Inside 'Red Colored Elegy' by Seiichi Hayashi

Inside 'Red Colored Elegy' by Seiichi Hayashi

Originally published in Japan in 1971 and then first brought west by Drawn & Quarterly in 2008, Red Colored Elegy is a truly timeless tale of a tumultuous relationship with fully developed characters who succeed, fail, love and hate together. 

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A story and it's characters live inside the book they inhabit, sitting on shelves all around the world waiting to be picked up, flipped through, shelved or poured over. Each copy in itself is the same, but they way a reader encounters it or the method in which they delve into it for the first time will always influence how the story is perceived. To wake up on a rainy Friday morning and be met with the reality of the errands I needed to accomplish, I grabbed my copy of Red Colored Elegy, tossed it into a tote with a small bag of trail mix and begrudgingly pulled on the clothing necessary to make the five block trek in the sprinkling rain to the nearest bus center. 

To open Red Colored Elegy on the city bus as raindrops darted down the window and fall into Seiichi Hayashi's world is my experience and perception of his story, but I couldn't help but feel like I was able to experience this work as intended. The book is a tumultuous work. It not only explores the common themes of the struggling artist and the dysfunctional relationship, but delves deep into the complexities of trust, fear, love and obsession. Red Colored Elegy's Ichiro and Sachiko are by no means angels, dealing with continual trials revolving around their artistic endeavors, their up-and-down romance and their deep connection. Anyone who has loved knows the struggle, anyone who has loved can connect with where it drives these characters, even if their actions represent behavior you've never been pushed so far as to exhibit yourself. Anyone who has ever been at a loss for words will understand the way that Hayashi so richly explores their connection through scenes without dialogue.

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Hayashi's love story and deep, rich narrative have been adored for more than forty years, but the incredible abstract and experimental visual components of Red Colored Elegy have been lauded over by readers, artists, scholars and historians since the book's initial release. Seiichi finds a way to explore narrative subject matter in an artistic style that seamlessly shifts between extremely minimal and richly detailed. Hayashi employs restraint in the quiet scenes between the two central characters, but also pays respect to the gravity of their situation and the awe of the natural world in other pages to show that these are real people in a real living, breathing world.

The inclusion of Ryan Holmberg's essays are welcome, although they should probably be enjoyed after letting the weight of the story sink in. Consuming such a seminal work takes some time to process, but also absolutely warrants the further information and exploration that Holmberg accomplishes so well. The thorough study of Hayashi's influences and then Hayashi's influence make this the premier edition of Red Colored Elegy for fans of manga and comics worldwide.

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Red Colored Elegy is available now via Drawn & Quarterly. You can also learn more about Seiichi Hayashi (via Ryan Holmberg) in this excellent TCJ feature from August 2014.

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