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Book Review: Missin’ by Novala Takemoto

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Half of a two-book package currently being issued in the states by Viz Media, Novna Takemoto's Missin' is a 112-page paperback containing two short novels from the start of his career. Best known in the U.S. as the author of the light novel Kamikaze Girls, which fueled both a popular manga and a film adaptation, Takemoto is famous in his native Japan as an author and fashion designer.

You can definitely see his obsession with the latter in the two tales featured in Missin.' Though the primary focus of each piece is on an ultra-unreliable narrator as he or she describes the beginnings of a non-too-stable relationship, the fashion sense of the object of their obsession turns out to be a significant plot point.

In the first story, "Little Shop Called the End of the World," it's the designs of onetime Malcolm McLaren collaborator Vivienne Westwood; in the title story, it's a fashion brand named MILK, originally known in Japan for its "gothic Lolita" look. (If just seeing that term conjures up disturbing Nabokovian images, you're not alone.)

In both entries, the story's lead sees fashion as a signifier that the person they're watching is a kindred spirit, though how far Takemoto agrees with them is unclear. He may be a fashionista, but, as a storyteller, he is able to illuminate what's underneath the couture.

Both pieces center on narrators who are speaking to the feminine subject of their desire — though neither girl actually appears to be in the room. In "Shop," the narrator is a disenchanted free-lance writer who opens a shop selling her personal belongings and junky bric-a-brac; when a seemingly mute girl with a disfiguring birth mark on her face shows up at the shop, he becomes enthralled with her, ultimately running away with the underage girl. We know this move is gonna lead to a bad end.

The title story proves even darker — narrated by a self-described "homely" teenage girl who stalks Missin', the provocative female singer of a Japanese punk band called Cid Vicious. Fashioning her life on the ideals promoted by a mid-twentieth century writer named Nobuko Yoshiya, who specialized in rarefied "S Class" romances between schoolgirls, the deranged narrator dreams of herself being part of a "maidenly" relationship. She mirrors the singer's dress and quickly insinuates herself into the band's inner circle with the goal of becoming part of the group, even though she has zero experience as a musician.

While "Shop" concludes on a definite note, the title story is more open-ended. In "Missin'," we're left with our narrator promising/threatening to do something dire with a Hello Kitty guitar, though whether this occurs or not is perhaps left up the sequel, Missin' 2: Kasako, the second short book in this Viz box set. What's more immediately intriguing is Takemoto's convincing recreation of the mental workings behind his two disturbed leads, their personal philosophies, subculturally specific obsessions and rationalizations. "Obsession," the writer narrator in the first tale tells us, "makes everything possible." Untrue, but it can make for some engrossing psychological fiction.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • What

    You don’t know anything about Lolita fashion, do you.
    Research is your friend, i’d suggest doing it before you write a book review.

  • Actually, I did look up Lolita fashion, which, as I understand it, turns out to be an extensive fashion subculture in Japan blending Victorian fashion designs and Rococo costume elements. But that doesn’t negate the connotations that the term has in Western eyes, especially when the plot in one of the two stories here turns on our hero’s dalliance with a minor – an activity that even winds up drawing the attention of the police. I’d argue that Takemoto is utilizing the Lolita concept in more than one way here . . .

  • Alison

    I agree with Bill and I think his analysis is good. The Lolita fashion and concept has more connotations — some of which are subversive — both in the west and Japan than a lot of people would like to recognize.

  • shery

    to poster #1, yes the fashion has nothing to do with Nabokov, but EVERYONE always thinks of that when they hear the name. he doesn’t have to ‘research’ anything. He doesn’t have to know anything about the fashion in order to write a review for a book by someone who likes the fashion.

    and to the author, Thank you so much the review. I’ve been wondering about this book for quite a while, I think I’ll give it a shot.

  • Moris

    So, it is probably the “If just seeing that term conjures up disturbing Nabokovian images, you’re not alone.” that the previous commenter had a problem with. Since the fashion is SUPPOSE to advocate modesty and purity. Ideals which, honestly, has gone to a horse’s arse since its increasing popularity in the states.
    I have to agree with Mr.Sherman here. I have been a lolita (love the fashion, wear the fashion, and constantly trying to explain it to gawking tourists etc…) for over 5 years now and I think most Japanese authors and manga artists (especially Mitsukazu Mihara) utilize the double connotation of lolita (most educated Japanese/lolitas know the novel and understand the association) in order to further illuminate their theme, which is often more about acceptance and companionship in a crazy, unstable world more than anything.
    However, the commenter’s anger is not entirely misplaced. Even though you are a critic, Mr. Sherman, your review does not only carry a definite negative connotation but also a definite distance. That is, by using word such as “disturbing” (and the sudden 2nd person perspective shift in the 2nd paragraph) instead of criticizing the book, it sounds as if you are criticizing the Japanese/Asian culture in either their ignorance of western culture or their indifference to abnormal relationships between people, which, I’m sure, was not the case at all.

  • Moris

    indifference towards*…wow people are fired up about this.

  • As a Western reader who’s been exploring Japanese pop culture for the past few years (manga, most typically), I’ve become painfully aware of the difficulty a critic faces at times separating criticism of a work from criticism of a culture. My intent with the admittedly provocative sentence you identify was to take note of the heavy connotations that the term “gothic Lolita” has for many educated readers – and connect this to the writer’s use of fashion as a statement of character. My sense is that Takemoto sees this in both its positive and negative lights: for the two young girls who fixate on a particular fashion style, their discovery is clearly meant to show their growth as individuals. At the same time, it winds up connecting them to characters who they, arguably, might be better off not knowing.

  • This is a late comment, but after just reading it, I thought I’d like to share my own personal opinion regarding this.

    After reading both Missin’ (as well as subsequently Missin’ 2: Casaco) and Kamikaze girls, which are the only two translated novels by Novala, you get a chance to see his writing style and the way he wishes to view the world in words.

    “I’d argue that Takemoto is utilizing the Lolita concept in more than one way here…”

    Lolita fashion is definitely something that Novala is deeply interested in, but not something inherently evident within these two novels. With the mention of the brands Comme Des Garçons, Jane Marple, MILK, Vivienne Westwood, you cannot draw your conclusions towards the lolita fashion clothing style. I would draw conclusions more upon Japanese street style with mixtures of Maiden/Otome which is not related to lolita.

    When you are mentioning about Novala using the concept more than simply the fashion, I would also disagree again. Through his works, it can be seen that he doesn’t shy away from topics in order to make his characters likeable. In Kamikaze Girls, Momoko is definitely not an indivudal who should be idolised. She lies to her father, often stating that her classmates (whom she has no intention of making friends with) have fatal illnesses that require very expensive surgeries or doctors. She then takes the money that her father gives to her, and runs to BABY (BABY, The Stars Shine Bright) in order to buy the newest item. She also refuses to do things that do not fit in line with her image of this lifestyle. The sort of same view can be seen in Missin’ and Missin’ 2.