Ding Pao-Yen’s Love Letter to Murakami Haruki
By Weng Chi-An ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg
Jan 16, 2024

(This article is originally published at Readmoo)

Anyone who knows their zines and alternative manga in Taiwan will know the name Ding Pao-Yen. Ding Pao-Yen’s rise over the last decade, powered by a distinctive artistic style and a little darkness in the details, has made him one of the most-watched figures in Taiwan comic book. He self-publishes, but also features in a number of recent local comic book anthologies. He doesn’t just do comic books – he continues to produce illustrations and experiment with various forms of visual expression. His 2023 art book From the Dream Dimension documents his accomplishments during those wanderings between comic book and art.

Console, 2073, published in late 2022 by Slowork Publishing, was something followers of his work recognized as new. It wasn’t just his first long-form piece – it was his first attempt at bringing his unique style to a mainstream audience after those years of self-publishing. His trademarks – harsh and explosive lines; anxiety and threats of violence lurking in the images – are still there, sometimes obviously, sometimes more subtly. But both narrative and composition have something more rarely seen from Ding Pao-Yen: a warmth, perhaps even a sweetness. Those two aspects could clash but in practice they balance each other, forming a fairy tale for modern times, a balm for every soul trapped between the real and the virtual.

Console, 2073 is a virtual romance. By the titular year, humanity has mastered the mechanics of dreaming, allowing the creation of a hybrid Dream Reality. This causes a sensation and is integrated into a best-selling games console. But by the time our protagonist, J, comes on the scene, Dream Reality has been banned for over a decade. But hardcore fans such as J, a professional bug-hunter for gaming studios, track down those games, get them up and running, and then plug themselves in. One day, J finds a Dream Reality game, Doomsday Library, at a second-hand market. In the process of debugging and playing the game, he falls for Saya, a cute in-game barista. With her, he finds a happiness and peace which escape him in the real world.

J becomes obsessed with the game; his feelings for Saya intensify. The boundary between Dream Reality and reality reality seems to fade. Each world bleeds into the other until he can’t be sure which is which. What is the point of the world? What role does Saya play? While finding the answers to those questions, J finds himself forced to make a choice: dream world or reality.

The roomier long-form format allows Ding Pao-Yen’s superb storytelling skills to come into play, creating a charming tale of virtual-real confusion. There is more, though, to the piece: images and symbolism drawn from the work of Japanese author Murakami Haruki are to be found: in the artwork, in the plot, even in the characters. Console, 2073 is almost a love letter to Murakami, something only a loyal reader or follower could produce.

This is not just a simple quoting of references. Murakami’s influence here is more profound. Ding Pao-Yen’s visual grammar is a response to that surreal style of Murakami’s, touching on something at the very core of the Japanese author’s work: the darkness that hides below normality’s surface, waiting to swallow us whole. Console, 2073 doesn’t just pay tribute to Murakami. It starts a conversation with him on what it means to be human.

This is mainstream sci-fi manga which manages to stay true to itself. It is also a work which reflects the author’s thought processes over a long period of time and a dialogue of equals with a beloved author. More importantly, when we find reality difficult and virtuality empty, we can open Console, 2073 and know that we are not alone. There are others, too, who wander confused.