By Junko Mizuno (jaPress/Last Gasp)
If you’re over a certain age or have eclectic tastes in art and music you might feel a pang of nostalgia at the work in this intriguing and coyly adult collection, featuring Manga sensation Junko Mizuno’s latest subversively compelling creation.
Since her emergence in 1995, the author has become renowned for combining the appearance of childish innocence or “cuteness” with dark, gory action and unwholesome or stridently clashing and inappropriate content in a sub-genre now dubbed Gothic or Noir kawaii (where kawaii describes cutely drawn protagonists and subjects).
Moreover the skewed sensibilities of her work in such Manga as Cinderalla, Hansel & Gretel, Princess Mermaid and Pure Trance (all available in English language editions) and the as-yet-untranslated Momongo no Isshō (the Life of Momongo) has exploded out of the comics ghetto and been taken up by the larger populace with art exhibitions (Heart Throbs and Tender Succubus), art-books (Hell Babies, Collector File and Flare) and high-end designer toys for adults including plush animals, vinyl figures, stationery, postcards, stickers, original art T-shirts and even a line of erotic products and condoms.
She is scheduled to produce a limited edition My Little Pony figure for a Hasbro charity event and by the time you read this Marvel should have released her first Spider-Man and Mary Jane adventure in the re-launched Strange Tales.
Her self-confessed shojo (“stories for girls”) influenced style also borrows heavily from the imagery of the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly the Graphic Psychedelia that grew out of Pop Art, with huge eyed (admittedly not uncommon in Manga), large-headed girls, drawn to look young – no, not young, but actively, innocently, illicitly under-aged: living in simplified, reduced detail environments.
As previously stated her content is always sharply at odds with her drawing style, like cartoons for toddlers but involving unpleasant visits to the gynaecologist or being eaten by cannibals. Much of her work is in full colour despite the overwhelming preponderance of black and white material in Japan, and this volume (mostly monochrome but with a magically lush colour section) breaks another tradition by using a huge 254 x 201mm page size rather than the usual 188 x 126mm to relate its tales of lonely hearts.
Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu is another conceptual shocker with a subtle subtext and an overt narrative underpinning, redolent of the naively “Swinging Sixties”. The cute pink planet Princess Kotobuki smells delightful but is invisible to human eyes. On its charming surface dwell nothing but beautiful naked young women and one very lovely, placid purple space hippo: but beware because Space Hippos are carnivorous!
And then there’s Pelu: a fluffy excitable ball of fuzz who questions this idyllic existence. From the hippo Pelu learns of Earth where there are two sexes, not one, and when Pelu learns its own origins (the first chapter is entitled ‘Sex Education on a Fantastic Planet’) it determines to go to the planet of humans and father a baby so it won’t be alone any more…
So begins the charmingly unsettling saga of Gigolo Pelu whose adventures in ‘The Naked Enka Singer’, ‘The Sassy Girl and the Bad Boy’, ‘Beach Maidens’ and ‘The Mysterious High School’ mirror the venerable tale of an Innocent’s road to enlightenment (complete with the loss of the aforementioned innocence), given extra punch by the overwhelming accoutrements of perfect childhood that permeate every atom of the tale.
On Earth the fluffy creature observes human interactions whilst always politely asking if anyone would like to be made pregnant – but love, hate, jealousy, pride, ambition, self-loathing and even murder are hard to grasp until Pelu discovers and befriends a hobo who becomes a valued comrade and teacher.
Everything, especially the many beautiful girls, are drawn in the style of late 1960s Playboy icons, the cartoon stylisations that featured in many movie blockbuster title sequences and especially the psychedelic works of Alan Aldridge and the animated film Yellow Submarine. Anybody British out there who remembers the kids show Crystal Tipps and Alistair, or the hippo from Rainbow, will feel a frisson of nostalgia – which is of course the point. The art is a beautiful velvet trap designed to put the reader in a receptive state so that the author can make her telling points about today’s world.
By co-opting the form of children’s entertainment the author can address fundamental aspects of society in a form intended to shock, subvert, upset and most importantly provoke: hopefully some thought on the readers’ part will be generated beyond the modern shock-reaction to nude young girls and the pre-pubescent idealism and purity that used to be associated with such imagery.
This is a deceptively edgy fantasy with a lot to say about society and relationships – similar to and completely different from Robert Heinlein’s groundbreaking social satire Stranger in a Strange Land, and if enough of the right people read it could have as much impact.
© 2003 Junko Mizuno. All Rights Reserved.