Meet the non-narrative pageturner. Garden is Yuichi Yokoyama’s third English-language release from PictureBox, and his most viscerally thrilling work to date. It’s the clearest demonstration yet of the innovation that is his masterstroke: fusing visually and thematically abstract material with the breakneck forward momentum, eye-popping spectacle, and pulse-pounding sense of stakes of the rawest plot-driven action storytelling.
Garden has no story to tell, of course, not as such: It simply depicts a large group of sightseers who break into a vast manmade “garden” of enormous natural features combined with artificial and mechanical objects, wander around, and describe and inquire after what they see. With their matter-of-fact pronouncements (“There are many ponds. This one is jagged. There is a giant ball floating in this one. This one is made of stainless steel. We have now arrived at a significantly larger pond.”) doing the heavy lifting of parsing exactly what we’re looking at for us, we’re freed to simply go along for the ride, marveling at each new environment Yokoyama dreams up. As a feat of sheer bizarre imagination it’s tough to top: I can easily picture standing around with other readers comparing favorites — “I liked the hall of bubbles!” “I liked the stack of boats!” “I liked the river of balls!” “I liked the giant book!” “I liked the polaroid carpet-bombing!” “I liked the monkey bars!” Imagine if everything in Walt Disney World were as alien and strange as the giant golfball Spaceship Earth and you’re almost there. Nearly every new area and attraction practically demands to be stolen and used for a setpiece in someone’s weird alt-SFF webcomic. And with a “narrative” through-line that’s 100% pure exploration — lots of little guys walking and climbing and sliding and crawling through doorways and scaling mountains made of glass and so on — echoes of their tactile, discovery-driven adventure can’t help but hit us and excite us as we race along with them to their eventual destination.
In essence, Garden teaches you how to read it. It immerses you in its perambulations and presents you with a new amazing thing with each turn of the page, engrossing you to the point where you hardly even notice that it’s a book-length exploration on Yokoyama’s part of geometric shapes, of the clean line, of costume design (all the little people wear headgear and outfits that make them look like a cross between Jason Voorhees and Carmen Miranda), of his own fascination with the way the natural world and the manmade world shape one another. I felt at the end of the book like I do at the end of a great theme-park vacation: Exhausted, invigorated, and already planning my return.