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When one sees or hears the name Hideo Azuma, one either immediately thinks of lolita manga or simply asks, “who in the hell is that?” He’s known as being the “father of lolicon,” with many of his works being pornographic in some way. One would not expect this man to have much interest in drawing things outside of science fiction and lolicon, though he certainly has an impressive list of manga titles to his name.
So an award-winning book like Disappearance Diary comes as a bit of a surprise; it’s neither pornographic nor science fiction, and is in fact an autobiography of sorts, told in a very humorous way.
Azuma features himself as a short, fat, goggle-eyed character in this recollection of his days as a hopeless alcoholic and as a homeless person. A story that would otherwise be painful, gut-wrenching and difficult to read is made entertaining and more pleasantly poignant through his use of humor and cartoony artwork. He isn’t afraid to tell us the truth, and his sometimes frank presentation is almost as hilarious as his rather dry commentary.
At first we don’t really learn what drives him to do this to himself. The book is not presented in chronological order and we are introduced to him when we are thrust into his first experience of being homeless. We do know that his homelessness is a choice rather than an unfortunate circumstance. We come to learn of his dependency on alcohol and cigarettes and his massive workload as an artist as the book progresses, as well as his rather pushover nature and the fact he even as a wife (largely unseen until the second half of the book).
The book is divided into three main sections, each dealing with a different time in his rather lengthy exile from the stresses of his life, and focus on the primary concerns he had during each period. In his first homeless experience, it was worrying about having enough to eat. In the second, it was dealing with certain individuals he worked with, and the ridiculous things he had to put up with from them (“YOU DIDN’T DRAW FEATHERS ON THE ARROWS!”). In another, it was his attempts to avoid difficult fellow patients in a hospital, along with the staff.
Azuma himself says that the manga “has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible.” It’s very likely that some of the things he presents are indeed fictional, comedic twists on his experiences, but some appear to be very honest recollections, such as the threat of cirrhosis hanging over him like the Sword of Damocles, or his first capture by the police, who initially believe him to be the murder suspect they were after. His story is a fascinating one, and upon learning of his stressors and what he had to deal with as a professional artist, we can’t really blame him for wanting out, even though his circumstances were largely his own fault. A person can put up with only so much, and it’s easy to sympathize when he does everything he can to escape from what feels more and more like a prison to a life that, while certainly not easy, feels manageable by comparison. The dialogue is often as funny, if not funnier, than Azuma’s stark narration (during a sequence in which Azuma has a severe coughing fit, a nurse says, “Oh, Doctor, there’s blood!” to which the doctor simply responds, “THAT’S not good!”), and his cartoony visuals turn disgusting things into visions of hilarity (it’s difficult to not laugh at his frequent vomiting, or the rather blunt depicition of him defecating in the forest). He even indicates that there was more, but that he’ll save it for another time, leaving us to wonder if he might really provide a sequel, or if his parting words are another dose of his dry humor.
Disappearance Diary is an engaging, extremely funny manga, and a surprisingly quick read for a 200-page book. One doesn’t have to be a fan of Azuma (or even familiar with him at all) to enjoy this story, but it may turn one into a fan before the final page is turned.