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Review: Secret Comics Japan

Secret Comics JapanUnderground Comics Now: Secret Comics Japan
Published By: Viz Media (2002)
Rating: Mature (18+)

“Selected by a former editor of the acclaimed manga magazine Garo and a former editor from Japan’s third-largest manga publisher, Shogakukan, this collection of underground comics from the last decade ranges from the beautifully surreal to the graphically gruesome.”

You can always have faith in a library to surprise you with some great finds that you may not have otherwise sought out. I’ve recently made numerous such discoveries in my college’s library, one of the more recent being a copy of the 2000 release of Secret Comics Japan.

Secret Comics Japan is a one-shot anthology, bringing together several different artists and storytellers through a series of short stories. The stories range from blantant social commentary, to simple character relations, but one overlapping theme on all of them is that they’re different. Be it a message the creator is brave enough to share or in a way they’re bold enough to express, each story brings its own uniqueness to the medium. Some of the stories here will also be familiar to those who remember Viz’s Pulp magazine, which was cancelled in 2002. It carried a few of the shorts presented here plus several others by the same creators.

The first short story set in the book is by Norimizu Ameya, with artwork by the infamous Junko Mizuno. Those who’ve seen Junko Mizuno’s work before will undoubtedly be able to recognize it here with its twistedly cute depictions. The story takes place in the future after a massive population boom has left the planet struggling with few resources. From the turmoil has come insect people: creatures with human like appearances who are able to mate with any living organism, resulting in some very unique offspring. One such offspring is Momongo, and this weird story follows her through her life of friendship, sex and species change. It was one of my favourites in the book because of the combination of deranged storytelling and cute artwork made it such a weird, but entertaining, read.

Junko Mizuno’sAnother notable story, and one of the longer reads, is a story of a girl named Hanako, a girl born through resurrection after Japan’s nuclear fall-out from the Hiroshima bombing. It’s a very loosely drawn story, no inks, no toning and very rough. It looks like doodles you’d see on the corners of someone’s homework. None the less, it makes for interesting social commentary on the strength of the Japanese to come back from their trials and go against the foreign devils who hurt them in the first place. Hanako is a super powered girl who flies around stopping rockets and saving people in distress, a notable being Junichi who by having sex with him, she’ll gain all the power she needs to save Japan. The crude humour woven with the cute design of Hanako and the dark subject matter makes this another bizarre, though ultimately so strange its fun, story.

Other stories range from an older student’s raunchy affair with his teacher, an editor letting loose with her artist, a look at our world with holes symbolizing people’s search for easy answers to life’s problems, to some other uniquely visual forms of storytelling. Before each story are thought-out blurbs regarding each artist by the book’s editor, Chikao Shiratori.

Overall, the diversity of these stories I found made it a really fantastic reading experience, though one that by sheer weirdness I probably wouldn’t pick up again because the stories wouldn’t have nearly the same impact upon second reading. Some stories I liked, and others not so much, but the completely unexpected nature of them always kept me on my toes and I had no idea what was going to come at me next. Sexually graphic, violent, twisted and undeniably unique, Secret Comics Japan is a brief though memorable look at some of Japan’s underground comics and presents manga in a way that’s bold, stylized and refreshing, proving yet again that manga as a medium is as diverse as a person’s imagination.

Review written October 29, 2008 by Lissa Pattillo
Book borrowed from the Truro Nova Scotia Community College Library

About the Author:

Lissa Pattillo is the owner and editor of Residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia she takes great joy in collecting all manners of manga genres, regretting that there's never enough time in the day to review or share them all. Along with reviews, Lissa is responsible for all the news postings to the website and works full time as a web and graphic designer.

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