In Search Of...Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5

The Quest for No. 5

After nearly four years, I had finally managed to hold in my hands a copy of the first issue of the English edition of Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5. Of equal importance, the book was acquired for a price that I was willing to pay. But the long process of finding it has caused me wonder about the post-Ebay approach to supply and demand, and how online retailers set their prices when product supplies are low but there is no legitimate demand.

Taiyo Matsumoto's No. 5 was released in the American graphic novel market by Viz Comics  in the year 2000. I didn't learn of its existence until a few years later. Perusing the manga section on Amazon a few weeks before Christmas of 2006, I happened across the cover of the second issue. The whimsical-looking style of it all piqued my interest.

Also intriguing to me was the odd fact that the illustration wasn't the traditional look of manga. It appeared to have a European or American children's book illustration vibe. Pushing it over the edge was the afro-coiffed man dressed in a black uniform of some sort, partially obscured by the trunk of a tree. Who was he, and what part did he play in this curious-looking tale?

The synopsis that appeared with the listing on Amazon made me even more interested in the book: "A science-fiction thriller set in a powerfully imagined multi-cultural future landscape that resembles the current Middle East. No. 5 is the latest work from the critically-acclaimed creator of Black & White, Taiyo Matsumoto."

I've always found it interesting when manga makers craft tales that reflect the complex cultural make-up of the world outside Japan. The works of Masamune Shirow (Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell: Man Machine Interface) are great examples of that kind of worldly approach to manga making. And so I was especially curious to see how No. 5 would take on the theme.

At the time that I first learned of No. 5, I hadn't read any of Taiyo Matsumoto's other works. I knew of Black & White (aka Tekkonkinkreet), and had decided that at some point I would check out that much-lauded book. But I didn't see that particular point on any immediate horizon. No. 5 was the Matsumoto book that I wanted. Problem was, I couldn't find it.

Okay, with relative ease I'd found copies of the second issue, which three associate vendors on Amazon had in stock. (Shown above) But I couldn't bring myself to order it without knowing if I'd find a copy of the first. What's more, I didn't know how many issues there were in the series. At the very least, I wanted to get the two issues that I knew for certain that Viz had translated into English.

Frustratingly, after more than a year I still hadn't found a copy of the first issue of No. 5. Correction: I hadn't found one that was in a price range that I was willing to pay. $40+ dollars was not a price that I could even consider paying for a Viz Comics graphic novel released in 2000.

In the post-online auction world of commerce, there appears to be algorithm-based programs that artificially inflate the value of out-of-print products when shoppers run searches or add them to their want lists.The prices seem to be inflated based on some whacked out take on the capitalist principle of supply and demand––despite the still very relevant fact that there's often no actual demand upon which to justify jacking the price up in the very real way that online auction bidding can.

In consequence of this brave new world of greedy business models, many artificially priced items sit collecting dust until the system determines that no one is willing to pay whatever outlandish price at which the merchandise is listed. So, unless you have money to waste primarily on principle, you just have to wait for the prices to fall. Luckily I'm patient, holding fast to the adage that 'good things come to those who wait.'

So, during my wait, during Christmas of '08 my mum had asked what she could get for me as a gift and I mentioned the Tekkonkinkreet / Black and White) graphic novel. The holiday came and I got the book and very slowly devoured it over the next week. (Considering the amount of time I'd been waiting to read No. 5, I figured that I should savor Tekkonkinkreet.)

After enjoying every morsel of that masterpiece of a book, I purchased the animated adaptation and enjoyed the heck out of that one too. Maybe not as much as the actual book, but you know how that goes. To even do that is somewhat like comparing apples to pineapples.

Anyway, during the summer of 2009 I'm in San Diego attending the con and visiting with some of my best buds. After two days of the con we decide to forego the third day to make a trip up to Los Angeles. On the way there, we stop at Mitsuwa Market (a super ill Japanese megastore) for lunch and then head across town to a Japanese bookstore called Book One, to browse around and take in even more J-flavor.

Now here I'm really just casually eyeing the manga, with absolutely no intention of buying anything. I had already bought so much at the convention in the two days before. After several minutes of desultory browsing, the spine of one manga catches my eye. I slide it from the shelf and take a look. It's the first issue of No. 5, but I don't realize this because the title is in kanji and I'd never seen how the cover of the first issue looked since it wasn't shown on Amazon.

After thumbing through the first issue, I decide that it's illustrated with a very intriguing style and reach out to pull down second issue from the shelf. Looking at that particular cover, I begin to get very dim light bulb over my head. I think that I've seen the cover somewhere...but where? (It had been ages since I'd seen the small icon in my Amazon want list.)

Seconds later, as I'm getting the third issue from the shelf, it has fully dawned on me that I've somehow happened upon the series that had been looking for! It was utterly uncanny how it all occurred. I'm barely looking at anything on the shelves at the store and when I do, what I get my hands on are books that I had been wanting for years; albeit not English translated editions.

Needless to say, I bought 'em. Well, maybe not needless to say. But yeah, I bee lined straight for the checkout counter with my treasure, thrilled that my search was partially over. And to make a great thing greater, Book One was actually having dollar sale on all of the manga that weekend. So I walked out of the store with the three 140-plus page manga graphic novels for $1 dollar each. What a super cool moment of serendipity.

About a week after I had pored over every page and studied the story of No. 5 pictorially, I signed onto Amazon and placed an order for the second issue of the English edition, so that I could actually read some. Later on in the the year I found a reasonably priced copy of the first issue on Ebay when a book seller offered a brand new copy for 20% off for the $15.95 retail cost.

Shout out to Hardeep for the recent inspiration to blog this.