Page 45 Review by Tom
Taiyo once again uses two children as a narrative device to explore a subject, in much the same way Warren Ellis uses the grumpy chain-smoker to vent his ills with the world, and Neil Gaiman uses goths. However Taiyo has crafted something of a subtle masterpiece here about the virtues of imagination vs the unproductive social environment school provides for children with introverted tendencies.
Makato has just transferred to Asahi Elementary School after his school faced closure. A rose-cheeked, friendly boy, Makato finds no trouble assuming old roles in these new surroundings with his outgoing nature. So naturally he wants to be friends with everyone, especially if he'll be sitting next to them for the next school year. Which is how he meets Yuki Tachibana, writing feverishly on his desk at the back of the class. Maybe it's because Makato's a new face, but the insular Yuki begins to talk to Makato about a side of the school the other kids can't see. And Makato does what no one else has: he listens. He doesn't understand, he asks a lot of questions, but he takes an interest in this bizarre world Yuki experiences everyday. The world of his hero, Super Star, a face in the rain drops; and of The Others who're multiplying and upsetting the balance of Yuki's school. The relationship the two boys forge begets relief from the didactic social expectations school life pressures them both to conform to. Makato, an extrovert, natural in social situations, is forced to break from his peers' point of view: that Yuki is a freak you should stay clear of. Meanwhile the introverted Yuki lets someone into his world who accepts his concept of reality. But it isn't as easy as that, or as friendly. Yuki isn't the first "problem" child in the school to view reality from a unique perspective; I.Q. watches life through a peephole in the box on his head, and now he watches Yuki.
The school caretaker, the gurning Mr. Ganz, is Yuki's only other friend in the school, and while he doesn't see what Yuki sees, he has experienced this behaviour from many children in his long career and, for better or worse, Ganz indulges Yuki and I.Q.'s beliefs while they help in his garden. At the beginning of the year, Ganz gave Yuki the key to the roof, beyond the cordoned-off 4th floor, so Yuki could be alone with his harmonica and his imagination. But now The Others have begun to multiply on the 4th floor, so Yuki won't venture up there. Beyond Ganz's influence I.Q. has experienced the alienation Yuki has at the hands of peers and teachers alike and come through the other side a very odd boy, and now he wants Yuki's delusions to blossom like his have and come into his world on the 4th floor. And between the opposing forces of I.Q. and Makato, Yuki begins to crack.
This is beautiful. Purely as an object this is something to behold. Wrapped in a card slipcase, with the fore-edge printed with an image of "The Others" in red, the book itself begins on the outside front cover with a page number of -8. Introducing Yuki drawing on his desk, the creatures that frolic in his imagination along with the ominous phrase, "Everybody has been getting to mischief lately. Something needs to be done about them!"
Everything about this book is exquisite, not just the design. The layout is cinematic from the offset, from the intro leading into the title page, to Taiyo's realistic art and measured pacing, building this school teeming with life, real and un-real. The characters (with the exception of Ganz, who looks like a gurning Lego brick) look drawn from life, and the random conversations of the children with their slightly askew interpretations of sex and bizarre rhyming games are brilliantly observed. Taiyo's art still has that bend to it, like he's looking through a wide-angle lens at an oblique angle, so even mundane pieces of furniture are subject to crazy foreshortening. Even the fantastical elements of the architecture, like the dream-like upper levels are solid beyond the merely believable, they're familiar. And the climax of the story in the imagined upper floors of the School as Yuki continuously climbs the spiral stairwell into increasingly wild territory is reminiscent of a particularly fevered dream. Adhering to our universal acceptance of dream logic, in which everything makes sense until you wake up. You could interpret the ending as Yuki squashing his introverted tendencies and beginning upon the road to life with a fresh "healthy" outgoing perspective. But the introverted yet nonetheless optimistic interpretation would be one of Yuki accepting his stance on life, and letting someone into his world. The silent epilogue purposely leaves that open to your interpretation.