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Kusano Gengen

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1990-    ) Pseudonymous Japanese author and essayist whose sudden appearance on the literary scene in 2016 may be considered a manifestation of the underlying, shadowy power not only of modern Fandom, but also electronic Light Novel publishing and social media. A graduate of Keiō University's faculty of Environment and Information Studies, Kusano moved to Hokkaidō to pursue a doctorate. His debut professional work "Saigo nishite Saisho no Idol" ["Last and First Idol"] (November 2016 Hayakawa online; trans Andrew Cunningham in Last and First Idol coll 2018 ebook) won the publisher Hayakawa's "Sci-fi Contest" that year and secured him a Seiun Award, much to the surprise of the old guard. "Honestly," commented the author Chōhei Kanbayashi, "when I saw it was a candidate for the final round, I thought there must be some mistake."

Described by one of the Hayakawa Sci-fi Contest panellists as "stupid", and by an employee of his own publisher as "abysmal", Kusano's work of Recursive SF provocatively combines the breathless, vapid prose of a teenage school story with the portentous, epic concerns of Space Opera, turning each into a wry commentary on the pomposity of the other. Drawing extremely distantly on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831), it begins as a generic account of a hot-house school for would-be celebrities, but veers swiftly off-course after the suicide of one of the students, Mika Furutsuki. Her remains are preserved by her fellow singer Maori Niizono, who works on resuscitating her during a period of outlandish Disasters that plunge the world into anarchy. Reborn (see Sleeper Awakes) in a Cyborg body, Mika has powers to rival that of a Superhero, although her career is short-lived.

Over the next trillion years or so (a Time Abyss gleefully covered by the author in a matter of paragraphs), Mika embarks upon a deluded quest to create a new fandom for herself from the jellyfish creatures that inhabit a transformed Earth. Following the death of the Solar System and, subsequently, the universe, her final incarnation aspires to literal godhood, creating a new reality of her own, in which she not only engineers her fateful first meeting with Maori, but the moment in which the reader is reading the story, unpacking it as a religious exegesis revealing our true creator, an "idol" become idol.

Defenders of Kusano's work might cite its resemblance to Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future (1930; trans Minoru Okaguchi as Saigo nishite Saisho no Jinrui 2004), and the manner in which it married the Scientific Romance to more local tropes such as the textual Basilisk of Kōji Suzuki's Ring (1991; trans Robert B Rohmer and Glynne Walley 2003) and the genre bricolage of Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011). Much of the critical ire directed at the story seemed to stem from the open acknowledgement that it, like Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), had originated as a work of fan fiction, as well as the speed with which it was propelled from fanzine to award ceremony. It had originally appeared only a few months earlier as "Saigo nishite Saisho no Yazawa" ["Last and First Yazawa"] (March 2016 School Idol Fictionally), a Sequel by Other Hands to the multimedia franchise Love Live! School Idol Project (2010-ongoing), that playfully imagined the demise and resurrection in Hard SF form of one of the characters, Nico Yazawa. But Kusano is by no means the first Japanese author to use revised works of fan fiction as a means of entering the professional field. His trajectory, when compared with that of, say, Hiroshi Yamamoto or even Katsuhiro Ōtomo, seems far from unusual, which might lead some to suspect that the backlash against him was rooted more in factional or generational politics. An afterword by Satoshi Maejima to the collection Last and First Idol joyfully recounts many of Kusano's worst reviews, including those quoted here, exuberantly confident that they cannot touch him.

Kusano returned to very similar themes, possibly in deliberate and comedic provocation, with "Evolution Girls" (July 2017 Hayakawa online; trans Andrew Cunningham in Last and First Idol coll 2018 ebook). The protagonist, Youko, is killed in a car accident and Reincarnated as a single-celled organism within the titular online game, an expensive obsession during her short lifetime. A sprite's-eye view of a Videogame is presented as a literal Godgame, not only in Youko's participation in a series of evolutionary quests defined by and steered by external forces, but in her slow realization, speeded for the reader in an Infodump, that her game, the real world, and numerous Parallel Worlds are all linked through an "eleventh dimension" that taps into a Great Soul occluded and largely inaccessible since a few moments after the Big Bang. This, too, seemed to derive from a fan-fiction source, specifically the author's avowed interest in the videogame Kemono Friends (2015).

In another reflection of changing times, Kusano's work migrated abroad with whiplash speed, insofar that "Ankoku Seiyū" (2018 Hayakawa online; trans Andrew Cunningham as "Dark Seiyuu" in Last and First Idol, anth 2018) had already appeared in an English e-book edition by the time it was nominated for his second Seiun Award, and in paperback shortly before it won in July 2019. The story posits that the real-world "voice actors" (seiyū) accorded minor celebrity through their appearance in Anime, games and related media, are actually a higher evolutionary state than mere humans, with "aether-manipulating" powers that can be put to use in a series of Near Future technological breakthroughs. Lampooning the Japanese Media Landscape in much the same fashion as "Last and First Idol", Kusano reimagines seiyū as a Pariah Elite forced into a form of Slavery, with severe restrictions on their freedom, whose internecine conflicts cause the End of the World.

While Kusano's stories published so far in English are readily reduced to simple and repetitive formulae, and read more like notes towards a story than the story itself, such an ease of deconstruction belies the many one-line ideas crammed into their pages, many of which would occupy another author's Sense of Wonder for many a chapter. [JonC]

Gengen Kusano

born Japan: 16 April 1990



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