It seems like countless ages ago that we first got wind of Last Gasp’s plans to publish Suehiro Maruo’s manga adaptation of Edogawa Rampo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island. Maybe it was. It’s difficult to think back that far at this point, and it doesn’t matter. It’s here, and it’s glorious, and you should probably pick it up right now if you fit the bill of the ADULTS ONLY label on the back of the gorgeous hardcover volume.
What’s not to like about this book? The cover tells the tale about as well as the synopsis on the back, but indulge me as I put Rampo and Maruo’s tale into a convenient little bubble of my own design. As the Taisho Era—which spanned from 1912 to 1926—comes to an end, so too is the career of failed novelist Hitomi Hirosuke. He’s hit a wall, and his editor isn’t interested in the particular style of yarn he wants to spin. In the mire of hopelessness his lack of success stirs, Hitomi hits a brilliant idea: If his existence is so wanting, why not use someone else’s?
The timing is perfect. An extraordinarily wealthy man named Genzaburo Komoda has just passed away, and back in their school days both he and Hitomi were regarded as the spitting image of one another. In fact, just six months prior to Genzaburo’s death he had the face of a mustachioed Hitomi, and so the wicked plan is set in motion. Hitomi will dig up the body, dispose of it, and become a man put to rest before his time. A man arisen with new ambition. A shock to his family after death, yes, but an even greater shock to his peers and co-workers, who see his grand vision as something of a wild delusion.
That grand vision is Panorama Island. Hitomi sinks all of Genzaburo’s fortune into turning a nearby island into something of a hedonistic pleasure paradise. Undersea tunnels connect grand illusory vistas that make it seem as if this island is all that’s left in the world. Former circus performers are hired to simply run, play, and have sex in front of wide-eyed visitors. Every joy in life is but an impulse away, and the first person Hitomi takes to see the island is Genzaburo’s wife, Chiyoko, who also just might be the first person to know Genzaburo well enough to see behind Hitomi’s wicked mask.
The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is fittingly twisted, and an absolutely stunning piece of work to behold. From the very first page we all know how this is going to go down, and it’s a joy to watch it happen. The island is as much a star as any of the characters, if not more so, and this can be attributed to Suehiro Maruo’s meticulous depiction. Waterfalls flow with stone dragon statues dancing between cascades, nude men and women frolic across scenic pastoral landscapes, and all the decadence on display is as absurd as a portly bearded man attempting to remain statuesque with his balls resting atop a turtle’s shell.
Each page is more of a meal than the last as Panorama Island saunters toward its inevitable conclusion. Having not read the original novella, I can’t say how accurately Maruo brings Rampo’s vision to life, but it’s a rare opportunity to get something from either over here in English. Do yourself a favor and do what a resident of Panorama Island would: Treat yo’self.
Publisher: Last Gasp
Story & Art: Suehiro Maruo
Original Novella: Edogawa Rampo