March Manganess: GOGO MONSTER

As you may well have sussed, I've got it hot and heavy for alliteration. For that reason, I've singled out the month of March to highlight a few of the best and brightest manga titles from my ever-swaying stack. Each week I'll showcase a new Japanese comics title, be it popular or obscure, right-to-left or flip-flopped. These import digests have flooded into chain book retailers, often outnumbering the domestic fair. It isn't all nose-bleeds and sweat-drops though, and I promise you won't get slapped with any tentacles. So if you're up for something slightly different, join me in celebrating March Manganess


I'd be remiss if I closed out March Manganess without covering something totally surreal and unsettling. I've reviewed some terrific manga titles this month, but nothing that gnawed at me in the middle of the night like a bad anchovy mounting a round robin on my gut. That's a criminal disservice. Japan doesn't just have a lock on weird; they keep it in a jar with a twig and a leaf and some holes punched in the lid. The strangest of their pop culture is like Salvador Dali rolling his eyes back into his head and hocking up something genuinely bizarre into the palm of your hand. Being a continent or two removed from their sensibility makes it even more unusual for western audiences. And all the more alluring. 

Eisner winner Taiyo Matsumoto is bonkers. I imagine him doing all his works in abandoned laundromats, scrawling his unique blend of French and Japanese style art in big moleskin notebooks, occasionally pausing to bite the head off of a pigeon. His most famous work is probably Tekkonkinkreet, a comic and anime about two young vagrants and their run-in with some yakuza in a crooked cityscape called Treasure Town. It's wild. Matsumoto's style is sometimes crude, but alway energetic, with sharp lines and bold, blocky characters. He seems to specialize in urban sprawl, but all of his architecture throbs with a wicked pulse, telephone poles and staircases climbing skyward more like plants than manmade structures. And his characters are just as vibrant. 

GoGo Monster is a truly strange stand-alone graphic novel about a couple of third graders at Asahi elementary school. If Battle Royale and The Grudge have taught us anything it's that Japanese school children are terrifying by default. Whether it's the uniforms or the haircuts or the knives concealed in their sleeves, they're just not so cuddly. Nobody's meowing or crawling out of television sets here, but there's enough to keep you scratching at your scalp nervously. Especially since one of the boys, Tachibana, is convinced that an extradimensional race of beings led by an entity called Superstar are living in the school and breaking all the windows. Only new kid Makoto and old groundskeeper Ganz are willing to hear him out. The other kids just whisper and blame Tachibana for all the strange goings on. Then there's IQ, a fifth grader who roams the halls with a cardboard box on his head. It's not clear whether he's more obsessed with Tachibana or the school's pet rabbits. Relocate The Shining to a Japanese elementary school and you're really not too far off. 

Like Solanin, GoGo Monster has that cool atmospheric thing going for it. Tons of establishing shots that showcase empty sections of the school or its grounds, or detailed shots of nature or anatomy. There's a real sense of setting here, and it lends to the haunting narrative. The pages are also littered with word balloons, many of them without tails. Stray dialogue. Instead of attributing a little laugh or a whispered rumor to a single student, these word balloons speak for the crowd, maybe the school at large. This might be my favorite storytelling element in the book, because Matsumoto totally sells the concept of a school as a hive mind, a place of anonymous catcalls and laughter and even fear. You drift through those halls and overhear snippets of conversation or distant murmurs, and that all snowballs into the collective story of an institution. We find out how the other students feel about Tachibana and Makoto, but also about the strange things going on throughout the school year. It's sort of like a snickering Greek chorus. 

I also really gravitated towards Matsumoto's unusual line art. There's something childlike in it crudeness, but also in its spirited frenzy. It's not messy, but it feels like it could be pulled from the doodle kids draw during long, dry lectures. Lots of geometry and crooked lines. It instantly reminded me of the illustrations Shel Silverstein coupled with his poetry. Nitty gritty detail and skewed perspectives that make it both cute and–more often–creepy. The dialogue can be sparse in places, but the visuals tell a pretty engrossing narrative about a couple of lonely children just going through the motions, trying to survive the monotony of school life and the ever-present class system that raises some to popularity and affection, while drilling others into the floorboards. Matsumoto excels at creating a dull atmosphere for the day-to-day, then juxtaposes it with weird concepts like missing rabbits and kids with boxes on their heads to inspire actual horror. It's those moments where reality gets nudged just to the left that'll really scare a reader. No actual monsters required. 

The hefty 400+ page book itself is pretty stunning to behold, again presented by Viz in a cool hardcover volume with a nifty slipcase. When closed, the pages come together to create a bright red floral design. All that's missing is one of those shiny placeholder ribbons. If you want something totally kooky and even a little unnerving, while still being altogether beautiful, GoGo Monster. Seriously. Go

 


Paul Montgomery shouldn't have read this so late at night. He keeps seeing bunnies. Everywhere. Everywhere. Find him on Twitter or contact him at paul@ifanboy.com. 

Comments

  1. Read this about a month ago and absolutley loved it.

    There are so many pages where if you look hard enough you start to see all sorts of eerie faces among the leaves, water drops, clouds etc. Its he subtleties that really made this book for me! Great choice!

  2. Would you call this a straight up horror story? I’m reading the review, and I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be a horror story or a quirky story with some unnerving elements. Either way, it sounds interesting, and will be something I look for the next time I go to the store.

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @comicBOOKchris – Let’s say coming of age psychological horror. 

  4. Methinks I have a purchase to secure at Wondercon this weekend. 😉 This sounds great. Thanks, Paul, for the great manga write-ups this month.

  5. psychological horrors are usually a great staple of school-setting manga. I’m in, although I’m not going to be reading this at night anytime soon.

  6. I’m glad to see this mentioned on here. Matsumoto is a fucking genius.

  7. Haven’t read a manga since Death Note but I’m definitely checking this out.

  8. got it! in my "stack"