New mangaka releases 1st collection at 67 years young

“67-sai no Shinjin Han Kakusai Tampenshu” (A collection of short works by 67-year-old newcomer Kakusai Han)

67-sai no Shinjin Han Kakusai Tampenshu (A collection of short works by 67-year-old newcomer Kakusai Han)
by Ai Kozaki (Shogakukan)

It is not uncommon these days to find mangaka in their 70s and 80s still creating manga. Postwar manga culture developed mainly among and around artists in the baby boomer generation who were born from 1947 to 1949 in Japan. A natural consequence of this is that there are now many elderly mangaka. That being said, it is surprisingly rare to find an artist getting a book published for the first time at age 67 like Kakusai Han, whom I would like to introduce today.

At first glance, the thick black lines and densely drawn pictures reminded me of the serious gekiga manga produced for adults in the late 1960s. You would have found such drawings in now defunct monthly manga magazines, such as Garo (1964-2002) or Com (1967-1973). This must be another one of those nostalgic, rather convoluted manga that put on literary airs, I thought, and prepared myself. But it turned out that all six short pieces in this volume, “A collection of short works by 67-year-old newcomer Han Kakusai,” were highly readable and very entertaining, which surprised me for the second time.

“Nemuri ni Tsuku Toki …” (When you fall asleep … ) is set in a dystopia where all unattractive men are kept in a concentration camp. A woman who claims to be a member of an antigovernment resistance group helps a middle-aged man escape from the camp. They fall in love and vow to get married, but … In “Kakashi Toge” (Kakashi mountain pass), a mother who loses her child in an unsolved kidnapping case meets a mountain spirit who shows her two paths she can choose from: to live without knowing the kidnapper’s identity, or to live knowing who it was. Which path will she choose amid her hatred for the culprit and her inability to free herself from grief?

Each work has an amazing twist with a bitter aftertaste, but also some redemption. Stories fit for adults, you could say.

Han, who runs an osteopathic clinic in Hokkaido, made his mangaka debut in 2020 at the age of 64, winning a prize for new artists from a manga magazine for adults. When he was a child, he read Com magazine, which inspired him to become a mangaka. He never let go of this dream, though he didn’t win a manga award until he reached such a late age. I interviewed him recently and asked about the publication of his first manga collection, thinking that he must be deeply moved. His response was surprisingly simple: “I don’t feel particularly excited about it.”

“Drawing manga has already become my daily routine, so it doesn’t matter to me if it sells well or not. I will continue to draw until I die,” he added.

Mangaka are often compared to athletes and entertainers. Some say their peak age is in their 20s. In other words, when they are no longer young, mangaka lose their luster. The impact of seeing a 67-year-old newcomer does not lie in his age. Rather, it comes from his having proved that as long as people stay young at heart, they can create works that are relevant today.

The manga market is currently undergoing a historic expansion thanks to the e-comics boom. I welcome the market’s acceptance of someone like Han making a proper debut because it is a sign of the market’s maturity. According to Han, his artist name, written Han Kakusai in the Japanese naming style, is a pun on a word in the Hokkaido dialect, “hankakusai,” which means “ridiculous, stupid or insane.” Apparently, it is also a tribute to the great ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai.