Otoko Oidon: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger
Does the aphorism from Nietzsche’s “Maxims in Arrows” (in Twilight of the Idols) fit Otoko Oidon? I think we’re set up to believe that this question is precisely what the long (9 volume) series is all about. Will Nobotta Oyama survive and become a great man? Or will he dwindle into nothingness after an accumulation of blows? I’ve only read the first 2 volumes but I already know what happens to the question (look at the interview here if you don’t mind the spoiler).
“Maxims and Arrows” begins with the following sentence: “Idleness is the beginning of all psychology”. This is especially appropriate here. Nobotta spends a lot of time idling, and the content of the series revolves around his thought process. Even the actions that he engages in are mostly the product of moments of idleness. The story is Nobotta’s psychology, and indeed both the man’s mental states and his analysis of them seem to stem from his idleness…
There’s a funny paradox here. Nobotta Oyama is supposed to stand for Leiji Matsumoto himself: both Kyushu youths who came to Tokyo to make a life for themselves. However, the very existence of Nobotta Oyama is proof that you can’t really take the resemblance very far. Leiji wasn’t idle in his 4½ tatami room. He was set on a career as a manga artist and he achieved it. Nobotta Oyama brought his creator fame and in doing so irrevocably widened the chasm between them. I think this adds to the sadness of the series as whole. Not that it isn’t a fun read, it is, but the sadness is always there…
Vol. I ch. 7 brings with it the debut of Tori-san in the Leijiverse. The bird is given to Nobotta by a lady friend. Since he came from South America on a tanker, he’s picked up a sailor’s foul mouth, and so his new master has to bind its beak. If you remember Tori in SPCH etc, he does have his beak bound (I always assumed he was injured). Tori thrives on a diet of sarumatake (what else!) and crotch rot lotion (OMG). He’s really cute and looks like a baby version of the usual Tori. Nobotta spends quite a bit of time fighting, throttling and feeding the bird, who serves as a bit of consolation when he is feeling lonely (though he’s vowed that he will eat Tori if things get very bad).
Things never get too bad because there are always women (the landlady, a series of incoming and outcoming tenants) to help him out. A good example is Ms. Nishio, who enters the hostel at the beginning of Vol. II and exits toward the end of the same volume. Nishio is very kind to Nobotta, though she also has a tendency to look down on him. In Vol. II c. 2 Nishio offers Nobotta a gig as a nude model for her art class. Nobotta’s little brother Futoshi is coming to visit and big bro is desperate to make a good impression on him, so he takes the job for the cash it will bring. This is classic Otoko Oidon: Nishio is helping Nobotta out, but she’s clearly also helping herself and isn’t really aware of how ashamed he feels. And at the end of the chapter Nobotta finds out Nishio already has a boyfriend.
Again I have to stress: there are lots of funny moments. Nobotta ends up selling sarumatake to the ramen shop he works part-time in, and they start putting the mushrooms in their soup. Nobotta is aghast when he finds Nishio eating the sarumatake ramen, though she loves it! Later on in chapter 9 Nobotta receives some food from an employer only to find Nishio has brought him some more. When Nishio offers to take her food with her, he assures her he’ll eat it and adds: “it’s shameful for a man to reject a meal”. Nishio doesn’t react, but the landlady immediately slaps him. This is because she knows Nobotta is actually quoting an old proverb whose real import is: it is shameful for a man to reject a woman if she offers herself to him.
Tori is a source of mirth too. I don’t know what kind of bird he’s supposed to be, but he mostly acts like a parrot, repeating all the silly/shameful things Nobotta makes when he is in his room. Right after Nobotta gets stuck with so much food in chapter 9, something really strange (and funny occurs). The landlady comments to Tori that he should be glad because this means he won’t get eaten for a long while yet. Then Tori replies: “That’s right” (そうやねん) in perfect Kansai dialect. What?! How smart is this bird?? And where did he pick up the Kansai dialect?? Nobotta is from Kyushu and he never utters this phrase! And of course, the landlady speaks standard Tokyo dialect. It’s a mystery
Nobotta’s only real possession, a huge number of boxer shorts, comes into play often. Nishio knits a futon for him out of boxers. He himself creates a winter coat out of boxers, and even makes a little fundoshi for Tori. He then makes strings of sarumatake, puts them around his neck and waist and calls himself the God of Sarumatake. By the end of the second volume, however, he is as far as he’s ever been from accomplishing his dreams and becoming a great man.
P.S. There is a glaring blooper on Vol. I p. 149. Nobotta’s landlady calls him “Adachi”, which is the name of a totally separate (though perfectly analogous) character in the series Great Ancestral 4½ Tatami Tale, which Leiji was publishing in another magazine at the time.