You remember the cartoon G.I.Joe, A Real American Hero, don’t you?
Every episode followed a simple plot: The G.I. Joes, were supposed to be *the* elite squad of of the American military, with powers that were practically magic by normal standards. The “Joes” were tasked with guarding a top secret technology that would help the world unless, by some outside chance, it was taken by the evil organization Cobra, which could instantly turn it into a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Before you could say “commercial break,” Cobra had nabbed the technology and the Joes were desperately fighting to get it back. The best they could do every episode was to destroy the technology to prevent Cobra from using it.
Watching this cartoon gave everyone I know a deep sense of dissatisfaction. These incompetent morons were supposed to be our most elite squad? That just didn’t bode well for the rest of our military, who were clearly a bungling bunch of Clouseaus destroying swathes of the world to “protect” us. Ermmm…yeah, anyway….
In the 1940’s psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed Four Stages of Learning:
1. Unconscious Incompetence (You don’t know that you don’t know something)
2. Conscious Incompetence (You know that you are incompetent at something)
3. Conscious Competence (You develop a skill, but have to think about it to execute it)
4. Unconscious Competence (You are so skilled at a thing that you no longer have to think about it to execute it)
While reading Hideyuki Kikuchi’s novel Wicked City: Black Guard I realized that there needs to be a fifth stage: Incompetent Competence (You are known to be so competent that no one will tell you that you’re a complete bungler.)
“A neon sign flickered overhead – Vesuvius – enticing me, drawing me in like a bee to a nectar-laden flower.”
In Wicked City: Black Guard, we are introduced to Taki Renzaburo, a salaryman at a bland company that fronts for a secret organization that combats Demon intrusions into our world. We are told that Taki is a member of the “Black Guard,” the elitest force of all the demon fighters out there – and of the Black Guard, Taki is the best. And so, when he fails completely to recognize his demon counterpart and partner Makie, we might be a little surprised. When both Taki and Makie fail to keep tabs on the target they are assigned to watch, we are justified in raising our eyebrows a bit. By the time Makie is kidnapped for the second time and gang-raped by other demons (something that seems bizarre no matter how you look at it….why would demons care about human expressions of disempowerment?) it would be completely understandable that we think that Taki and Makie are the G.I. Joes of their world. Someone really ought to tell them that they suck at their jobs.
But to be honest, I had long before given up any hope of taking this book seriously. On page 22, we follow Taki in a hostess bar, letting one of the hostesses seduce him. They go back to her apartment to have sex (in which his member is huge and she is all sorts of synonyms for “tight.”) Just as they are about to climax, her eyes open wide, she gasps “You…! You’re not…!” and explodes into a human-sized vagina dentata, instantly proving her demony existence. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that this scene made me collapse into hysterical laughter for a good twenty minutes.
“You may be able to turn yourself into a human, but you don’t know much about how we live, do you,” I said, “Your failure to erase all traces of your true self is what gave you away.”
From that point on, my purpose in reading Wicked City: Black Guard changed from reading a “erotic horror novel” to “reading some of the funniest writing I had read in years.” This was Bulmer-Lytton quality stuff. I kept reading lines out loud to my wife, because they were so awkward and clunky. And they were awkward and clunky in a way that indicates to me that it was not the fault of translator or adaptor, either. Writing this bad can’t be faked, approximated or altered. In fact, I’d say that the translator and adaptor did stellar jobs and should probably be congratulated. We can send flowers to them while they recover.
“Are you serious? I’d do the same thing every night if it meant getting my hands on soft female flesh! Anyone who gets in my way – you, them, anyone – is my enemy!”
The main problem with Incompetent Competence is that the heroes of the story start to sound more like the bad guys in cartoons from our youth. Taki and Makie have the smarts and competence of Wil E. coyote, Gargamel and all other cartoon baddies who fight non-violent characters. By the time Taki and Makie have been asked by the fifth entity if they’ve had intercourse yet and they are still clueless about why anyone would ask, one can really appreciate the anger one reader felt while watching Anita Blake be completely ineffective at her job. If I had cared by this point, I might well have screamed at Taki for being such a lamer, too. When Giuseppe Mayart, the body Makie and Taki were meant to guard, declares Taki “unfit to guard a fruit basket,” I was inclined to agree with him.
As a comedy of errors, Wicked City: Black Guard was a work of incompetent genius. As an “erotic novel by the author of Vampire Hunter D,” it was a train wreck.
I have the third book of the set, Wicked City: The Scarlet Letter that has no home as of yet. So, I am offering to give this one away to a HU commenter who provides a good example of Incompetent Competence – quote, character, whatever. Winner will be picked with the utmost bias. I look forward to your entries!