.

The two who arrive are acquaintances Junxin and Yinman.  Uncle Huying, as they call the fox fairy, has lived 1,000 years, but Junxin is only 25 though he looks to be about 70 or 80, while Yinman is only ten years old.  Junxin starts crying as he asks Huying to help them.  He doesn’t want to bring any trouble to Huying, but he doesn’t know what else to do.  He needs Huying’s demon fairy methods to help Yinman, even though Junxin doesn’t really like fox fairies.  Yinman’s soul has been broken, though Junxin was able to collect the shards.  Huying says he heard about this event with the dust particles, and Junxin wonders why it happened in the capital.  They discuss this shattering further, noting that fox fairies don’t have a form of reincarnation though humans do.  Yinman, however, is thought to have a higher path related to neither.

Junxin blames himself for harming Yinman and asks Huying where they can buy some joss paper.  Joss paper incidentally is the paper items burned to honor ancestors or the deceased at funerals in Chinese communities, and it can include elaborate paper mache models:

Huying offers to take him out in the demon taxi to find some.  Yinman is asleep, but they leave with Huying holding tightly to the sleeping girl.  The driver Lao Hu sees the girl and seems leery about them leaving, asking if everything is alright and trying to be quiet.  They discuss going to the sun people, which the driver doesn’t recommend, and he mentions the kirin (Chinese unicorn) is always telling him to do good deeds, so he won’t take their fare.  After they get in, Huying ponders whether Junxin is really human.

In the next scene, Junxin and Yinman are staying at Huying’s coffee shop.  Yinman wakes from her deep sleep and asks who he is.  He tells her, realizing she has lost her memory again and only remembers one year of her life and a particular young woman.  Huying talks with them about their difficulties and how Junxin is just happy Yinman is alive in spite of them.  Tears start running down her face.  Huying gives her medicine, and she falls back asleep.

Junxin agonizes over whether she is angry at him and if he did the right thing by collecting her soul shards, which seem to be spiritually connected to her memory.  Huying said she isn’t angry at him and asks what he plans to do with the shards.  In a curious passage, Huying also rebukes Junxin for lamenting Yinman’s suffering, stating that Junxin needs to watch his tone and remember that Yinman is the great monster fox leader in the war whose depth of suffering he can’t really understand!

At the start of chapter 2, “Going Home,” Yinman wakes up and asks Huying where Junxin is.  Huying sent Junxin to class to learn a form of kungfu from Huying’s brother Yulang,  whom she met but doesn’t remember.  Yulang is also obviously a fox fairy.  For some reason, Yinman notes that Junxin’s body smells bloody and fleshy, which perhaps underscores her true identity as somehow related to the foxes as well.  Huying tells her not to worry about having lost her memory but to think of it as a disability, like humans who can’t use their hands or feet to write do.  They adapt by using their mouths to write.  Yinman tells him he’s a good doctor, and the scene ends.

We’ll find out what her amnesia means next time as I finish up the book, which is pretty light reading for the most part.

Part one of a two part series.


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A White Soul Hangs, A Mirror In the Sky, Reflected Whole in the Mountain Stream – Journey to the West, Part 5

As I cover volume 5 of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West in my bilingual Chinese-English edition, the story arc that began in the last chapter of the last volume had Sanzang and his disciples cleaning up the putrid lane of rotting persimmons has apparently ended as they move on to the western kingdom of Purpuria.  The group comes across a proclamation asking for help for the sick king that ends up magically in Pig’s hands through Monkey’s trickery, so he is forced by the bystanders, who are court eunuchs, to come to the palace and try to help.  They end up under the wrong impression that Monkey is a great doctor, which Sanzang tries to disabuse them of when they arrive at the palace.  Sanzang confronts him later about this latest ruse.

Monkey then entered the throne hall, where the Tang Priest met him with abuse: “Wretched ape!  You will be the death of me!” “My good master,” Monkey replied with a smile, “I’m bringing you credit. How can you say I’ll be the death of you?”  “In all the years you’ve been with me,” Sanzang shouted, “I have never seen you cure a single person.  You know nothing about the nature of drugs, and you’ve never studied medical books.  How can you be so reckless and bring this disaster on us?” “You don’t realize, Master,” said Monkey with a smile, “that I do know an odd herbal remedy and can treat serious illnesses.  I guarantee I can cure him.  Even if the treatment kills him I’ll only be guilty of manslaughter through medical incompetence.  That’s not a capital offense. What are you afraid of?  There’s nothing to worry about, nothing.  You sit here and see what my pulse diagnosis is like.”  (JTTW, pp.2263-5)

Monkey is taken to the king to check his pulse.  When he comes up with his wild diagnosis, he returns to Pig and Friar Sand to figure out the prescription, and the two help him prepare it overnight as Monkey explains the rationale behind each of the ingredients.  He wraps up the recipe with the urine of their horse, also known as the dragon prince of the Western Ocean, which has magical effects.  Pig and Friar Sand are horrified by the suggestion, though ultimately it does cure the king.  At the celebration banquet, they discuss the reason for the king’s melancholy, which is what Monkey had discovered during the diagnosis, and the king admits that his Golden Queen had been abducted by an evil spirit from the palace three years earlier.  His men take Monkey and his companions to the place beyond the royal gardens where the fiend has constructed an underground palace and holds the Golden Queen captive.

The disciples try to attack the evil spirit, but then they have to resort to trickery as usual when a direct confrontation doesn’t work.  At first, Monkey sneaks in to see the Golden Queen herself, they ultimately come up with a plan where Monkey will change into the double of one of her attendants to try to fool the evil spirit and subdue him.

The queen did as he told her. “Spring Beauty, where are you?” she called, and a fox with a beautiful face came in round the screen, knelt down and said, “What orders did Your Majesty call me to receive?” “Tell them to come in and light the silk lanterns, burn some musk, and help me into the front room,” the queen said.  “Then I shall ask His Majesty to bed.”  Spring Beauty went to the front and called seven or eight deer and fox spirits who lined up on either side of her.  They carried two pairs of lanterns and one pair of portable incense-burners.  By the time the queen bowed to them with their hands together the Great Sage had already flown off.  Spreading his wings, the splendid Monkey flew straight to the top of Spring Beauty’s head, where he pulled out one of his hairs, blew a magic breath on it, and called, “Change!”  It turned into a sleep insect that landed lightly on Spring Beauty’s face. (JTTW, p. 2339)

After a lot of surprising revelations and more crude humor, this story arc ends in chapter 71, and a very short arc appears in chapters 72 and 73.  Sanzang and his disciples have to go begging for food, and Sanzang stops at a cottage where a large group of women are embroidering.  Unbeknownst to him, their cooks prepared them human flesh instead of vegetarian food, though Sanzang turns his nose up right away and tries to get away.  They keep badgering him and quickly hold him prisoner, tying him up with a rope.  Meanwhile, the disciples wonder where he disappeared to and prepare to rescue him.

When the disciples come across the women bathing, Pig jumps in with them and gets them to admit to holding him captive after scaring them a bit and introducing himself as Sanzang’s disciple.   They they escape him and return home, then they send their adopted children out to fight the Tang priest’s disciples.  After a raging battle, the disciples save Sanzang and take off with him.

The companions end up at a Taoist temple which is led by a Taoist priest who happens to be the spiritual master of the seven women who captured Sanzang.  When he goes back to the privacy of his quarters, the women come to report on Sanzang and the disciples and ask for him to avenge them for the indignity of Pig’s swim with them.  The Taoist is outraged and plans on poisoning them.  Monkey is immediately suspicious of the tea when they are served their meal and asks to exchange his with the Taoist’s.  When he refuses, Monkey holds back, but the other three drink and quickly start to change color and foam at the mouth, fainting.    This begins Monkey’s battle with the Taoist and his seven beautiful disciples.

After they escape the Yellow Flower Temple and the demonic women, a few months pass, and the next story arc begins in chapter 74.  They reach a high mountain that they are uncertain how to cross and encounter a strange old man there.

His white hair was tangled and flying in the wind while his sparse whiskers were being blown about like silver threads.  He wore a string of prayer-beads round his neck and held a dragon-headed walkingstick as he stood far away at the top of the slope shouting, “Venerable gentlemen traveling west, stop your worthy steed.  Rein in.  There is a band of demons on this mountain who have eaten all the people in the continent of Jambu.  Go no further!”  At this Sanzang turned pale with terror, and because the horse was not standing steadily and he himself was not well seated in the carved saddle he crashed to the ground and lay in the grass, moaning but unable to move. (JTTW, p. 2447)

Monkey changes into a more approachable-looking monk and goes to have a talk with this old man about his warning and details on the demons.  Eventually, the old man also meets Pig and explains that there are almost 50,000 demons on the mountain who eat people and have stupendous magic powers.  He runs back to Sanzang in terror to relay the report.   Monkey is less concerned, however.

“Don’t worry, Master,” said Monkey.  “It can’t be anything much.  There are bound to be a few evil spirits here.  It’s just that the people here are such cowards that they exaggerate about how many demons there are and how powerful they are.  They get themselves in a funk.  I can cope.” (JTTW, p.2457)

When the old man disappears, they wonder if he himself might have been an evil spirit who had come to scare them.  Monkey, however, discovers the old man was really the god known as the Great White Planet, and he repeats his warning in all seriousness, so Monkey explores the mountain to see exactly how dangerous it might be.  Again, he suspects the Great White Planet of fooling with him, but he does find a demon boy and questions him to get details of the demon mountain patrols.

Monkey learns that this country is called Leonia, and the king was eaten by the demons from Lion Cave on Lion Mountain.  They know about Sanzang’s special abilities and have the idea to eat him, and he tells Monkey this plan not knowing who he actually was.  Monkey finally determines that the Great White Planet was not exaggerating at all about the numbers of demons or their power. Monkey then infiltrates the cave and talks with the demons, but they seize and strip him, seeing through his disguise.

The third demon chief knocked Monkey over and tied his hands and feet together.  When his clothes were stripped off he was most evidently the Protector of the Horses.  Now of the seventy-two transformations that Monkey could perform, when he turned himself into a bird, a beast, a plant, a tree, a vessel or an insect he changed his whole body.  When he turned into another person, however, he could only change his head and face but not his body, and indeed he was still covered with brown hair and had red thighs and a tail. (JTTTW, p. 2483)

The demons have a jar called the Male and Female Vital Principles Jar which can liquefy Monkey, and they immediately stuff him in there once they discover his true identity.  Monkey has to fight off the liquefying magic and escape, though it’s not as easy as Monkey had hoped.  When he does finally escape, he returns to Sanzang and explains this particular trial was one he couldn’t best.  Pig decides to go back to the demons’ cave with Monkey to try to defeat them.  The battle rages for few chapters with the usual complications while the demons plan to trick Sanzang who is waiting elsewhere with Friar Sand for Monkey and Pig to return.  The story arc ends in chapter 77 when Monkey has to visit the Tathagata Buddha for help in defeating their enemies since it just so happens the demons are animals that belong to the Buddha’s aides.

The next story arc begins in chapter 78 and swiftly ends in chapter 79.  This time it is winter, and Sanzang and his disciples come across another walled and moated city in a country called Bhiksuland, also known as Boytown.  The country’s name changed due to the change in the leader from King Bhisku to a boy king.  Monkey uses his magic to create a disguise as he goes to look around the place and is confounded to discover everyone who lived there was a boy.  There were no girls in the city.  Each house has a basketwork goose coop by the entrance that also mystifies Sanzang as to their purpose.  Monkey sees little boys playing and sleeping in these coops.

When they come across a government building, they go meet the city elder to find out more about the country.  However, the government official advises him to put the strange things they saw in the city out of his mind, telling him everything in the country is normal.  However, Sanzang’s persistence yields a few details.

“The goose coops you asked about are there because our king is a bad ruler….Three years ago an old man dressed as a Taoist came here with a girl just fifteen years old.  She was a ravishing beauty, just like a Bodhisattva Guanyin.  He presented her to our present king, who was so smitten by her charms that she became the favorite of all his women.  She was given the title Queen Beauty.  For some time now he’s had no eyes for any of his other queens or consorts….He might die at any moment.  The Royal College of Physicians has tried every possible medicine without success.  The Taoist who present the girl to the king was rewarded with the title of Elder of the Nation.  He has a secret foreign formula for making people live a great deal longer….The only problem is that it needs a terrible adjuvant to help it – a potion made from the hearts of 1,111 little boys.  When he’s taken it he’ll have a thousand years of vigorous life ahead of him.  All the little boys being kept in the coops are the ones that have been chosen.  Their parents are so afraid of the king that none of them dares weep.  That’s why they’ve put out the story that this place is now called Boytown.  When you go to the palace tomorrow morning, reverend sir, you must only present your passport to be inspected and returned.  Say nothing about any of this.” (JTTW, p. 2593)

Sanzang is moved to tears over this story and gets angry when Pig just wants to go to sleep instead of stay awake and upset about the situation.  Monkey also tries to calm Sanzang by promising to take care of the situation himself in the morning, whatever it might require to make right.  He promises to get the little boys imprisoned in the coops out of the city before morning when they are to be killed for the elixir.

The next day, the go to have an audience with the king to present their passport to gain safe passage.  The king, however, is in a state of great physical weakness, and they are interrupted by the arrival of the old Taoist.  The meeting ends up with Sanzang and the Taoist arguing their over competing theologies and the value of going west to get the sutras.  News arrives at the palace after Sanzang departs that the coops with the little boys have all disappeared.   The Taoist, however, is unperturbed about this development and notes that Sanzang’s body parts are far more beneficial than the little boys, so they can be used in the elixir as a substitute.  They plot to lure him back to the palace to take what they need from him.

Monkey overhears all of this and returnss immediately to Sanzang.  They decide to switch places and have Monkey magically impersonate Sanzang so he can thwart their plot.  Being an almost immortal being, Monkey challenges the king’s men to cut out his heart, and when they do a whole pile of hearts come out, which they examine the colors of in search of his promised black heart.   When they can’t find a black heart, Monkey reveals his true self and accuses the Taoist of deception.  They begin to fight to settle the matter and save the little boys of the kingdom.

The next story arc begins in chapter 80, and it’s the last story in this volume.  This time, Sanzang and his disciples travel for six month and end up at another mountain beyond fields of wildflowers.  A path leads them easily up the mountain to a dark pine forest that is deeper than any they’ve seen before.  They enter and can’t easily find a way out.  Monkey goes begging for food and sees an ominous black vapour that can only mean trouble.

Meanwhile, Sanzang hears someone crying for help.  Going to investigate, he finds a woman tied to a tree.  It’s an evil spirit, but it presents a sorry story about her family and mountain brigands, which brings Sanzang to tears.  Monkey arrives just in time to see that the woman is an evil spirit and stop them from freeing her.  This sets off a quarrel between Sanzang and Monkey about the meaning of conscience and being charitable.  Finally, Sanzang goes back to rescue her against Monkey’s advice.  When Sanzang returns with her, Monkey also warns him that they could be arrested for lewdness since the woman is so beautiful, but Sanzang is more worried about her starving to death.

Finally, they come to a ruined temple, though they find a lay brother hanging around and talk with him.  It turns out the back half of the temple is intact, which makes Sanzang wonder.  The lay brother takes him to meet the lama.  More brothers come out to meet them, noticing the girl among their party, and the group prepares a vegetarian meal.  Sanzang tries to get some information about the road ahead while the brothers wonder where the girl should sleep since it was unseemly for her to stay too close to them.

When they wake the next morning, Sanzang is ill, and they delay their journey by a few days.  During their stay, it is revealed that something is mysteriously killing off the monks, and Monkey offers to take care of the monster that is responsible.  At one point, a beautiful woman comes to try to seduce Monkey, and he discovers her true identity as a mouse-spirit, the girl they had saved in the forest.  They fight, but she escapes after a magical transformation to go after Sanzang, Monkey on her trail.   With Sanzang abducted, the disciples are forced to scour the mountain in search of him.  When they finally discover his whereabouts, the battle is on.

Next month, I’ll wrap up this year’s series on this novel as I cover the last volume, and we’ll finally see them reach their destination in the west.

Part five of a six part series.

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Speaking Engagement Announcement

The 2017 Sangawa Project will be held in Greentree, PA December 8th-10th, 2017, and I will be speaking on two topics at this year’s event: “Anime’s Creepy Little Girls” and “Exploring Sanrio’s Wild Side: The My Melody Franchise.”  Event details can be found here:

As usual, the time schedule will come out later.  Hope to see you there!


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The End of the War and Flight to Safety – Year of Impossible Goodbyes, Part 2

This time I’m going to finish the young adult Korean novel The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sukryeol Choi (최 숙렬의 “떠나보낼 수 없는 세월”).  Chapter 4 picks up with Officer Narita harassing the women and the author’s mother at the sock factory because production wasn’t good that week.  The women are in tears, and the author’s mother talks with Okja, Tiger and Hyewon about the problem.   The factory machines, such as the knitting machine, are shut down, and the engineer oils them.   Inchun and the author bundle the finished socks together.  Her mother waits for Officer Narita to return with a change of heart, but he doesn’t show up.

This chapter spans a few days at the factory, though the author sits in her grandfather’s quarters some of the time, too, wondering if grandfather’s Buddha or her mother’s Christian God would help them.   At one point, Officer Narita returns to their main gate, startling everyone.    He loads the weeping factory women into the truck, telling the author’s mother that the children were too young to come along.  He wants them to go pay respects to the Japanese emperor.  The children, her mother, Tiger and the engineer stay behind and pray in candlelit room.   She asks her mother if the factory women will be coming back.

The next chapter begins early in the morning when one of Officer Narita’s subordinates comes to visit the author’s mother with a notice.  She reads over the papers in a daze.   This is the order that Inchun and the author will have to start going to a Japanese school.  Her mother makes them lunches the next day.  Tiger will be taking them, and her mother prepares them with the appropriate Japanese responses; the author hates going, wearing school uniforms and having to speak Japanese.  Tiger tells them that their teacher will be Officer Narita’s wife.

When they arrive at school, the boys are lined up on one side of the playground, the girls on the other.  The author befriends another girl named Eunhui, and they are forced to sing a song the author hates, which I think is the Japanese national anthem.  Mrs. Narita and the school’s Headmaster Watanabe take them to a ceremony honoring the Japanese Emperor, where they ask them to pray for the holy Japanese army’s victory and the “savages’”defeat, I guess meaning the Allies.  The children also are called Japanese names in class.

The chapter goes on to describe one of the lessons in class and explains how life in general gets harder for the author and her family. What is interesting linguistically here is the way some of the Japanese used at school is transliterated into hangul with a Korean translation in parenthesis here and there.

Chapter 6 marks the announcement that the war is over.  It is August 15th, 1945, not long after a typhoon, and factory engineer comes to tell the author’s family that the Japanese have been defeated.  They rejoice over liberation, knowing that the author’s father and the men from the factory will now be returning home, though the bishop won’t let the women leave the convent because it is too dangerous, perhaps because of the political turmoil that will necessarily result from this change in leadership.  Teresa has been praying for the men’s quick return home.

They all are impatient for the return of various people.  The author’s mother is waiting for their father and three brothers to return. Aunt Tiger is waiting for news on her husband.  The factory engineer is waiting for news on the factory ladies whom the authorities took away in the previous chapter.  Eventually, word comes to Eunhui’s family that her father died.  Then the factory engineer hears that the factory ladies were sent to Siberia where Russian soldiers are raiding villages.  They discuss the proximity of the Soviet border and the location of American forces.  One day two Soviet soldiers come to their garden and look around the house.

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In chapter 7, Soviet troops fill the streets of Kirimri.  They stop by the author’s neighborhood and bring the idea that the Koreans are their brothers.  One neighbor, Mrs. Kim, sits with a tall blonde haired, blue eyed Soviet woman named Natasha and says this idea means they are all equal.  While the author’s mother wants to wait for her father and brothers, they are aware that the Americans and Soviets plan on dividing the country at the 38th parallel to occupy the country.  They must prepare to leave for the south in spite of wanting to wait for the rest of the family to join them.  However, they have a singing party with Natasha and Mrs. Kim later.

The next chapter begins on a chilly October night with the downtown blanketed with fog.  They are waiting for the engineer to return.  When he arrives, he has news about the rest of the author’s family.  Her three older brothers are safe and have taken a truck to the south.  Her father  sent them on a rescue mission.  Her mother wonders if she can pack up and prepare to leave, but he tells her she shouldn’t, that the truck won’t have room for anything she packs. Tiger is pleased to hear that her sister has received good news about her husband but is anxiously awaiting word of her own husband daily.  The story then develops into a discussion of capitalism and communism.

When the factory engineer brings them word of the author’s father’s address in Seoul, they discuss their options.  Aunt Tiger won’t leave without word from her own husband, and there is concern about crossing to the south in general.  Uncertain if they should go, they consider sending the children to the south first.  Finally, the author and her brother Inchun go with their mother to a train station where a guide helps them get on a crowded train.  It’s hard to find a place to sit, and the children are hungry.   This train ride begins their flight from northern Korea, which lasts through the next two chapters to the story’s conclusion.

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I’m not going to get into the details since the book is available in English translation.  I’ll just note that the story ends without any strong resolution. One of the last scenes show the two children talking to a soldier about their plans to go to South Korea, but we don’t see them arrive there.  The book closes with an author afterword and two maps.  Overall, it’s a slice of life look at a Korean family torn apart by international politics that gives some insight into a lesser known time in Korean history.

Part two of a two part series.

Next time: we return to China with a sci fi novel, Seba’s The Breaking Soul of a Thousand Years




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2017 Fall Announcements!

I’m a little behind on making my announcements ever since the film festival last month and the last minute Greensburg Anime Festival went forward under difficult circumstances, but I do have some news to share.  This week on Tuesday, October 17th at 7PM, I will be presenting “Noir East and West” at the Monroeville Library in Monroeville, PA, which is one of my usual places.

Looking further down the road, I’ll be at the Sangawa Project in Greentree again in December, and more details will be forthcoming on that schedule in the next month.  In January, I will be speaking at Parsec on January 13th, 2018 at 1:30PM at the Squirrel Hill Library on “East Asian Archaeoastronomy.”  Details on Parsec can be found here:

I recently rolled out my North Korea online class for anyone interested and still am hoping to get my Korean War class ready to go by year’s end.  That will make it six classes on Korean language and history that I have prepped and available for private students to sign up for.  Details can be found here:

I also have plans to publish another interview with a prominent translator on my other afilliate blog, The Sun Rises in the East, around the holidays or new year, so be on the lookout for that.  I will try to keep this blog on target so I can start the new year with my fresh schedule, so I plan on doing a book a month in my cycle and not including December in the Literati Corner like it normally is.  I got a bit behind preparing my courses this year, and that threw me off schedule more than usual.




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Memories of Grandfather and the Garden Pine Tree – Year of Impossible Goodbyes, Part 1

The next book I’m going to look at is The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sukryeol Choi (최 숙렬의 떠나보낼 수 없는 세월), which I believe has also been translated into English under that title.  The literal translation would be something like The Time When You Can’t Let Go, so the official title is a pretty close approximation of the meaning.  Of course, I’m reading the Korean language original since that serves the purposes of this blog better.  This book was originally written in 1991, and it is 253 pages long.  It looks to be a young adult novel based on her own family history fleeing what later became North Korea.  You can get a copy here in Korean (I think they also sell the English translation somewhere at this site, too):

The book is split into ten chapters with numbered titles only and has some front and back matter, too, along with some really nice black and white illustrations.  In the preface for Korean readers, the author notes that her American students in a class she taught twenty years ago asked about her life in Korea.  However, she had fearsome memories of barbed wire that made it too painful to discuss.  Although her students demanded she write about her life, she only started writing this book after her husband died suddenly.

Chapter 1 begins in the spring of 1945 in a garden with an old pine tree.  We are introduced to the author’s grandfather and a mention of the sound of gunshots and the Japanese in Pyongyang’s Kirimri district.  The inhabitants of this area have a fiercely cold winter in their hearts in spite of spring’s coming because of Japanese oppression.  At this point in Korean history, Japanese colonialism was only about four months away from ending.  The Japanese would surrender to the Allies in August of that year, effectively ending their rule in Korea.

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The author explains her brothers’ names all include the character for “spring” using the Chinese pronunciation in Korean for the word – like Japanese, Korean has a parallel system to pronounce hanja: the hun (訓) pronunciation that is a native Korean word, and the eum (音) pronunciation that is borrowed from Chinese.  She has three older brothers, Hanchun, Jaechun, Hyeonchun, and a younger brother, Inchun.  She describes all of the different types of spring they are named after.

The men’s quarters of their house looks out onto the walled garden.  The author’s grandfather invites her to go sit under the pine tree and meditate with him, but her mother wonders why he wants to all of the sudden since it’s cold out.   Her grandfather says his idea to go out into the garden isn’t something sudden, he has been thinking about it awhile, and today the Japanese soldiers can’t lock him in. Then he goes out to sit under the pine tree as planned.

The next few pages describe the tranquil scene with her grandfather sitting under the tree in the sunlight-filled garden.  The author watches him as he conducts his Zen meditation there.  She eventually goes out to sit beside him under the tree.  The village ladies call her grandfather “the patriot grandfather” or “the scholar grandfather.” He wrote letters and poetry in Chinese characters, which the author studied with him.  He also owns very old Chinese classical books.  Her mother works in a sock factory that is apparently in a wooden building near their home, and she would send word to her grandfather if the Japanese police were coming around since it was illegal for them to study hangul and Chinese characters.  When the author was eleven, she was forced to go to Japanese school.  Her family was waiting for the war to end so they could stop sending her there.

While the author and her grandfather are in the garden meditating, the head of the Japanese police named Narita enters the garden since the door is open.  His manner is cold and arrogant.  He asks why they haven’t yet gone to pay their respects at the Shinto shrine.  Her mother answers him in Japanese and promises they will go immediately.   One of the factory younger women Hyewon comes by every day to talk with the family early and is there shortly after the soldier.  Hyewon and the author’s mother discuss the Japanese and their odd belief that their emperor is a god.  They are interrupted by an older woman named Tiger who talks about how the war will be over soon and the Japanese removed.  A younger woman named Okja arrives and sits down with them.

When the bell rings at the factory, the author goes with the women to work, feeling a bit of resentment toward her younger brother for the time he gets to spend with their grandfather.  The women at the factory tell her stories, and the factory engineer is the only male among the workers.  The engineer is rather young and handsome, while the author’s mother is considered one of the village beauties.  He acts as a father figure for their household since their father is absent.

This chapter is a mix of nostalgia for the past and a portrait of the tight-knit village community with acknowledgement of the oppressive tendencies of the Japanese colonial soldiers, who trample her grandfather’s flower garden.  The author spends her time reading her grandfather’s traditional Chinese books while her younger brother studies his mother’s fairy tale books.  At one point, the author and her mother contemplate her grandmother’s silver hairpin, and the chapter ends with them anticipating the end of the war.

Chapter 2 skips ahead to June when the author goes with Tiger and her mother to a convent where her sister Teresa lives.  Teresa was the firstborn among the children of their household, and she became a nun when when the author was very young.  The author is eager to meet with her and the other sisters at the convent, which is a little dangerous since the Japanese police issue very harsh punishments regarding participation in their Shinto rites.  The women ask the prioress to pray for the defeat of the Japanese in the war.

Back home, the author and her family have a small birthday party for Hyewon.  The first half of this chapter paints a warm portrait of the family living day to day.   Then Officer Narita intrudes on this domestic scene by stopping off on his patrol with his men during dinner.  After disrupting the birthday party, Narita sends two Korean collaborators to the house the next morning to chop down their favorite pine tree.  The chapter ends with a scene of the author sitting in the garden by the pine tree stump with her younger brother Inchun.

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In chapter 3, the story continues the next morning  when the children go with their mother and Tiger to see their grandfather, who is sick and has taken to his bed.  He hasn’t gone out to the garden to meditate and looks gaunt and pale.  When they go to his room, he tells their mother to take out his box of old photos to teach the children about the past.  They look at black and white photos showing how he was a scholar decades before and studied in China.  They also learn that when the Japanese took over that he was forced to cut off his topknot.

In other photos, the children learn that their grandfather was part of the independence movement in Manchuria, which was where their parents married.  The family produced a newspaper in Hangul there.  Her mother and father were also photographed with a number of people dressed in Chinese clothes.  Her mother points out a Chinese friend named Ling who taught her Chinese.  Other photos show their first four children born in China, including Teresa and the family’s three older brothers, Maryknoll priests and going caroling.  Some of the children were baptized there.  They had to leave China when the war started, though they didn’t really want to.  Here is a short history of the Maryknoll order’s activities in the Far East:

Specifically, the author’s parents and grandfather left Manchuria after the Japanese burned their house down.

Her grandfather remains bedridden through the end of the chapter due to some problem with his legs.  Everyone is angry and crying, particularly at the Japanese soldiers and Officer Narita, and the old pine tree stump becomes a focal point.  As the story creeps toward the war’s end, we’ll see how their family’s fortunes change.

Part one of a two part series.

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Even the Vegetable Spirits Had Taken Him Along For a Night of Elegant Conversation – Journey to the West, Part 4

In this post, I will cover volume 4 out of 6 of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West in my bilingual Chinese-English edition, which includes chapters 51 through 67, translated by W.J.F. Jenner.  Before I get back to the story, I have a page scan of the text for people who haven’t ever used a bilingual edition of any foreign language book to see how it is laid out, at least in this edition.

JTTW Page Scan

Page Scan of Bilingual Edition from Hunan People’s Publishing House

Some bilingual editions have them side to side like this so you can do a text comparison, while others have whole chapters presented first in one language, then in the other language directly behind it, alternating between languages.  That’s what I’ve seen for Chinese bilingual texts.  Some popular dead languages also present them as interlinear texts, with the original language in the top line and the translation in English in the line directly under it, usually out of grammatical order.  It’s not a bad way to study languages, and it can be quite helpful for people who want exposure to the original text in another language without being overwhelmed by it if their skill level in reading is still low.  This text, of course, is in simplified Chinese since it was published in mainland China.

We pick up in the middle of the story that ended volume 3, but I’m going to skip that to get to the next, really interesting story arc in chapter 53.  This story arc ends with Monkey going to Heaven to get reinforcements to free Sanzang from yet another group of demons, and this time he is also summoned to a brief audience with the Buddha.

The next story arc that starts in chapter 53 is their spring journey.  I don’t think I pointed out before that the pace of the story seems artificially frenetic because it covers the conflicts during their journey.  Between each segment, the author describes in a few short sentences how much time has passed uneventfully.

It starts off with the party accepting a ride across a clear river by an old ferrywoman.  She offers them a drink, which Sanzang and Pig take her up on, but they develop stomach aches by the time they reach the shore, and their stomachs are swelling.  They stop at a cottage where another old woman clues them in to their predicament:

“This is Womanland of Western Liang.  All of us in this country are female, and there isn’t a man among us, which is why we were so pleased to see you.  It’s terrible that the reverend father has drunk from that river, which is called the Motherhood River.  There is a Male-welcoming Post Station outside our capital with a Pregnancy-revealing Spring.  In this country we only dare to drink of the river’s water when we reach the age of twenty.  After drinking it we feel the stomach pains of pregnancy.  Three days later we go to the Pregnancy-revealing Spring at the Male-welcoming Post Station.  If we see a double reflection in the waters we give birth to a child.  Because your master has drunk from the Motherhood River he’s pregnant. He’s going to have a baby soon.” (Journey to the West, p. 1747)

The old woman tells them they have to go to the Miscarriage Spring to drink the water that will abort the babies.  However, a Taoist immortal has taken up residence there and requires anyone who wants to drink from the waters to pay an exorbitant fee.

They send Monkey to approach the Taoist immortal, but he doesn’t get what he wants since he hasn’t brought any of the rich items the immortal wants in exchange for the water.  He returns to Sanzang empty-handed, hoping to take Friar Sand back with him to steal the water while Monkey fights the immortal.  Sanzang objects to them leaving him and Pig in such a vulnerable state, but their host suggests they are safe in this household, even if other households in the city with younger women would have subjected them to rape.

After a scuffle, Monkey and Friar Sand return with the water, and Pig and Sanzang drink it and go through physical agony.  The old woman keeps the rest of the water from the Miscarriage Spring and buries it.  Meanwhile, the men leave the cottage and continue through the country.

They approach another city full of women, who stop and stare at them since the travelers are all men.  Sanzang and Pig are in a panic at the sudden interest from the crowd of women.  An official from the Male-welcoming Post Station stops them and brings them to a safe place while she goes to their queen to inform her of their arrival.  The queen, it turns out, has had a dream, and she decides that Sanzang should marry her and become King of Womanland.  She tells her to send his disciples on their way.

When the official relays this message to Sanzang and his disciples, Sanzang objects, but Pig offers to stay and marry her.  However, Monkey agrees to the official’s request, explaining later to an upset Sanzang that they have to play along for awhile at least to get their traveling papers back.  For once, Monkey has to lecture Sanzang on why it is inappropriate to kill all of the people here, people who unlike Monkey’s earlier victims are not demons at all but who are human!  Monkey explains how they will use the marriage ceremony to make their getaway once they get their travel papers back.

The queen agrees to prepare the banquet first but wants Sanzang to ride in the carriage with her.  Sanzang is turned into a frightened jellyfish in her presence, however, after they feast, he requests that she delay no further in stamping their papers and returning their passports.  She bids him to introduce his disciples and wonders why their names aren’t on the documents.  Then she delays again, which gives a random woman in the crowd the opportunity to grab Sanzang and transform herself into a whirlwind to carry him off without a trace.  The disciples immediately go after the whirlwind on their floating clouds to save him.

When they reach the cave where Sanzang has been taken, Monkey turns into a bee to spy on them, but he gets chased out.  Sanzang then is forced to confront the she-devil who decides she wants to marry him, too, and takes him to her bed chamber.  Later, Monkey turns back into a bee to see how Sanzang is faring, but ultimately Guan Yin has to intervene to make things right again.

The next story arc runs from chapter 56 through 58.  They are traveling toward the mountains in summer this time, and when Sanzang rides ahead of his disciples, he comes across a small battalion of armed men.  Sanzang is terrified by the sight of them and nearly falls off his horse.  They try to rob him, though he warns them they’ll be sorry when his disciples catch up with him.  There is a lot of bickering when they arrive, but ultimately Monkey kills a few of the bandits and scatters the rest.  Sanzang and Monkey then bicker about Monkey’s behavior.  This sets the entire company against one another as they continue to travel.  They end up meeting one of the bandits’ parents, which brings up the possibility that Monkey killed their son.

It turns out that the son is alive, and when he brings the bandits there, his parents encourage Sanzang to flee before he is discovered.  The bandits, however, catch up with them.  Monkey kills enough of them to get Sanzang angry at him and throw him out again, and Sanzang tightening his band around his head exponentially tighter.  Monkey stomps off and decides to put in a complaint with Guan Yin about this mistreatment, though Guan Yin agrees somewhat with Sanzang since Monkey is only allowed to kill demons and spirits, not humans, even if they are bandits.

The scene shifts back to Sanzang, who has another attack of thirst, so Pig goes in search of water, aided by Friar Sand.  When they return, they find Sanzang on the ground, injured, and the horse roaming around without their packs.  Sanzang says Monkey attacked and robbed him.  Furious, Friar Sand goes in search of him at the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, where he is holding court with his little flock of monkeys.  They have a few words, and Monkey says he went back to beat up Sanzang and get his passport since he now works with a different priest to get the sutras.  He even trots out doubles of the entire company in front of Friar Sand.

Friar Sand goes straight to Guan Yin to complain, but he discovers Monkey is still there making his complaint to her!  He hasn’t left her for four days.  She sends both disciples back to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit to deal with the imposter.  As the two Monkeys fight, no one can tell them apart, not even Guan Yin, so she sends them up to Heaven to discern who is truly Monkey.  Meanwhile, Friar Sand reports back to Sanzang what has happened.  As the epic battle continues, the two Monkeys end up in the Underworld for the kings there to try to figure out who is who.  Guan Yin is finally forced to have an audience with the Buddha himself to resolve the problem.

The next story arc starts in chapter 59, and they approach a farm in late autumn.  It should be cold, but it’s scorching hot instead.  Sanzang sends Monkey to a house they pass on the road to find out why the seasons have switched places.  The old man who lives there invites them in for tea and explains this region is hot all year and doesn’t have seasons.  He also mentions they can’t get to the west from there since the mountain range nearby is made of 250 miles of flame: “Even if you had a skull of bronze and a body of iron you would melt trying to cross them.” (Journey To The West, p. 1939)

They find out that the only reason why the locals can grow anything is because of an immortal who lives nearby that has a magic iron fan.  The immortal will only help if he is given a certain gifts when the locals visit.  Monkey goes immediately to Mount Turquoise Cloud to see who this immortal might be.  It turns out to be a woman, Princess Iron Fan, also known as Raksasi.  She is the wife of the Bull Demon King.  Monkey reflects on his history fighting with this family, since Raksasi is also Red Boy’s mother, and despairs of ever getting his hands on the fan.

As expected, Princess Iron Fan goes ballistic when Monkey’s presence is announced, and she prepares to fight him.  She tells him she plans on getting revenge for what he did to her son.  However, Red Boy has been turned into a page in Guan Yin’s service, hardly a horrible fate, so Raksasi requires Monkey to bring the boy there for her to see in exchange for the fan.  They fight, and finally Monkey leaves for a monastery nearby where a different Bodhisattva lives who can aid him.  He returns to fight with Raksasi some more, finally entering her body in the form of a tiny insect hiding out in her cup of tea.  That gets her attention, and she gives him her fan.  However, she gives him the wrong fan, and it makes the fires worse!  Monkey has to enlist the help of her husband, the Bull Demon King, to make things right.

Another story arc begins in Chapter 62 in late winter when they approach a walled and moated city, a royal capital.  When they enter the city, they see a group of Buddhist monks in chains and cangues.  Concerned, Sanzang sends Monkey to question them and find out what is going on.  They lead them to their monastery to explain.  After a terrifying portent of blood rain that contaminated the monastery and a sudden end to foreign tributes to their nation, and the king had the Buddhist monks arrested and tortured.  Some of the older monks had even died during their persecution.

Monkey volunteers to go with Sanzang to clean up the place and see what kinds of spirits are around.  On the 13th story of the pagoda, Monkey finds a few evil spirits and confronts them about the trouble they’ve been bringing the monastery by stealing their treasure.  The next day, Sanzang and Monkey prepare to present themselves and their travel papers to the royal court.  When they arrive, they explain that they have confined a few spirits back at the pagoda, and the king sends guards to fetch them so they can be interrogated.  The story then turns to a number of animal spirits in the Green Wave Pool; the two guilty spirits are catfish and a snakehead spirits who live here.  This gets Sanzang and his disciples embroiled in a dispute with the dragon prince of this pool over the monastery’s stolen goods.

The final full story arc in this volume begins in chapter 65 with the party approaching a mountain in the spring where they find another splendid monastery.  However, when Monkey goes to investigate it, he feels there’s something evil about the place.  Sanzang wants to go in, but Monkey is insistent that it’s sinister and dangerous.  When they go in, they are captured by a band of demons.  Monkey is imprisoned in a set of cymbals where he would die according to the demons’ plan, but he recites a special summoning prayer that brings some guardians that have been assigned to them to Monkey in person, and they report back to the Jade Emperor in Heaven to get the Twenty-eight Constellations to come down and rescue Sanzang and his disciples. When Monkey is freed, he must lead dragons and generals against the demon king who held them.

The last chapter begins with the party looking for a place to spend the night in late spring.  They come across a farm and approach the owner for help.  An old man who lives there tells him his next leg of his journey will be difficult for him to complete because of Runny Persimmon Lane and Mount Seven Perfections.  He notes that Runny Persimmon Lane is a place where over-ripe, rotten persimmons fall, making it a “mass of putrefaction” that smells horrible.  They stay with the old man for a meal and overnight, though Monkey is a little suspicious since the old man wasn’t willing to put them up at first.  The old man then explains to them that the village had been destroyed by an evil spirit.

“We had long lived in peace and prosperity here till a sudden, strong wind blew three and a half years ago.  Everyone was busy at the time threshing the wheat on the threshing floor or transplanting rice in the paddy fields.  We thought it was just a change in the weather.  We never imagined that when the wind had blown by an evil spirit would eat the horses and cattle that people had put out to pasture as well as the pigs and the sheep.  He swallowed hens and geese whole, and any men or women he found he devoured alive.  Since then he’s come again each of the last two years to murder us…”. (Journey to the West, p.2207)

They tried to hire other Buddhist and Taoist priests to stop the monster, but they were killed in their attempts.  Monkey offers to try to get rid of the spirit, and he talks to it when he finds it.  The monster fights with the disciples while Sanzang continues his visit with the old man.  Once the monster, a snake spirit, dies at Pig’s hands, they return to Sanzang and continue on to Runny Persimmon Lane.  Pig turns himself into a giant hog and wallows in the rotting fruit to clear a path for them to continue their journey.  The story continues into volume 5, which I will look at next time.

I didn’t get back to my CCTV animated version of this series again, so here is one of the illustrations that are published at intervals through my edition.

JTTW Frontspiece 1

Illustration from Journey to the West


Part four of a six part series.



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Talking Roses and the Superhero’s Secretary – Ichigoman & Funny Kuromi-chan, Part 3

This post is the last in my series covering “Ichigoman” (イチゴマン) and “Funny Kuromi-chan” (おかしなクロミちゃん) at Sanrio’s website, though the comics look like they are still being published. I think they started publishing them last year, and they were publishing a new chapter a month for awhile, but I’m not sure if that’s still the schedule.  I’m not going to try to keep up here but only will give an introduction and highlights.  If you have enjoyed them as much as I have, you may also want to go back periodically and see what’s new.

“Ichigoman” chapter 10 features Ichigoman and Honeymomo joiningf orces, which continues into Chapter 11.  The new chapter begins with Ichigoman and Honeymomo meeting face to face, and Ichigoman remembers she saw Honeymomo riding with Dark Grape Man in his motorcycle’s sidecar once.  The next page is a nice, full-color splash page of the three superheroes standing dramatically on a cliff with an explosion going off behind them.

Momo explains that she is Dark Grape Man’s secretary, but Ichigoman doesn’t understand why he would need a secretary until Momo explains that he runs a detective agency.  They also debate whether Ichigoman is really a big fan of Hello Kitty’s.  When Ichigoman suggests they go looking for the bomb together, Momo gets incensed since Dark Grape Man is her partner, not Ichigoman, and she keeps getting her name wrong, calling her Ichiboman.  However, they do search the building together looking for the bomb. After searching through a lot of boxes, they see a bomb openly set up at the end of the hallway attached to a timer showing only 15 minutes remaining.  Ichigoman and Honeymomo run for it.  Momo wants to try to stop it early, but they run and get caught in a blast since it seems to go off before the timer runs down.  Honeymomo gets a fire extinguisher, announcing this is a trap.

Chapter 11 picks up immediately with Momo and Ichigoman realizing they have been caught in a trap.  This chapter is full of dynamic, stunningly drawn pages depicting more blasts, a page with Honeymomo and Ichigoman dancing together to the Hello Kitty theme song, frames of them fighting a huge mecha that seems to be connected to the alien invasion, and finally a shot of Honeymomo wearing her original pro-Hello Kitty garb at the concert with a frame showing Hello Kitty herself, who is supposed to be performing at that venue.

Ichigoman 4

Ichigoman and Honeymomo Dancing

Chapters 12 and 13 feature Sakura and Freeze again.  Chapter 12 starts out with Ichigoman’s attempts to practice sparring using logs on ropes hanging down from tree trunks.  She practices her “strawberry punch” on a rock nearby, too.  Sakura appears in the next frames, and Ichigoman explains how she wants to go to a gym and work with a trainer.

The next page shows some of the Freeze guys working out at the gym, the little blonde boy Kirari Suetomi and the redheaded bodybuilder Mako Yanagiya.  Kirari and Mako discuss how much they can bench press and their training in general.  Mako shows off his muscles with his shirt off in a full color frame, explaining how much protein Kirari should eat to build up his muscles.

There are a couple of pages where the story returns to Sakura and Ichigoman, showing Sakura pushing Ichigoman to work out her latissimus dorsi muscle.  Ichigoman is splitting wood with an axe and carrying a log on her back at Sakura’s direction.  Then the story goes right back to the Freeze guys, with Kirari showing Mako some special dance steps he uses for his workout.  Freeze’s white haired pretty boy leader Takeru Hira arrives and explains how he is more interested in training the mind, then he strikes a gymnastics pose.  The three talk briefly about the aliens before the next page shifts to the scene of a huge mecha wearing the alien symbol crashing down the city streets.  Freeze goes into action.

Ichigoman 3

Ichigoman Screenshot

Chapter 13 begins with these three guys in their showdown with the mecha.  Meanwhile, Ichigoman is with Sakura having a spiritual moment under a waterfall as part of her training as a superhero.  She’s sitting under the water with her hands folded and eyes closed as if meditating while Sakura stands nearby watching, a flame of passion for justice burning in her eyes on the next page.

Ichigoman 5

Ichigoman Screenshot

The fourth Freeze member, black-haired Shinobu Sawada, finally joins his friends in the fight, bringing their eapons and uniforms.  He interrupts Hira’s attempt to stave off the mecha.  They put on their uniform jackets, take out their weapons and finally have a chance at an even fight.  There’s something special about Hira’s weapon, because he calls it a combination something, the something being actual Greek letters with furigana so small I can’t possibly make them out.  I need that zoom feature at a time like this.  It looks like sigma-pi with the furigana just sounding the Greek letters out, but I have no idea what weapon that refers to.  It looks like he’s using a bow and arrow of some kind.

After they’ve dispatched the alien mecha, the Freeze boys talk amongst themselves, mentioning Ichigoman is the one to save the world.  The word they use does seem to have religious overtones, but in this context, that may be kind of overblown.  She’s going through some sort of physical and spiritual preparation for her superhero work, but that’s really about all it seems to be so far.  In the last scene, we see Ichigoman and Sakura appearing at near the mecha’s body not far from the Freeze boys.  The final color page before the ending has Ichigoman working out with two tires tied to her arms, a large cricket behind her and tag lines about a “hero’s passion.”

I’m going to stop there since I’ve covered quite a lot of the series.  Chapter 14 resumes the story with Dark Grape Man and his secretary Honeymomo; they go to a costume party and meet up with Ichigoman.  Chapters 15 and 16 continues that story arc.

Resuming “Funny Kuromi-chan,” chapter 6 shows Kuromi and Strawberry Shortcake decorating for a Halloween party making Jack O’ Lanterns together.  Kuromi makes one two pumpkins tall that looks just like herself, wearing the jester hat and collar.  The rest of the cake fairies admire it, but Kuromi gets upset when Strawberry moves it and the head falls off!

Chapter 7 starts off with Kuromi sitting by a fireplace and an old fashioned record player playing music, reading a book and having tea and cookies.  A ruckus downstairs sends her out to see what the cake fairies are up to.  The uproar is over a kitten in their midst.  The cake fairies fawn over a kitten until its owner shows up and takes it home.  It’s a very simple, slice-of-life episode.

Chapter 8 is really long and is all about Christmas and UFOs.  It takes place on Christmas Eve, and the cake fairies and Kuromi are caroling outside of Sweety’s in Santa costumes, giving out Christmas cakes to a crowd.  They hear a loud noise behind Sweety’s and discover a UFO has crashed into a tree.  The hatch opens, and a young girl dressed in a Santa dress jumps out.  Kuromi asks if she’s okay.  The girl is Santa’s helper, and she’s distributing Christmas presents.  Two of the cake fairies are turned into centaur-like reindeer to lead the UFO through the air like it’s Santa’s sleigh.  She tells them that last week Santa hurt his back, so she wanted to deliver presents in his place.  They deliver presents to the sleeping children and then return to Sleepy’s for a Christmas Party with Santa Claus himself!

Chapter 9 is also really long and is about a freaked out girl who visits Kuromi and the cake fairies.  The chapter title can be translated “The Epic Valentine War.”  The distressed girl is watching a group of boys walking down the street, and apparently one of them is the object of her affection that she is upset about.   One of the cake fairies, Cheesecake Rare, comes up behind her and addresses her.  When she sees him (did I say he was a woman before?  I couldn’t tell from the character intro page head shots), she is terrified of him and asks if he is a foreigner due to his old-fashioned European dress.  He takes her back to Sweety’s.

Kuromi and the other cake fairies look on from the hallway while Cheesecake talks with the girl and drinks tea with her. Kuromi bursts in and suggests that the problem is the girl needs Valentine’s chocolate for him and doesn’t have the courage to risk his rejection.  The girl cries harder, and Kuromi is moved.  Since this is her cake shop, the crew decides to help the girl make a special chocolate cake to give the boy of her dreams.  Opera and Strawberry Shortcake get to work on the chocolate.  The cake they end up with looks like a chocolate ganache heart adorned with strawberries, something very elaborate.  Kuromi boxes it up for the girl, and the girl leaves the shop happy.

Chapter 10 is also very long and has the Yatsuhashi cake fairy visiting a shrine with Kuromi.   It looks like all of the chapters are now at least 21 pages, equal with most of the Ichigoman chapters.  Yatsuhashi and Kuromi meet a young girl who is at the shrine to pray for school success.  Yatsuhashi mentions she is there because she thanks God daily, while Kuromi asks the girl why she’s troubled about school.  She explains she is concerned about an upcoming entrance examination and introduces herself as Miko.  She hangs up a wooden prayer tablet for her petition, and they invite her to Sweety’s.  Back at Sweety’s, Yatsuhashi serves Miko her namesake pastry with strawberries.  Miko thanks them and goes on her way.

In the next frame, we see her running in regular clothes from the shrine.  She meets a little boy who is crying, and then Kuromi and the cake fairies appear a few minutes later.  Kuromi ends up in a fight with wild dogs, but Miko runs crying down the street and encounters an old woman crouched on the sidewalk as if she needs help.  Later, Miko sits with Kuromi at Sweety’s and explains how she didn’t pass the exam.  Instead, she stopped to call an ambulance for this old woman to go to the hospital, then she had to wait for her.  She starts crying, but the door opens, and the old lady she saved comes into Sweety’s.  She’s there to thank Miko for her help and gives her the business card for a school director to make up for the fact that the whole incident messed up her entrance exams.  Miko is now exempt from the exam, and the chapter ends on a happy note.

Chapter 11 starts off with a pretty gardener talking to her flowers, particularly a beautiful bud that she calls “older sister” and seems to be thanking profusely.  The cake fairies Cheesecake and Mont Blanc appear and ask her to recommend to them what they should buy, and she suggests they buy the plant with the bud.  They take it home to Kuromi as a get-well gift since she is ill in bed with a fever.  Strawberry and Opera are with Kuromi in her room when the fairies arrive with her gift of the plant and some canned peaches.  As Mont Blanc feeds her slices of peaches, Kuromi is quite happy, but their attention shifts to the wrapped flower on the table.

Cheesecake rips off the wrapping paper, revealing the delicate bud.  They water it, and Kuromi goes to sleep for awhile.  When she wakes up, she gets out of bed, hearing someone calling her.  It seems to be coming from the plant, which now has taken on a monstrous cast with an exaggerated human mouth.  She wakes up a second time to find Yatsuhashi bringing her a tray of food for dinner.  She realizes then that she had a nightmare about the flower talking.  However, Cheesecake laughs, and they discover that within the petals of the bud is the face of a beautiful fairy girl!

In the next block is a color picture of the fully human fairy sitting among the rose petals.  The girl introduces herself as Princess Pink Rose.  Kuromi is amazed she can talk.  Her appearance inspires the group to make a very elaborate cake with rose decorations, which makes the Rose Princess happy.  They take the cake to the gardener they bought the flower from.

Chapter 12 is titled “Kuromi Versus Mecha-Kuromi,” and though it starts off with Princess Pink Rose making a quick appearance as menus are distributed to Sweety’s customers, the focus of the story quickly changes.  The page shows a strange set up where each of the cake fairies has a customer come to their table to talk with them, while the rest of the spectators or customers sit in rows of chairs set up like an audience or line to wait their turn.  Kuromi is overwhelmed with work with such a crowd but goes to investigate some strange noises that lead to a large wooden crate with the label “test model” on it.

Kuromi excitedly unveils it, talking about how it’s a maid robot!  It is an exact metal version of Kuromi herself, complete with goth black rabbit eared hat.  She turns it on and calls it Mecha Kuromi.  I’m having a bit of trouble reading the dialogue that the robot speaks since it is mostly written in katakana instead of more normal Japanese hiragana and kanji; writing Japanese words instead of only foreign loan words in katakana is a technique used to emphasize heavily accented Japanese speech in fiction.  The style of the type there is also very blocky, which makes it hard to distinguish between katakana letters.

Kuromi unleashes the Mecha Kuromi robot on the crowd in Sweety’s, but it only causes confusion and scares the customers away.   As the cake fairies talk with the mecha, it twists its hands, which have three spikes in place of fingers with caps on each spike, and the caps flip open, shooting something out at the fairies.  At first they don’t know what it is, but it turns out to be chocolate.   Princess Pink Rose pulls the mecha’s plug before her next attack, sending her crashing to the ground.  The chapter ends oddly, I think, with the final shot of a hand-written note.  I know I’m missing some details since I have no idea how to interpret the sound cues scribbled in the frames and can barely read most of them to make the attempt.  Any help would be appreciated; please give us your interpretation in the comment section.

Chapters 13 and 14 feature a group of very stylish customers who stop by Sweety’s. In chapter 15 Kuromi and the cake fairies return to the beach with these customers to soak in an onsen and engage in some beach fun.  This one has a few of the cute girls featured in bathing suits singing at the beach.  So far, the series ends with chapter 16, which was just published.  Its title is “Kuromi’s Ghost Hunters,” and it ends with a color page showing the cake fairies dressed in Ghostbusters costumes.

I really am fascinated with this Rabbit Ear Mask character, aka Keiichi Hiiragi, whom we looked at in the chapters I covered last post.  I think the webcomic needs to step it up with the hot romance between him and Kuromi, though the fact she is normally a magical talking stuffed animal does complicate matters.  The webcomic also seems to be rehabilitating her from the more villainous role she was known for, but Hiiragi is probably more evil than she is from what I’ve been able to discover.  I think they need to do more chapters with him in it though.

Kuromi & Keiichi 4

Keiichi Hiiragi aka “Rabbit Ear Mask” and Kuromi as a human girl

He’s very complicated, but that’s a plus.  It’s probably what you’d expect from a guy who wears a pink bunny ear hat.

Keiichi & My Melo

Rabbit Ear Mask and My Melody, Kuromi’s Rival

The fun is hardly done when I close this series, so be sure to stop back and see what else is added later. Now I should mention that the page where you find these webcomics itself is really interesting and has the Twitter feed linked, and yes it is updated regularly too.  here’s the link again:

One thing that popped up on the Sanrio webcomic Twitter feed this last time I flipped through it is Kerokerokeroppi Café in Yokohama, and I dug up this fun photo-filled post on the crazy food served at that location and other adventures.

Another twitter post shows some pom-pom chrysanthemums in an arrangement made by Sanrio designer Yuko Yamaguchi!

Sanrio Twitter

Sanrio Twitter Screenshot

The page also has a bookstore link, but I don’t know if they ship to the US or if they have these webcomics in book form:

This next page shows a poll of fans’ favorite Sanrio characters for 2017.

There are 100 characters overall, with My Melody at #3 in popularity, Kuromi at #11, and Hello Kitty at only #4.  I didn’t realize Cinnamoroll was so popular; I know nothing about their #1 character.  Charmmy Kitty is at #28.  Ichigoman hits #39, with Honeymomo and Dark Grape Man much further down the list at #61 and #79.  I didn’t realize they had so many characters and don’t recognize half of them, but they sure are cute and fun.

Now I’m a big Kuromi fan after reading the webcomics.

Part three of a three part series

Next time: We get more serious with Korean author Sukryeol Choi’s The Year of Impossible Goodbyes!


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Dark Grape Man and the Mold Zombies – Ichigoman & Funny Kuromi-chan, Part 2

That post title sounds like a good name for a local garage band, doesn’t it?  Today I’m going to continue reading the new Sanrio webcomics “Ichigoman” (イチゴマン) and “Funny Kuromi-chan” (おかしなクロミちゃん).  The webpage the manga are published on is still actively tweeting and releasing some new chapters, and they had this adorable tweet a few days ago:

Ichigoman 2

We pick up with chapter 5 in “Ichigoman,” which also is rather light on dialogue.  It starts with Ichigoman flying through the air after truck hits her bike.  She kind of floats through the air for awhile, wondering if she’s dead.  Then we get a color splash page introducing a “new” hero who will start working with Ichigoman, and it looks like Chococat in a hero’s suit!  She must have fallen into his motorcycle sidecar.  He asks if she is okay, and she says yes.  He drives her around, dodging more big trucks along a narrow cliffside road.  This time, the truck grows huge mechanical lobster claws as it pursues them.

Finally after a scary few frames, they drive off the road into a forest to get away from the truck. They think they are safe, but the truck plows through the trees after them.  Realizing the forest isn’t safe, Chococat directs his motorcycle toward a narrow path through some cliffs, which they hope will throw off the truck, but the truck transforms into a clawed UFO!  It can fly over them now.  Chococat ejects from his seat and flies up through the air to meet it.  They fight, and it explodes, while he returns to the ground safely in a cool superhero pose.  Ichigoman learns his name is…Dark Grape Man.  Did I read that right?  Dark Grape Man?  Oh, wow.  This manga is too hysterical.  Ichigoman calls him Dark-san.  They also talk about a hero named Garbage Man who I think is the originator of Dark Grape Man’s fighting technique.   The chapter ends with Dark Grape Man riding off with a not quite exact double of Ichigoman riding in his sidecar while Ichigoman is left behind.

Between chapter 5 and chapter 6 is a special chapter with no number.  It opens with a shot of earth from space, then the silhouette of the city at night as it contrasts the concepts of love and hatred in the narration of each scene.  We then see a soldier from behind who sees a flying saucer in the night sky.  A beam hits him from the saucer, and he is engulfed in fire, and he transforms into a horned devil kitty with three eyes and a skull tattooed on his forehead.  There is strong emphasis in the way he’s drawn on his eyebrows, which look like one really dark, black M.  His military uniform is torn, but he’s still wearing it.  We get a full color shot of his final form next before the story turns to the cute girls again, who may be the same ones in the prologue.  The one girl’s name is Sakura.  They are taking a photo with their cell phone and talking about birthdays, presents and someone named “Kitty-chan.”  I guess she’s a Hello Kitty fan based on the way that page is drawn; it shows the traditional Hello Kitty in that block.  The girls are standing behind a house near a bench where someone is sleeping under a newspaper.

While they are talking about Kitty-chan and how girls like cute things, the person sleeping under the newspaper sits up and interrupts them.  It’s the soldier who had been transformed into the alien kitty monster!  The creature confronts the girls, who are shocked by the sight of him.  They talk further about cuteness and kitties until the monster soldier demands to know the name of the person who appears in the shadows during their discussion.  It’s Ichigoman!  They fight.  The monster summons a whole cadre of look-alike alien fighters who startle and charge Ichigoman, knocking her dead.

Immediately, a beautiful human fairy girl wearing a Hello Kitty patterned dress and carrying a Hello Kitty wand appears in the sky and introduces herself as Yuko Yamaguchi!  (Note that Yuko Yamaguchi is the designer of Hello Kitty at Sanrio and is known as Kitty Mama.  Her name is all over this manga project.)  Yuko Yamaguchi waves her magic wand to revive Ichigoman, who rises to fight the crowd of monsters with renewed strength, which freaks out the soldier.  Later, Yamaguchi-san talks with Ichigoman about having a cute heart – the fairy even is wearing a Hello Kitty plush backpack between her wings! – then she uses her power to turn the monster soldier back into a more natural, cute kitty soldier instead of the alien kitty monster, though he keeps his weird eyebrows.  He was actually human, not cat, before the UFO ray hit him. Chococat as Dark Grape Man makes a quick appearance at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 6 resumes our main storyline and begins with Ichigoman out in a windy desert, carrying a torn banner and wearing a ragged, hooded cape that is flapping around her.  She collapses in the desert, but in the next frame, we discover that she has actually collapsed in front of the two girls on the sidewalk!  After memories of her boss and Dark Grape Man flit through her mind, she wakes up to find herself bandaged up in bed in a luxurious house where Sakura Miyama lives.  This is the girl we have seen in the previous chapter.  Sakura has prepared quite a repast for her to eat when she gets up, which looks very appetizing.  They eat together, talk about Ichigoman spending a few days there since her collapse, then soak in the bath together with the little squirrel Jam joining them in a soap dish. Sakura suggests they watch a DVD featuring Kitty-chan. They get dressed and goof around a bit.

A full color page pops up here with Ichigoman holding her flag and taking a selfie in front of mountains, echoing the first few pages of the chapter, before returning to her visit with Sakura.  Her flag says “mountain climbing success.”  Ichigoman sleeps over at Sakura’s but wakes up in the middle of the night to reflect on her hero status and consider the problem of the aliens.  The next day, she and Sakura plan on looking for the aliens’ base.

Chapter 7 starts out with a couple of shots of real-life buildings or monuments that I can’t identify, then it shows Sakura and Ichigoman in front of the door to the aliens’ base, which appears to be a somewhat camouflaged facility.  We get some background on how the UFO appeared in the sky about ten days earlier.  Sakura wants her to punch the door open.  They enter and find large glass cylinders each with a hooded alien suspended in them.  Both Ichigoman and the girl are terrified by the sight.  There’s something off about Sakura and her unseen parents, though, and she murmurs something about mama and papa here while looking at these aliens.  Somehow she whips out a pink chainsaw she calls Exalibur to break through the glass and release one of the aliens!  Weirdly, this is the only block on these pages in color, so maybe they wanted to emphasize the pinkness of the chainsaw.

The glass shatters, water spills out, and the girl goes on to the next glass cylinder, releasing all of them.  Next, they get attacked by a giant purple robotic alien, and unsurprisingly, a vision of Dark Grape Man is not far behind.  Ichigoman sits by a shattered glass case and weeps, hoping someone will save them.  As Sakura cries out her name, Ichigoman rallies and decides to punch the robot like she punched the door open earlier.  A lot of fighting ensues, and Ichogman saves the day.  Sakura declares their mission a success, and the final shot is of a security camera in the facility labeled “Freeze.”

Chapter 8 begins with a color page of Jam the squirrel.  This chapter takes us back to Sakura’s place where she and Ichigoman talk about Ichigoman taking care of the housework while Sakura goes to school.  Jam is more active in this chapter.  That night, Sakura tells her she wants to sleep with her plush of Kitty-chan instead of Ichigoman, so Ichigoman and Jam have to set up a futon in the other room to sleep on together.  But Sakura wakes up in the middle of the night after a bad dream and joins them on the futon anyway.  This chapter is kind of light on plot development and ends there.

Chapter 9 starts out with a shot of an auditorium, the Tokyo Dome, where a kitty idol is performing.  I was going to put a photo of the real Tokyo Dome here but got sidetracked in my search by Kawaii Metal, which is apparently a thing in Japan that I obviously need to look into more since I prefer heavy metal to pop, but let me put a video here of Baby Metal’s “Megitsune” from their official channel to illustrate the point instead.

We’re going to get very deep into the cult of cute in this series, so it’s very appropriate, and even better, fox themed.  They just need to recruit girls about ten or twenty years older than these to make it perfect.

Getting back to our story, this chapter is where the tweet picture I took a screenshot of above appears with the kitty dressed in a traditional style outfit, so it has to do with this super idol kitty’s performance, though the idol kitty wears a much more girly kitty-print dress in red and pink with lots of frills and bows.  The playbill has her down as Hello Kitty for real, so I don’t know for sure who is who, but it seems they are different kitties, and Ichigoman is there as herself too and is NOT Hello Kitty.  This is where we are introduced to a third kitty superhero in addition to Ichigoman and Dark Grape Man who becomes prominent in chapter 10.  The tweet above calls this traditionally-dressed kitty Honeymomo, or Honey Peach.  I think the way to tell them apart is Ichigoman has strawberries for ears, Hello Kitty has regular cat ears, and the third kitty superhero has peaches for ears.



There’s an explosion at the event, and the third kitty transforms into her superhero costume.  As she tries to get a handle on the situation, she runs into Ichigoman, who remembers seeing Honeymomo in the sidecar of Dark Grape Man’s motorcycle!  Next time, we’ll find out more about this mysterious hero.

Now let’s get caught up on the other webcomic we were looking at.  For “Funny Kuromi-chan”, I’m going to pick it up with chapter 2, which has only 9 pages, and this is where the elegant cake fairies starting with Chocolate Opera make their appearance at the shop.  He walks in the shop in human form and is looking for Kuromi and the others.  No one seems to be around, but he hears noises coming from the kitchen.  When he goes in, he sees Kuromi and Strawberry Shortcake are upset and quickly shoots three blob-like monsters with his slingshot.  I think the monsters are called “カビゾンビ,” but I can’t get a good definition of what those are.  Mold zombies maybe?  They decide they need to use some other method to get rid of them, and Opera goes to turn on the pipes to spray them with water, which works to melt them away.  They also discuss having some wine or brandy, and the chapter ends with a color page showing them hanging out in a sake bathhouse, soaking in an outdoor tub together.  This chapter ends with a warning to beware of the mold caused by Japan’s rainy season!

Chapter 3 is another 9 page chapter that revolves again around Sweety’s, this time centering on a little girl and a birthday cake.  A little girl is crying as Strawberry Shortcake walks by in his human form on a hot day, and she explains she wants a birthday cake for her father.  He takes her to Sweety’s kitchen and begins to make a cake when Kuromi walks in.  Kuromi tells him he has a good heart and calls for the other cake fairies to help out.  They get in a debate about whose special cake they should make, though the girl requests a shortcake.  When they make it, Strawberry Shortcake takes it along with the girl to her house.  Her father answers the door, the little girl immediately disappears, and it turns out the little girl isn’t really still alive!  A flabbergasted Strawberry Shortcake and Chestnut realize that she was a ghost wishing her father a happy birthday from heaven.  That’s actually a pretty heavy storyline for this set of webcomics, and it ends with a poignant drawing of the ghostly girl holding the cake.

It looks like the rest of the chapters are all 9 pages or less.  Chapter 4 takes us to a beach house with more food porn appearing in the story, this time actual entrees, and it ends with a full-color bathing suit beach scene. Sweety’s is collaborating with the beach house to come up with a menu for visitors to the beach house.  They talked with the beach house owner and are thinking of what to serve when college students come in the summer for vacation.  For example, Strawberry Shortcake comes up with a strawberry ramen dish, which is shown in a manga block.  Kuromi envisions the customer response and doesn’t think it will work.

The next suggestion is frozen Mont Blanc, which is also shown as they imagine it in a separate block.  However, this is made with cabbage and meat.  Next, they have to determine whether sweet chocolate and savory curry flavors are a good match as Opera makes his suggestion.  This one Kuromi finally approves.  Lastly, they come up with yatsuhashi dumplings skewered on a stick like roasted squid, but it seems to melt off after cooking it over a charcoal grill.  They also discuss serving wine and cheese.  We never actually see them serving anything at the beach house, however, and the group is shown on the last page lounging at the beach and swimming in the ocean.  Kuromi is drinking a special drink and laying on a recliner while Strawberry is running in terror from the sea screaming about a jellyfish!

Chapter 5, the last I’m covering this post, starts off with the forecast for a big thunderstorm on TV.  When Kuromi hears about it, she’s really excited.  The cake fairies are watching it start to rain from the window, and they are surprised when Kuromi announces she needs to go outside to take care of some business.  They just look at her as if she’s crazy as she instructs them to lock the door behind her.

The next page is full color and shows Kuromi playing out in the rain in some fashionable raincoat with the shocked reactions of each of the cake fairies surrounding her.  The chapter title is “Love’s Storm,” which is pretty provocative. She encounters a strange, masked human man wearing bunny ears and a jester’s costume who seems to be flying through the sky using an open umbrella.  He is calling her name, and she is shocked to see him.  His name is Usamimi Kamen, or Rabbit Ear Mask. This is some terrible disaster for her to encounter him.   Kuromi declares herself to be an angry young girl!

She rips her raincoat off, which Strawberry Shortcake observes from the shop window.   The cake fairies watch her through binoculars as she runs up the hill in the rain.  She’s yelling up into the sky at Rabbit Ear Mask, saying derogatory things like how he’s causing trouble.  The cake fairies can’t figure out why she’s screaming at the sky and discuss how it’s foolish and dangerous to be outside in the storm.  Then they are dumbstruck when they see Kuromi flying in a cloud.

Kuromi is muttering about how Rabbit Ear Mask is her love…she seems to be asleep or in a trance, but the cake fairies are relieved since the weather is now clear.  She starts to fall to earth, and Rabbit Ear Mask catches her and delivers her, still asleep, back to the shop to the astonished cake fairies! Unlike the other chapters so far, this one ends abruptly with no resolution or color final page.  I wonder if the storyline continues later.  The cake fairies merely note he’s a man and a mascot character.

Since I’ve never heard of Rabbit Ear Mask and don’t know his history with Kuromi, I dug around and discovered he is a character in the Sanrio universe.  Here is his theme song:

They even have a rabbit car in this.  Pink, of course. Doing a little research, he seems to be the love interest for both My Melody as the masked rabbit hero and Kuromi as his human alter ego, the violinist heartthrob Keiichi Hiiragi.  This storyline appears in the TV show “Onegai My Melody.”

These stories are so complicated and interesting.  This is one of the Sanrio series I haven’t seen, and it looks like it could be as fun as Ichigoman.  Did they ever release this one in the US?  It looks like Funimation only queried fans to see if they should license it, but as far as I can see, it never was picked up for US release.  That’s a shame, because it looks like a scream.

I have watched  a lot of Hello Kitty properties over the years since I speak regularly about the franchise, and I have to say this “Ichigoman” webcomic is so far the wackiest, most awesome vehicle I’ve seen Hello Kitty in ever.  What a fun, lighthearted manga.  Hopefully the ending of both comics are as exciting as the chapters so far.  Next time, we’ll find out for sure.

Part two of a three part series

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