Capsule Review: SP4RX, Wren McDonald

SP4RX Wren McDonald Akira

NoBrow press is a generally amazing home for weird visual material in a sci-fi or fantasy vein (and now, it seems, of a line of kid’s volumes for hipster parents who want to warp their seed from birth). But they have a pretty minimalist house style, so when Wren McDonald’s SP4RX comes billed as a “stoner Akira,” it’s no big surprise that doesn’t encompass the meticulous, almost tactile virtues of Otomo Katsuhiro’s landmark work.

You might think, in fact, that “stoner Akira” is a little redundant – but Akira is more of a cheap-speed jam, with all those fine lines and hyperviolent deaths. SP4RX has a similar techno-dystopian setting, and a similar fight against authoritarian evil, but it’s all a lot more laid back. The drawings are cartoonish and approachable, though still occasionally evoking a sense of wonder at the great/awful future.  And the dialogue is of the affectless punk variety, lowercase, minimal punctuation, offhand. The sort that resists intensity.

What you get instead of that Akira intensity is a certain stoned charm, as a hacker hero and friends, including a cute/dangerous robot, work their way through a straightforward but relevant plot about class and the threat automation poses to workers. Some of the scenes are really fun, and you get to see a lot of bad guys blown up in very satisfying ways.

I could see this being a bingeworthy ongoing series, and in many ways this volume looks and feels like the setup for one (though unfortunately outside of Japan, it’s tough to pull off). The line art and simple monotone coloring would make it easy to churn out a lot of pages, and it’s the kind of thing I could zone out with on the couch for many, many hours. The current volume, at about 120 pages, really seems to barely get you in the zone before it’s over, but it’s a warm and fuzzy ride while it lasts.

Kicketsnare: French-Canadian-Japanese Hip Hop

4d + Kicketsnare Cover

Had to give a shoutout to the new release from the French-Canadian duo 4d + Kicketsnare.  One track features my friend Shibito, from the amazing Tokyo group Origami.  I’ve talked and blogged and written a good deal about Origami, and they’re the main focus of my upcoming book on Japanese hip hop.  Shibito has been working in Canada quite a lot lately.

This stuff has a great weird-organic vibe: A little bit goofier than Origami, but you can see how he’d fit in.  Click the pic to check it out.

Academicals: Japanese Right-Wing Hip Hop

This blog will encompass all of my writing, including the academic.  My latest major social science publication was this past August, in the journal Communication, Culture, and Critique.  It’s quite apropos to this blog, since it was a by-product of my larger book project on the most underground and weird of Japanese hip hop.

This work was the product of some really fun detective work, and owes a lot to my friend the activist and music journalist Futatsugi Shin.  In the course of writing it, I was threatened by one of Japan’s biggest rappers, and exposed a serious shortcoming, maybe even an outright fraud, in the currently defining work on Japanese hip hop.

Not too surprisingly, noone noticed.

The Sakura of Madness: Japan’s Nationalist Hip Hop and the Parallax of Globalized Identity Politics