Saturday, March 22, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #22: Junko Mizuno

Junko Mizuno's comics are a jaw-dropping combination of erotica, pathos & poignancy, and over-the-top humor. In her Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu series, of which I received just the second volume, the titular character is a little fuzzball alien who has come to earth in order to find a bride and have a baby. Living in poverty and squalor in Tokyo, each chapter features a different misadventure with Pelu and his scruffy homeless friend Su-San. The first thing one noices about Mizuno's work is that there's an almost unbearable, loopy cuteness to it reminiscent of most shojo manga. Mizuno subverts that cuteness on nearly every page, first by adding frequently crazy sexual content and then by frequently adding a violent or downbeat plot that makes what is cute shocking.

Take "I Married a Puppet-Master", for instance. This one concerns a woman who is concerned that her husband, once a loving man, is now going off to work and returning each day looking more and more disfigured--and refusing to talk about it. To comfort herself, she knits cute critters out of yarn, which eventually come to life, befriend Pelu (one even promises to have a baby with him) and plan to murder the husband's evil bosses. It's a story about a complete psychotic breakdown and its grim, violent repercussions. Another story finds Pelu more-or-less held captive by a family of three generations of nymphomaniacs and essentially forced to copulate multiple times a day. There's plenty of sex and pretty women in that story, but the creepy control aspects of it (and hints that something even more sinister might be going on) and the pathos of the youngest girl in the family lend this story a brooding, melancholy quality. The stories get even weirder when a fellow alien's children wind up turning themselves into sausage so as to revive her, or when Su-san starts to hallucinate on his way to a grim ending. Another story features Pelu going on one of those wacky Japanese game shows in order to perhaps get a meal, fueled by the rage and frustration he feels for being reduced to a cute object rather than a serious potential sexual partner.

Pelu is an over-the-top soap opera that has no limits in terms of subject matter or how far to take particular concepts. It's at once farce, sex comedy, and straightforward exploration of sex, sexuality and sexual identity. There's a wonderful sense of fluidity in the storytelling that is well suited to the fluidity of sexuality that's explicated in the stories themselves, wherein the author invites the reader to explore what lies beneath the surface of her cute drawings. The focus is usually on Pelu himself, but Mizuno isn't afraid to take long digressions into the lives of people like the "soap girl" who changes gender, the Kappa (a sort of impish creature) abandoned by her fiance', or the motivations of the husband of one of the family of nymphomaniacs. No matter what tangent she may go down as part of her story, Mizuno always has a firm hand on the plot, frequently throwing in a twist or two as she brings things back to Pelu and his dilemma. Concluding each chapter with a jaunty theme song, Mizuno shows that she doesn't take all of this too seriously, even as the serious content of the books has emotional resonance.

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