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Secret Comics Japan
Softcover book
200 pages
Chikao Shiratori
Cadence Books
Viz Communications
One of the best mature audience manga collections on the market today.

ANIMEfringe Reviews:
Secret Comics Japan
By Adam "OMEGA" Arnold

Secret Comics Japan is a study of art and what it means to be unknown in your field of work. For this reason, all the stories that appear in the stand-alone collection have this one bond in common. Yet, the stories presented come from all the fields of manga that a well-versed Otaku, who knows of the non-mainstream world, would come to expect.

Edited by PULP columnist Chikao Shiratori, Secret Comics Japan takes a stunning look at the current world of underground manga. The book features nine artists with an insightful introduction on what it means to be unknown in Japan. Each artist also has an introduction page with background biography information, editor comments and reasons for choosing the work, and when available, a quote from the artist, directed at the reader.

The first work is a story called The Life of Momongo by Norimizu Ameya, with art by Juniko Mizuno. In this work, the characters are presented in a super-deformed fashion that is reminiscent of many acid-trip 70s drawings. Cutesy as the story may appear, the story is sci-fi to the max as a human insect female mates with a variety of creatures in order to have offspring for which to curb her hunger. Needless to say, she mates with a human and has a daughter whom she doesn't eat. What follows is the story of this girl as she grows up to be like her mother and tries to find the perfect mate.

Gedatsu Man is probably the books most nonsensical work. Hironori Kikuchi's art features deep, stiff lines that have a 'sunday morning comics' look to it. The first story features a robot battle that goes into a hilarious look at religion and then trails off into nothing. The second story is far more structured as an Otaku goes on a quest to capture a rampaging robot that creates other robots. If you can make it through this story with your sanity still intact, then you can read anything.

Yuko Tsuno's Swing Shell is a strange story of the bond a parent seems to have with their child. Told in a dreamy story book fashion, the short story presents a circular, yet clouded look at memories and the strange bond a parent's past seems to have on their children. This is clearly a story that you'll have to re-read to fully grasp the whole of the unclear concept.

Jr. by Yoshitomo Yoshimoto is one of those great, could-never-happen-in-real-life stories that would be cool if it did. Loosely based on a story by Donald Barthelme, the overall plot can best be compared with the American movie Billy Madison, but that's about it. Sokabe is a 32-year-old elementary-school student who's in love with the teacher and tries to teach his fellow classmates a thing or two about how to survive in life. It's a story that will instantly make you believe and care about the character. Plus there is some interesting fan service.

Heartless Bitch by Kiriko Nananan reads like a script from Sex in the City. In a storyboard progression, two ladies are eating at a restaurant and are bashing this horrible date one of them had. The next short, Painful Love, takes things one step further and shows what a mature woman goes through during a break-up and how she comes to the realization that they were both at fault.

Shintaro Kago's Punctures is one of the book's surreal all-stars, revolving around the fear of accidents, repetition of acts, and the mundanity of life. It's a story about the world becoming so obsessive-compulsive over the fear of preventing an accident that everyone gets professional holes installed in them. Who needs their eyes, ears, or what-ever else, when you can just be full of holes and prevent accidents? Just remember, "you have to use a puncturist. It's unsafe to do it yourself."

Mutant Hanako, by modern artist Makoto Aida, is an anti-war story about a naked girl who stows away on Little Boy as it goes to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. The girl is abused by the demonic American pilots and then strapped to the bomb and dropped. Hanako's charred body is later found by a family who wanted to cremate their lost daughter. Strangely, Hanako is reborn in the flames and becomes Mutant Hanako, commited to stop the bomb from falling on Nagasaki and to put an end to the war. What's interesting about the story is not only the controversal nature of the tale, but the fact that the story is done entirerly in free-hand pencil and unfinished. Even the word balloons have hand-written words put in to keep the consistancy of the Japanese original.

Benkyo Tamaoki's Editor Woman is the story of a porn manga worker who gets fed up with everyone else's lives. What I personally found interesting about this short is it depicts how a finished manga is treated once it gets to the magazine staff. You can see the everyday chit-chat of the office, looming hatred, how tiring certain tasks can be, and generally what people's jobs are. Oh, and this is by far the most PULP-esque of all the tales, in that this could have seen print along-side Dance Till Tomorrow. Or maybe not -- the final pages are a bit too hardcore for those who don't know what to expect.

Finally, the collection is topped off with a series of four-panel and multi-panel works called Palepoli by Usamaru Furuya, whose Short Cuts gag manga appears in PULP currently. Palepoli can best be described as a study in art with a plot. The stories chosen give an overview of the characters and showcases them in various situations. Most of all, each of the shorts will make you think or feel something -- Whether it be confusion, hatred, or irony, these works run full array of the spectrum.

So, if manga that isn't your run-of-the-mill stuff is your cup of mocha, then this book is definitly one for your bookcase. It's filled with stories for any type of person that is looking for something more mature than what's on the market currently -- but not so pornographic that it has to be hidden in the safe in the false wall.

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