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Month: February 2024

My In-Game Bookshelf


This past Saturday, I played through the walking sim Tacoma. As in other walking sims, and many other games besides, one of the things I could do as the player was browse bookshelves. Tacoma takes place aboard a space station where something had gone wrong, and there are six crew members, each with their own quarters and set of shelves. Given how much one does or doesn’t know about the books on offer can tell the player—or not—a little bit more about these characters. I found novels, nonfiction books about a wide range of subjects, and a handful of names and titles I was familiar with. My favorite find was a set of Alice Munro titles, including the short story collection Too Much Happiness; I read the title story when it first appeared in Harper’s and it’s remarkable.

While examining all these shelves, I began to wonder: if I was a character on a video game spaceship, what books would be in my quarters? I decided to come up with a few books that I’d bring along on my video game space voyage. My current reading habits lean heavily toward multi-volume manga, so with one exception (in a nod to that Alice Munro set), each of these is a single book.

  • Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo – the exception. Six thick volumes of shouty young men, political intrigue, metaphysics, and gorgeous architectural disaster. One of my two favorite manga of all time.
  • Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma – this would have to be the single-volume omnibus edition, though I personally own it broken up into its original four volumes. A lighthearted and cozy school comedy, highly influential “moe” work, and my other favorite manga of all time.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I’ve read this three times: once as assigned reading in high school, again in college, and the third for my own enjoyment. A true “Great American Novel”, and just a good read.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – my favorite book when I was a kid. Would be especially fitting for a sci-fi bookshelf like those in Tacoma, given that the title character resides on an asteroid.
  • Add Toner by Aaron Cometbus – a collection of excerpts from the beloved punk/memoir/essay zine Cometbus, which I’ve been following on and off for roughly thirty years now. It’s either this, Despite Everything (the first Cometbus compilation), or a pile of Cometbus back issues, including the ones that contain “Double Duce” and “In China with Green Day”.

Are there other books I’d bring along? Probably, but I’d have to think on those a bit more. These five, however, are my must-haves.


Last night, I finished catching up on Fist of the North Star, after being a few volumes behind. Viz’s kanzenban edition wraps up the first massive arc in Vol. 10, then the second starts with a timeskip in Vol. 11. Vol. 10 closes out with main character Ken (aka Kenshiro) facing off against his greatest rival and Hokuto brother, Raoh (aka Kenoh).

Raoh learns what he lacks in acquiring the ultimate techniqueThere’s quite a bit from Raoh’s point of view. Here, the reader learns that Raoh’s fear of Ken stems from the latter’s sorrowful eyes. Ken’s sorrow is shown to be the source of his strength, and the reason why he was chosen as the successor to the deadly assassination art of Hokoto Shinken. Raoh doesn’t understand either sorrow or love, which prevents him from obtaining the most powerful techniques and thus fuels his inferiority complex. His journey to become Ken’s equal leading up to their final battle is thus one of comprehension.

When I was a newbie anime fan in the early 90s, Fist of the North Star‘s reputation stemmed from its violence, with exploding heads and fountains of blood streaming from the remaining neck stumps. All of that is certainly here, and more dramatically effective than it may seem going by that simple description. Ken’s deadly acupressure often has a time delay component. He’ll strike a pressure point on an enemy, then start walking away. Said enemy will erupt in laughter, believing that Ken isn’t all that. Ken whips around, points at the enemy, then delivers his epitaph, “You are already dead.” Cue exploding head, or torso, or entire body.

Such scenes are the hooks to draw readers in. What has kept me here is Ken’s stoic compassion, his personal tragedies, and the assortment of friends and rivals who emerge throughout. Key amongst them are Bat and Rin, a boy and girl who serve as the reader proxies and accompany Ken nearly everywhere. At the end of Vol. 10, it’s their voluntary separation from Ken which gives this arc its true finality.

Rin is one of a small handful of girls and women who appear in Fist of the North Star, but isn’t the most important. That would be Yuria, the kind soul who grew up with Ken, Raoh, and their other “brothers” during their martial arts training. Yuria is the love of Ken’s life, and plays a central role early on, albeit in a stereotypical fashion. Other women don’t fare much better, mainly serving as people the men of the story wish to protect, though there is sometimes the likes of Mamiya, who is willing to fight back.

One thing that’s curious about this manga is that, throughout its post-nuclear hellscape, there are a number of people (and occasionally animals) that have become powerful giants, and they are almost always male. It’s never stated outright, but this gigantism seems to be a side effect of radioactive fallout, in addition to being a visual indicator of power. Sickness is the only other obvious symptom of radiation exposure, which leads to a different sort of drama.

Although there was one particular moment when I considered dropping the series entirely, the story made up for it with the very next volume. With Rin and Bat now grown up in Vol. 11, I’m sticking with it until the end. Fist of the North Star is certainly a product of its time, an era in Shonen Jump history which also gave us the beginnings of other classics like Dragon Ball, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Kimagure Orange Road. Ten years ago, I never would’ve thought I would enjoy this series as much as I have, nor would I have thought it as nuanced as it actually is at times. For all of its ultraviolence, Fist of the North Star is also tender and moving. Ken’s tears are as powerful as his fists, and his smiles, on the rare occasions that they happen, make all of the previous pages of blood and guts and agony and despair worth it.