Double Volume 4 Review

“I chose you for this play… because Takara… you fell apart last year.” Hanae Funato (director)

After Takara’s breakdown, loss of voice – and subsequent return to the world of acting, his agent, Ms Tsumeta is still treating him with great care. But when the offer of the leading role in a play comes in from director Hanae Funato, Takara accepts, ready to perform live alongside his actor friends Tsukumo Todoroki  and Aki Imagire. The play? It’s A Beginner’s Course in Revolution: Hiryuuden, an early work by playwright Kohei Tsuka. ‘This play is themed around the student protests of the era and was published in 1973, only three years after the 1970 campaign against the Japan-US treaty began.’ Three actors have been cast (there are two female roles, both played by the same actress, and two male roles). Hiryuuden was often performed and altered, the most landmark production coming in 1980, directed by Toshio Funato. Hanae, his widow, is determined to bring her late husband’s interpretation of the play to the stage with a star-studded young cast (who have already appeared together on film).

Aki has remained a loyal ally and sympathetic support for Takara (they were once, briefly, an item but the relentless attentions of the paparazzi – and Takara’s mental instability – made it impossible for them to continue their relationship). And as for Yuujin? He’s stayed out of Takara’s life until his theatre troupe sets him up to make a surprise (and then some!) birthday appearance at the rehearsals for Hiryuuden, complete with cake. Tsukumo casually reveals that he’s roped Yuujin in to be his understudy… and one thing leads to another, culminating in Tsukumo being offered a prestigious role in a TV drama and Yuujin being cast in his place by Hanae Funato. So now Takara and Yuujin will be acting together on-stage! But when the producer suggests doing a performance with a ‘double cast’ in which the two male leads switch roles, Takara takes flight. Again.

And then we arrive at a revelation that’s been waiting in the wings throughout all the past three volumes. In many ways it seems a natural development that’s grown from the way Ayako Noda has set up her two lead characters. Is it convincing? It’s not portrayed in a romantic way in any sense; the mangaka is too much of a realist in the way she depicts the very human foibles and flaws of her cast. But it feels real and it feels earned. Where it will go from here, who knows? In a pre-show interview, when asked about playing opposite Yuujin, Takara says, “It’s a culmination… like a conclusion.” And then Noda follows this with a close-up of his face, his eyes surprised and shadowed, as if he’s just unintentionally made concrete something of which he was unaware until he said the words aloud.

Somewhere along the way with this story, these characters – realistic, imperfect and flawed human beings that they are – have managed to get under this reader’s skin. I realized that I was reacting with them to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that life flings at them: Takara’s struggles to understand how and why he feels as he does, in spite of his outward charismatic appeal when he acts (which he doesn’t begin to understand, he’s just a natural) and Yuujin’s tortured, meticulous approach to everything he undertakes. Even the formidable film director Kurozu becomes more sympathetic when Takara goes to him for advice. Kurozu breaks off their discussion to offer Takara dinner – and proceeds to reel off a list of options, all ready-prepared meals which he keeps to hand (he’s a busy man) in the freezer. This little all-too-human detail is part of Ayako Noda’s skill at bringing her cast to life, enhancing the way she portrays them in her detailed and striking art.

The same team as for previous volumes have worked on this volume for Tokyopop and once more, Massiel Gutierrez’s translation convinces, whether it’s lines from the play or the characters’ discussions and everyday interactions. This e-book edition precedes the physical book which has a publication date of 19th July 2022.

Chapters continue to be named after famous plays, leaving the reader to speculate as to what the links might be between the original play and what’s happening in the chapter itself: Macbeth, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Cyrano de Bergerac are three of the six titles this time around. The theme that winds through the whole volume is all about the acting as the cast discuss and explore with the director exactly what bringing their roles to life means in the context of the play – and Hanae, the director, it turns out, is also trying to come to terms with her own identity as director, after years as her late husband’s amanuensis.

This is a rich and rewarding volume, full of revelations about the characters and the art of theatre itself. The rehearsal scenes where the cast and director discuss the process of bringing the play to life and how they approach their roles make for utterly compelling reading, even though probably not many of us in the West are familiar with the play they’re working on. Sadly, we’re all caught up with Japan now when it comes to the release of complete volumes and as a live action series has recently been announced, it’s quite possible that the mangaka will be involved in the script process. So, it could be a while until we find out what happens when Hiryuuden opens to the general public!

(Note: Won an Excellence Award from the 23rd Japan Media Arts Festival in 2020.)

9 / 10


Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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