• Hideyuki Kikuchi (story), Yuho Ashibe (art) • ADV (2004) • Akita Shoten (Bonita, 1988) • 1 volume • Shôjo, Occult, Science Fiction • 16+ (brief language, graphic violence, nudity, brief seual situations)
An unfinished, surreal science fiction horror tale. In the future, the family-owned Persona Corporation owns 90 percent of the world, monitoring past, present, and future under the ominous sign of the spider. Suddenly, a gothic figure of rebellion appears: the mysterious Darkside, a gentleman with inhumanly piercing eyes, who drives a horse-drawn carriage out of a black mirror and sets up shop in the Mansion of Illusions in Shinjuku’s slums. A group of rebels and street urchins (dressed in embarrassing 1980s fashions) courts Darkside’s help in the battle against the Persona Corporation. If Kikuchi’s Demon City Hunter flirts with weird imagery in the context of a formulaic action manga, Darkside Blues is almost undiluted surrealism. Some of the vignettes are reminiscent of writers such as Ray Bradbury, Grant Morrison, or China Miéville: a miniature factory is shoved into a person’s wound, causing them to turn to gold; an “appetite enhancer for inanimate objects” causes a house to come to life and eat the occupants. Unfortunately, the story has no buildup, ending, or resolution, and ultimately is little more than glimpses of a kind of anime opium dream. Yuho Ashibe’s 1970s shôjo artwork is the perfect counterpart to Kikuchi’s strange but specific concepts.
Love Hina, “Love Doll(s)/Fledgling(s)” • Ken Akamatsu • Tokyopop (2002–2003) • Kodansha (Weekly Shônen Magazine, 1998–2002) • 14 volumes • Shônen, Romantic Comedy • 16+ (language, comic violence, constant partial nudity, constant seual situations) Hayate no Gotoku Manga
One of the most popular love comedies of the 1990s, Love Hina plays the “harem manga” premise for over-the-top physical comedy rather than the usual ego-stroking. Nineteen-year-old Keitaro is a wimpy, incompetent ronin, a high school graduate who has failed his all-important exam to get into Tokyo University. Like the hero of the vaguely similar Maison Ikkoku, he finds himself lodging with the opposite s-e-x and falling in love … but due to “girl inflation” in the years since Rumiko Takahashi’s classic romance, he ends up living with not one but five teenage women at a girls’ boarding house/hot springs. The inventiveness of Love Hina is that it’s less about merely flashing the reader with T&A and more about cramming as many s-e-x jokes as possible into each chapter. The women are basically aware of how totally pathetic Keitaro is, and when he accidentally falls face-first in their panties or stumbles on them in the bath, they treat him like a human punching bag, cheerfully knocking him from panel to panel without any permanent damage. (Of course, they come to like him eventually … it’s more like they express their affection through violence.) What makes this work is the smooth, good-looking art and the cheerfully pandering attitude, never descending into self-pity, excessive sentiment, or outright misogyny. It’s a love comedy with the emphasis on comedy, and the humor is inventive and implausible. Gradually things get more and more over the top, with chase scenes and fight scenes, leading up to a dramatic ending that showcases Akamatsu’s polished artwork: seualized cartoon characters inhabiting a world of extraordinarily detailed backgrounds, with something happening on every panel of every page.
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