End of Otoko Oidon: And then He…
It is the ninth and final volume of Leiji’s manga Otoko Oidon.
After years of getting jobs and losing jobs, saving money and losing money, Nobotta has managed to get some stability in his life. He has his main part-time gig at the ramen shop, and despite previous mishaps he still gets to work at a bookshop from time to time. There’s no doubt that his success is in great part due to his friends/benefactors: the landlady who lets him get away with paying one month’s rent every year or so, and the ramen shop owner who feeds him for free regularly and who lets him work in his shop even though he keeps messing up.
All these good deeds, along with Nobotta’s own effort, come to fruition when he is able to start studying at night school again (Volume 9 Chapter 2). Of course, trouble still follows him. The ramen shop owner gets him an interesting gig: Nobotta is to be a pretend-customer. He is to go to restaurants, sit by the window and eat like crazy with a smile on his face so as to attract customers. The food is free. The problem is he gets set up with 6 restaurants in a row so he almost dies from eating so much (plus, since he is dressed so shabbily, the restaurant owners notice he only attracts poor people who reason that the place must be really cheap if such a one is eating so much!!) (Chapter 3).
For a long, long time Nobotta has been a famous “character” in his neighborhood. People call him the “Sarumata Monster”, because he is well-known for buying tons of Japanese-style boxer shorts (=sarumata). But his Fame (?) reaches a peak when an artist happens to look into his room and is inspired to do a painting which then ends up being exhibited at a gallery. Here is the actual painting:
It’s titled “A Failed Man’s Morning”. You can see the pile of sarumata shorts on the right. Nobotta gets to see the painting and he leaves very upset. He goes home, tries to sleep and thinks to himself that if he ever truly becomes a failure and a wreck he will die nobly. Since the topic of suicide has cropped up earlier in this manga, these words are important. I’m not sure myself if he’s talking of suicide, or simply of living on nobly until the day he dies (naturally). On the face of it, it really sounds like the traditional Japanese ethos of “do your best, and if you fail, then die rather than live in disgrace”, in other words, put an end to your life. But Nobotta has come out strongly against suicide before, so one can’t be too sure. I guess in this scene he is very distressed and all sorts of thoughts are coming into his head (Chapter 9).
Chapter 10 brings back some levity when Nobotta has an epic fight with his next-door neighbor. They’ve been fighting forever (by way of sarumata-tossing) but this is the most epic struggle yet. First the neighbor tosses a bottle wrapped around a sarumata. Then Nobotta tosses a whole truckload of sarumata (which happen to be all wet, making it more terrible). The tossing back and forth begins in earnest. Eventually Tori, Nobotta’s pet bird, flies into the other room and goes straight for the neighbor’s testicles. We’ve seen this tactic before, and it often proves victorious…but things have changed. Unbeknownst to Nobotta and Tori, the neighbor’s pet cat Neko has had three kittens!! The three kittens attack Tori…leaving it up to mother Neko to jump into Nobotta’s room and start scratching him. Tori flees into Nobotta’s room with the three kittens in tow…and now the roof collapses and the fight is over.
And all of a sudden we arrive at the last chapter.
Nobotta buys two pairs of sarumata shorts at the usual place. He doesn’t try to bargain with the vendor, who is puzzled by this. Nobotta proceeds to buy a sea bream for a thousand yen. Again, no haggling. This is getting curiouser and curiouser. He goes home and asks the landlady to cook the sea bream for the both of them. He also pays her one month’s rent. The landlady asks him how he’s gotten so much money. He replies: From my savings from the ramen shop, the bookshop and other sources of income. The landlady gives him a watermelon to eat with Tori, and Nobotta ends up giving the whole watermelon to his pet bird. Again, very strange.
Nobotta washes his face (another unusual event), dresses up and leaves the room. He takes a few steps, comes back in and pats Tori on the head. He leaves the house.
Tori, who’s the smartest pet on the planet, begins to bawl like crazy. The image of Tori crying is very iconic for me. One of the first Leiji works I saw was Arcadia of my Youth, and in that work Tori is an alien bird from the planet Tokarga in the 30th century. Tokarga is in a tragic state and we meet Tori amid the desolation crying his heart out. (He becomes Tochiro Oyama’s pet, who is a descendant of Nobotta Oyama in this manga) It’s amazing (and moving) to see Tori here crying in the same way in a Tokyo hostel in the 1970s.
Nobotta doesn’t come back. The landlady and the ramen shop owner are shocked and saddened, especially when they notice that he’s left his geta (=wooden clogs) behind and taken his good shoes. The landlady swears to keep his room in order for when he gets back.
I would have been frightfully upset right now if it weren’t for the fact that I researched the matter of this ending and found that Leiji Matsumoto subsequently explained what happened. Not only that, but his explanation makes perfect sense in the context of the manga and the clues we’re given, and it rings “true”. What happened? Where did Nobotta run off to?
Nobotta, Leiji explains, was hired by a whaling ship. These whalers go for months at a time. It’s hard work but you can earn lots of money from it. Leiji figures Nobotta was away for one or two years, saved up tons of money and then came back to the hostel to get reunited with Tori. Of course normal people would have explained the situation before leaving but Nobotta has oddly romantic/antiquated notions of how to do things sometimes, and he reasoned accurately that the landlady would take good care of Tori till he returned.
This explains why he had so much money (ships give money advances). It makes sense too because Nobotta is from the island of Kyushu with its fishing and seafaring tradition, and he is very proud of his swimming. And I personally have met people who go on commercial fishing trips from time to time (dropping off the face of the earth) and then coming back with lots of money.
So that’s it, Nobotta goes, gets his money, comes back and resumes his studies. And hopefully he won’t have to worry about having enough money to pay for coffee when his classmates decide to go to a coffeeshop!
Incidentally, we also know that Nobotta did well later on because Leiji penned a “future Otoko Oidon” oneshot about his descendant in the third generation. This kid has tons of Toris (descendants of the original Tori) and he lives in a hostel owned by the descendant of Nobotta’s landlady. The story is very silly, involving a strange mishmash of the First and Third Plans from the Sexaroid series. For me, however, the real question has become: how did one of Tori’s descendants end up in Planet Tokarga?!