The secret history of the most famous secret agent in the world. A bunny costume that reveals the truth in our souls. The unsettling notion that Japan itself may be a dream. The tastiest meal you’ll never have, a fedora-wearing neckbeard’s deadly date with a yokai, and the worst work shift anyone—human or not—has ever lived through. Welcome to Phantasm Japan.
When I was contacted about reviewing Phantasm Japan by its editor, Nick Mamatas, I was excited, because the anthology’s premise — bringing stories about Japan and/or by Japanese writers to a broader public — sounded really good and I’m always interested in broadening my cultural scope so to speak. So I’m a little sad to report I was somewhat disappointed by this collection of stories. To be fair, this may be because it turns out I’m not the best reader for these stories that have a specific aesthetic and form, which can feel a little choppy story-wise. But mostly it was because there were several stories that just didn’t work for me.
Unfortunately, the two stories that worked least for me, were also two of the longest stories in the bunch. In fact, one of them Dempow Torishima’s Sisyphean is the longest one clocking in at a whopping 71 pages. Sisyphean was a story that was just too weird for me to parse. There are probably people out there who will love it to bits exactly because of its weirdness, but for me it was just hard to get through all the descriptions and trying to picture them in my mind and I think it got in the way of my appreciating the underlying story, which was interesting; interesting enough for me to wrestle through all of the 71 pages. The other story that didn’t work for me at all was Quentin S. Crisp’s The Last Packet of Tea, so much so that I couldn’t even finish it, in fact I didn’t even get past the first five pages. And I tried to read it three times. What bounced me out of the story every time was its prose. The writing just felt very heavy-handed and overly florid. It rarely happens that I just can’t finish a story, but this was one such occasion. The story may be brilliant, but I couldn’t get past the writing.
Of course there were also some stories that I really loved. I think my favourite of the bunch was Project Itoh’s From the Nothing, With Love. A brilliant SFnal take on the James Bond lore, I loved how the story played with the different concepts of awareness and the true meaning of the soul. The twist at the end was magnificent and I really enjoyed this story. Another one I really loved was Miyuki Miyabe’s Chiyoko. Featuring a huge pink rabbit suit, several generations of toys and some beautiful notions on the importance of child’s play and beloved toys, I absolutely adored this one and its ending. Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Kamigakari is a haunting story about the end of the world by the sun going supernova, told in a fascinating two-person second person narration. And lastly there was Gary A. Braunbeck’s Shikata Ga Nai: A Bag Lady’s Tale. A ghost story with a memory quilt at its heart, it also dealt with the sad truth of the Japanese internment camps in the US during the Second World War. I loved the gentle tailor and the kind-hearted soldier and the tragedy innate to this tale.
While there were stories I really enjoyed, on the whole Phantasm Japan left me a little underwhelmed. With the exception of the first two stories I discussed, I generally enjoyed the anthology’s stories, with the four other stories discussed above being the stand-outs. Again, I may just not be the intended audience for these tales. If you enjoy stories that are different from the mean or want to explore stories not set in or written by the common (medieval) Western world then Phantasm Japan is certainly a work you should seek out.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.