“Animated Realism” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)
Original: Japanese (アニメ的リアリズム), 2015
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017
Synopsis: Sitting at the bar, teetering to and fro, man gazes at the spectacle in front of him: humans take the shapes animals, the bartender morphs from one vegetable to another, while the bottles beyond the bar display flags and mascots while singing national anthems; even then, he believes he hasn’t had too much to drink. Once feet are on floor, the once-horizontal plane wavers up and down, the door rushes at him, the road undulates, and his car smiles. Once ensconced in his friendly and familiar car, the journey onward is filled with visions of roadside animals and ominously aggressive traffic.
Pre-analysis: Neither spirits, wine, nor beer have ever made me hallucinate. I’ve only ever tried absinthe twice–albeit not in copious amounts–but that only gave me vivid, damned bizarre nightmares–both times–but never altered visions of reality. The reader doesn’t know what the man had drunk, but it sure couldn’t have been any of the standard three mentioned above. The effects on undulating horizontal surfaces and lunging vertical surfaces may be the most familiar “hallucinations” of drunkenness, but exaggerated physical characteristics has never been an experience of mine.
Analysis: When intoxicated, passing thoughts can brandish prejudice. If you’re lucky, these prejudices won’t surface from intangible thoughts to rough-cut words; keeping them just below consciousness will increase your likelihood of survival from a lynching. The physical effects, such as moving floors and doors, however, cannot be deferred–the floor will probably kick your ass, as will the door. If you’re lucky enough to bypass the lynching by humans and beating my inanimate objects, and if you feel like you need to drive home in that state, you’re only opponent left is fate: You can’t walk but you feel you can drive? You can’t see straight but you think you can drive straight? You can’t gauge one foot for ten but you think can pass through an intersection?
Sadly, it usually aren’t the idiots who drive drunk that end up maimed, smeared on the pavement, or quadriplegic–it are the innocent people who happen to cross paths with the idiots. For our selfish protagonist here in “Animated Reality”, it’s all fun and games until he approaches the highway. The result: a familiar air to things, albeit in monochrome, so perhaps he’s destined to repeat his mistakes in perpetual agony, which is a suitable punishment in the afterlife if his death does occur.
Review: This is the last story in the collection, of which the last six stories feel detached from the other fourteen as they feel either sentimental or experimental on the fictional but not speculative realm. The last six stories are a snapshot of what else Tsutsui is capable of writing, so it may not meet expectations on par with his other translated collection: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno.
On its own accord, however, the story is heavily surreal and leans toward social parable at the end. It seems open to interpretation with the last line being “I should have come here a long time ago”, perhaps as a foreshadowing of his perpetual fate in hell or a smug affirmation of his life in heaven. Maybe it’s a bit hard to relate to, but it provides an interestingly vivid subjective picture of some state of inebriation.