戦え！ 戦え！戦え！ 戦え！
I won't let anyone stop me! I'll go my own way!
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
"Fight! Otaking!" (Tsujitani Kouji)
I have read some books from South Korea and China in the past, but I'm sure this is the first time I ever read a book from Taiwan.
Hú Jié's Wǒ Shi Mànhuà Dàwáng ("I Am The Great King of Manga", 2013) starts with the twelfth chapter in the novel, which details the discovery of the liveless body of the father of the Fāng family. Mother had just come home after a week of absence when she discovered her husband's body together with the student neighbor. The only other person inside the house was the twelve year old son, who had been locked inside his own room from the outside. The story then jumps back in time, back to the first chapter, to the start of two distinct storylines. In the uneven chapters, we follow Little Jiàn, son of the Fāng family, who aims to become the Great King of Manga (comics) to earn the respect of his fellow classmates. In the even chapters, we follow father Zhihóng, who has a tough time at work, but tries to give his son the one thing that pleases him: manga. But as the story continues, we slowly work towards an inevitable fact: death.
The Soji Shimada Mystery Award is a Taiwanese literary award which started in 2008 and was obviously set-up with the help of Shimada Souji. Several publishers around the world work together for this award, and the winning works are translated and published in several countries, including Japan, China, Taiwan and even Italy. Hú Jié won the third award in 2013 with Wǒ Shi Mànhuà Dàwáng, his debut novel. At the moment, this remains his only published full-length novel, as he has only published short stories since. I read the Japanese translation of his debut novel, titled Boku wa Manga Daiou, by the way, which was published in 2016. The cover shown in this review is also from the Japanese version.
To be completely honest, as a mystery novel, Wǒ Shi Mànhuà Dàwáng is a bit disappointing. The problem is that the whole novel basically revolves around one trick, one mystery gimmick, but from the start it's rather obvious what Hú Jié is trying to do. By the time the truth is revealed, you're not surprised or shocked or anything. It's something most readers will have seen coming ages ago. The actual execution also leaves room open to questions. It's not quite science-fiction, but it does seem more than a bit unbelievable the way it was done here. In general, a simple mystery plot isn't bad on its own (a solvable mystery is always better than an unsolvable mystery), but there needs to be something more to attract the reader. The main focus here falls a bit flat, being both obvious and odd in execution. The murder of the father has something like an element of an impossible crime to it too, but that part is even less surprising. I think a better balance between the two parts would've resulted in a better novel overall.
The book does portray a very interesting look on the world of manga (Japanese comics) in Taiwan in the 70s. Manga, as a product of Japanese popular culture, has had a weird history in both South Korea and Taiwan in the past, being former colonies of Japan. Series were often heavily localized as to erase any signs of "Japaneseness" from them, with changed names and settings, but they were popular nonetheless. Wǒ Shi Mànhuà Dàwáng features a lot of talk by Little Jiàn and his classmates on the manga that were popular at the time, like Mazinger Z, but also on the various pirated publications of these series in Taiwan. You'll find out quite some interesting things about the history of these classic manga in Taiwan as you read this book. The way manga are used in the mystery plot is also kinda neat, though as I said, this was not enough to really make the mystery plot impressive.
The way the book focuses on both a young and adult protagonist through its two storylines, one in a 'child' society, one in an 'adult' society kinda reminded me of the family-centred stories of Higashino Keigo. Given Higashino's popularity worldwide, I wouldn't be surprised if he had served as some sort of inspiration for this novel too. I think that people interested in reading the human drama and looking at 'other' societies so typical of Higashino's work will appreciate Wǒ Shi Mànhuà Dàwáng.
Wǒ Shi Mànhuà Dàwáng was quite different from what I had expected (or hoped) it to be, and that resulted in a somewhat disappointing experience. I think that going in different expectations will probably result in a different, more positive reading. The book offers an interesting, almost nostalgic look on a child's life in Taiwan some decades ago, but as a mystery novel, it is lacking.
Original Chinese title(s): 胡杰 『我是漫畫大王』. Japanese version: 胡傑 『ぼくは漫画大王』