The entertainment value of human misery

Is generally pretty low for me these days. There is an endemic trend in both the general populace and general criticism to conflate tragedy with maturity. Largely because it requires very little mental effort to bridge the gap I imagine. But that discussion is rather tangential to the, brief, topic at hand. The title is misleading as this isn’t a general post exploring it, rather its simply my thoughts on the first volume of “Ushijima the Loan Shark”. An award winning series that is currently going strong on its thirty first volume.

The description of the series sounds interesting:

“In recent years, Japan has become the shining light of Asia – with its noteworthy achievements in the fields of Science and Technology, Medicine and the like. But while there are a great number of rich and successful Japanese people, there are even more who are engaged in a furious struggle simply to earn their day-to-day living expenses…all the while battling with dangerous and money-consuming addictions such as gambling and alcoholism.

What will these people do when they require the cash to feed the never-ending desires that are part and parcel of being human? How miserable and dangerous might their lives become if they fall into the fearful traps that are set by black market money-lenders with the sole purpose of ensnaring such weak-willed individuals?”

I’ve had my eye on it for a while but unfortunately there’s no official english translation and the scanlation progress on it is very slow (it’s currently mid-way through the fourth volume). As I was in the mood for it I decided to give it a read this evening. So far I have to say I’m disappointed. To get it out-of-the-way, the artwork is somewhat unique, it’s going to be something you either like or dislike I feel. I like it and it suits the mood of the piece. The stories, which are almost entirely episodic in nature so far (so no idea how it holds interest for thirty volumes) and characters however are just, well, sort of there. Unsurprisingly every single character is unlikable, including the titular protagonist. But they’re not unlikable in grand or entertaining ways, they’re unlikable because they’re all petty, cruel, simply unlikable people.

There’s no particular depth to any of them, while not ciphers or caricatures they also don’t feel “real”. The stories are similar, short morality tales where the moral of the story is that everyone and everything is shit. They do have a fair sense of verisimilitude, I can certainly believe that people in the situations presented would act like the characters do. But there’s no particular artistic or entertainment value provided by page after page of human frailty and corruption. Every story starts the same way, with debt, and ends the same way, the loan shark gets richer, the “client” gets fucked (and if it’s a woman that’s literal, half of the clients in the first volume are women all of whom are pressured into prostitution).

The only message here seems to be that life is shit, which is no surprise. But it’s also something I don’t need to be told, so reading these just feels like a different way of wasting time, a mouse based version of watching paint dry. It would actually be better if it was terrible, as opposed to what it is, an extended tedious tautology on the human condition.

Edit: It gets significantly better from volume two on. Volume one is easily, and by far, the worst. It’s still about shitty people and their shitty lives, but its engaging at least.

Vent your spleen

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