“For some reason I can’t explain, all the new experiences and sights… give me a sense of nostalgia again and again…” Kudou, newly arrived in Kowloon, recovering from the heat in Kujirai’s flat.
Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Volumes 1 and 2!
In a flashback to much earlier events that ‘our’ Reiko has no knowledge of (or might that be no recall?) Reiko Kujirai (B) invites Kudou into her flat when he’s overcome by the intense Kowloon heat. She’s not at all bothered by inviting a man into her home – but he’s embarrassed to be invading her private space. The conversation turns to the topic of ‘nostalgia’. “If you ask me,” Kujirai says with a knowing smile, “the feeling of ‘nostalgia’ is wanting to hold something tight to your heart. That’s why it’s the same as love.”
In the present, Reiko buys a new tank for her goldfish and Kudou carries it back to her flat. She – overcome with embarrassment – very reluctantly invites him in and we see him noting the differences between this shy Reiko and the dazzlingly self-confident one he knew before.
The cover image of Volume 3 depicts Reiko in a vibrant yellow dress, holding a sunflower. And the symbolism of sunflowers runs through this whole volume, gaining greater significance with each appearance. ‘Our’ Reiko gives a single sunflower to co-worker (and unrequited crush) Kudou as a thank-you for carrying back the new fish tank for her goldfish. Only later does she learn from her friend Yaomay that in the language of flowers, the sunflower means ‘I only have eyes for you’! Fearing that Kudou will interpret her little gift as bearing much greater significance than she intended, she panics. But when she and Kudou go to visit a potential apartment for petite Xiaohei, what should they see far below but a garden filled with sunflowers staring up at them? There’s no escaping the symbolism, it appears.
And then Reiko encounters a strange masked man. She assumes he’s a street performer and is charmed by his courteous behaviour. We know that he’s Gwen Tao, the barman at the Goldfish Tearoom who has disappeared, but we also get to learn as Gwen reports back to Dr. Hebinuma in Hong Kong that he is – and isn’t – one and the same. For the first time the word ‘doppelganger’ is used and for the first time we learn that they’re very familiar with each other: more than friends and probably lovers. The Hebinuma family are the ones developing the Generic Terra (sometimes referred to as Gene Terra) project – but they also are deeply involved in radical clinical procedures to beautify and reverse the ageing process. From his servants’ idle chatter, we get to learn that he’s the child of his father’s mistress and not the legitimate son originally destined to inherit the Hebinuma empire who died with his mother in a car accident many years ago. There’s not much love lost between the illegitimate son and his father, it seems, especially given the fact that the young man confidently flaunts his ambiguous sexuality.
Yet just as it seems we might be gaining some answers to the mysteries of Kowloon and the two Kujirai (not least because Gwen Tao and Dr. Hebinuma are especially interested in her) a potential clue is briefly dangled before us by the mangaka – and then snatched away. That leaves us with just the telling moment when Hebinuma reminds Gwen Tao about visiting Kowloon. “You didn’t eat or drink anything there, did you?” he asks and the dazzlingly confident veneer Hebinuma presents to the world momentarily shifts, betraying a moment of vulnerability. The reader hears echoes of the legend of Persephone’s time in Hades, in which the young woman is reminded she must not eat or drink anything she is offered – with the inevitable consequences. No, Gwen Tao airily reassures Hebinuma, he was careful. But the warning resonates through the subsequent pages, reminding us that something is far from right about Kowloon.
But a later meeting between Gwen Tao and Kujirai leads to a truly chilling revelation. The young woman is left confused and shaken. Who is she? Later on the roof of the office as she and Kudou do the daily incinerating of the trash, she bravely faces him and confesses that she loves him. And his reaction…?
The theme of ‘nostalgia’ runs through these chapters like an inescapable idée fixe. When Kujirai (B) tells Kudou her definition of nostalgia, her knowing smile is so different from ‘our’ Kujirai’s innocent, curious expression. As the mysteries pile up, Jun Mayuzuki skilfully helps us tell one Kujirai from the other by their very different demeanours. The term ‘clone’ appears too in Gwen and Hebinuma’s conversation but nothing so straightforward is being offered as an explanation. So, not far behind ‘nostalgia’ is the theme of identity and self-knowledge – although for Hebinuma, the endgame is ‘the absolute’. “Not the perfect?” Gwen asks. “‘Absolute,’” Hebinuma replies, “because there is no such thing as ‘perfect’.”
Yen Press’s large-format edition continues to showcase Jun Mayuzuki’s eye-catching artwork in all its detailed splendour (good to see a colour picture at the beginning too). As before, this volume is rated Mature and shrink-wrapped; perhaps because of Dr. Hebinuma? The excellent translation is again by Amanda Haley, including another useful page of translation notes. There’s a lovely little extra from the mangaka at the end, before the one-page preview, which is presented as a shlocky film poster with a certain ironic humour by the mangaka. For those interested in learning more about the mangaka, there’s an excellent recent interview from the highly recommended Mangasplaining MSX here.
This series goes from strength to strength, mixing intriguing yet sympathetic characters with a growing sense of unease and mystery, everything engagingly depicted in the bustling walled city that Jun Mayuzuki evokes so effectively. Is it a timeslip science fiction? Is it a murder mystery? Or is it just its own unique yet addictive self (the best kind of reading that defies categorization but makes you keep turning the pages)? Volume 4 is due out in July 2023, so don’t miss it if you’ve become addicted too!
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.