For decades, generations of Japanese students have followed the adventures of a plucky group of kids and learned English along the way, with the textbook series “New Horizons.” Imagine if Dick and Jane did a semester abroad as exchange students in Japan. Trapped in a sort of Groundhog’s Day time vortex, these characters never seem to age, frozen in amber. Japanese students spend the better part of six years studying English with these characters, only to graduate and never see what came of them. That is, until author and illustrator Brian Reyes breathed new life into them (or at least their distinctive likenesses) in his parody series “Dark Horizon,” which imagines what the characters might face if they had been allowed to grow-up. Dropped square into the modern world, the scope of their English language problem solving skills now involve issues like drug addiction, sexual deviancy, picking up girls and STDs.
Completely bilingual, this book caters to both Japanese speakers seeking to expand the scope of their English beyond what can be offered in most classrooms, and to English speakers seeking to do the same in Japanese. Commenting on the reviews of his book, author and illustrator Reyes claims “The Japanese find it nostalgic and the Westerners think it’s crude and funny.” But it may also tap that bittersweet nostalgic nerve for any former assistant language teachers as well. Reyes recalls his former career in the doldrums of the public education system, recounting, “I would wind up teaching the same chapter from the New Horizon textbook nine times each and at a grueling slow pace. I was ready to shoot myself by the time the 9th class rolled around, so I would make up interesting backgrounds for the characters in the book for my own sanity.” This series of books was born of one teacher’s imagination lashing out at the boredom and monotony of teaching in a public school. What’s more, Reyes continues “The kids seemed to get a kick out of it, and it made the lessons much more fun.”
Seeing that a little imagination not only made the lessons more tolerable, but also more educational, Reyes set to create his own pocket guides for more adult audiences. Equal parts comedy, parody and a bonafide phrasebook, Reyes emphasizes that he “never intended for people to use [the] book as a textbook.” Even so, it does prove quite educational. The books even include a supplemental CD with audio transcripts. “I have heard from some people” Reyes begins, “that they downloaded the audio to their smartphone to listen to on the way to work. I just hope they aren’t repeating the phrases out loud in public!”
The books have been an unmitigated success, with the first book selling out of its initial print run shortly after it was released, and ranking number one in it’s category for months on the online book retailer giant Amazon. The second book seems to be following that same pattern, not only continuing to rank in the top of its category, but ranking high overall. One look inside and it is easy to see why. The scenarios are sharp and witty, the design is sleek and easy to follow, and the artwork somehow captures the innocence of those familiar text book characters, and juxtaposes it against the backdrop of the seedy underbelly of modernity. The books succeed in being funny, educational, and illuminating all at once.
There is already a possible third installment in the works, but in the meantime, if you haven’t read the first two in the series, get yourself down to a bookshop today, or buy the books online through Amazon.jp.
Dark Horizon: Otona ni Nattara Tsukau ka mo Shirenai
Dark Horizon: Season 2 -* Love and Romance *
Written and illustrated by Brian Reyes
Published by Transworld Japan
160 pgs, Paperback.
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