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[personal profile] starlady
Takemoto Novala. Kamikaze Girls. San Francisco: Viz Media, 2008. [Originally published in Japanese as Shimotsuma Monogatari, 2005.]

Shimotsuma Monogatari tells the story of Momoko, a Lolita who moves with her father from Amagasaki in Hyogo prefecture (right between Kobe and Osaka, for those of you following along at home) to the comparative hinterland of Shimotsuma in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo. In her rural exile Momoko meets Ichigo, a Yanki biker chick, and the two form what has to be one of the most unlikely friendships in literature, based solely on their respect for each other's wish to do whatever the hell they want, and get along.

There are so many things to love about this book, it's hard to know where to start. I love Ichigo and Momoko equally, but Momoko completely steals the show with her ironic, frequently untrustworthy narration, as well as her extended mediations on the nature of Lolita and Yanki, and her reluctant realization that the two subcultures share more than what's first apparent--their disdain for societal convention, and their devotion to excess for its own sake, just to start.

It's Momoko's ex-yakuza father's fake Versace products that first brings Ichigo and Momoko together, and one of the things that is really fascinating about this book is Momoko's complete failure to buy into the myth of Japan as the middle-class society--she is explicit and up-front about the class-based nature of Japan's various youth subcultures such as Yanki, which is quite a change from the societal party line. There are also fascinating things happening with class in Lolita, which according to Takemoto and Momoko combines the spirt of the Rococo period as it was lived by the French aristocrats of the ancien regime with the anarchic spirt of punk and the hard-boiled attitude of mid-century American detective fiction. Momoko's devotion to her beloved brand Baby, The Stars Shine Bright is funded by her selling fake Versace products to Yanki and by a prodigious talent for pachinko, and eventually the embroidery skills she has acquired as a result of her Lolita-hood bring her into contact with the brand's founder. Yup, how's that for a heady brew?

At some point too I was reminded forcibly of [personal profile] sasha_feather's post about Legally Blonde and how it is awesome--Momoko, whose life is defined by the clothes she wears and the worldview she derives from them, is relentlessly, actively "feminine", to the point where she disdains all physical exercise (but gets it anyway because she walks everywhere) because "luxury is inconvenient." But it would be a mistake, like Sasha says of Elle, to think that Momoko is frivolous or unimportant; she is anything but, and it is her right to lead the life she does, and not to be undervalued for it.

Also the book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, at least if you're me and you think lines like "If the Space Battleship Yamato were crewed by Power Rangers, it might be invincible, but who wants to see that?" are priceless. The translation here is really top-notch, and wisely the translator appended a glossary of terms to the back matter rather than disrupting the narration with clumsy in-text explanations. Bravo, all around.
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