Manga-ka: Toru Yamazaki
Publisher: Dark Horse
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: April 2006
Synopsis: “Teenage monsters lose their hearts and heads in a relentlessly gory collection of dark humor and horror! Carving a comical niche in modern horror manga, Toru Yamazaki’s Octopus Girl serves up the most disgusting dishes of heartbreak and revenge found on land or at sea. Have a side order of nervous laughter with your main course of bloodcurdling fear, some gore with your teen angst, and some killer instincts with your kawaii!”
Octopus Girl is a horror-comedy with a sense of humour as black as a smoker’s lung. It is gross, disgusting, and morbid – the manga equivalent of a thousand dead baby jokes. But it is also alternately hilarious and horrifying, playing the different elements against each other in a way that enhances it all.
Trying to describe the plot seems like a sure fire path to insanity, but here it goes: Takako is a good girl who gets relentlessly bullied at school. One day her attackers go too far, shoving an octopus into her mouth even after she protests that she’s allergic. Luckily she doesn’t seem to have too adverse of an reaction, until later that night when she awakes to find that she’s become a half-girl, half-octopus creature (if I seem to be implying that there’s some correlation between Takako’s allergy to octopus and her partial transformation into one, it is purely unintentional. There are next to no ‘correlations’ in this manga. Random and weird stuff just happens).
Takako gets over it pretty quickly and blames her tormentors for her new state. She goes after them and one by one and dishes out some mollusc style justice. In the rest of the book she falls in love, meets a half-human/half-eel girl, a vampire, and generally just ends up in one weird and fantastic situation and another.
It’s very clear from the first few pages that this is going to be a nasty manga, in every sense of the word. Within the first seven pages the heroine throws-up four times (and that’s on top of other bodily secretions). While early on the manga relies mostly on gross-out moments for humour and horror, eventually a kind of sly wit emerges that makes fun of both shojo and horror manga tropes. One of my favourite gags is from a later chapter that makes fun of shojo romances, where Takako, commenting on how cute she is, also comments on the pattern of flowers behind her: “It’s like my face is making all the flowers bloom in the background!”. Of course, there is still relentless gore and grossness throughout, but once it became paired with a satirical edge I found I could stomach it better.
The satirical nature extends to the art as well. The manga-ka cites Kazuo Umezu as an influence, and it’s easy to see Umezuo’s style in everything from the character designs to the layouts and settings. Octopus Girl looks much older than it actually is. While the art seems like something out of the 1970s, it premiered in Japan in the mid-1990s. However, the sense of humour seems more with the times. The other manga-ka that Toru Yamazaki cites as an inspiration is Hideshi Hino, a horror manga known for his bizarre and disgusting horror manga. While art wise Yamazaki may be more influenced by Umezuo, it’s clear that in terms of content it’s Hino’s lead he follows.
Dark Horse did a really nice job with this book. Aside from nice production values, the script is really funny. Usually I don’t like using swearing as a way to sell a joke. Not that I have anything against swearing, I just think that using it as a punch line comes off as weak. However, the liberal use of swear words is actually really funny. For example, when sweet and innocent Takako wakes up to find that she is half-octopus, her first instinct is to swear a blue streak a mile long. Also, the dialogue is really clever and plays on a lot of common terms and phrases seen in shojo manga.
It’s hard to know who to recommend this book to, as I feel like I could end up horribly insulting someone if I ever suggested that they were the type of person who would enjoy a manga as depraved as Octopus Girl. However, I’m sure there are people out there who would enjoy it, and deep down they know who they are. Myself, I could only read a little bit of the manga at a time, and when I laughed I felt really bad about it afterwards. But I also think that was probably the manga-ka’s intention.