March 9, 2008
To celebrate the fact I wheedled, bargained, pleaded, and begged my roommate’s copy of Comics Underground Japan into my possession, I reread both it and Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show. We bought these two volumes around the same time as Ultra Gash Inferno in a fit of Maruomania, but I was mostly disappointed all around. While I like horror manga, and I certainly love Suehiro Maruo’s illustrations, I just can’t stomach the bizarre content of his stories… and his illustrations lose some of their effect when they’re sequential.
Of the three books, this one has the only full story from Maruo, originally called “Camella Girl” in Japanese. A girl named Midori of indeterminate age (probably young, though) is enslaved by a traveling circus sideshow which stars a snake woman, a mummy man, a human torso, a sword-swallower, a boy raised as a girl, and a couple other characters. The first few chapters set up Midori as a horribly abused slave, and then a new character is introduced who becomes the most popular performer in the show and begins a romantic, surprisingly non-explicit relationship with Midori.
Unlike Ultra Gash Inferno, which is full of gross explicit sex, Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show starts with it but there’s not much sex after that. Actually, if you’ve read Ultra Gash Inferno, this is downright tasteful. If you’re looking for bizarre visuals, you’ll get some eyeball licking, chicken head biting, little men being crammed in jars, puppies being crushed, and in one notable instance, elephantiasis of the testicles… things like that. There are some truly grotesque and striking panels throughout, and I think this is worth owning for the visuals alone. It is extremely static as you read it, though. The line is blurred between whether or not this is a hindrance since you spend so long looking at each panel and there really isn’t too much action. Most people reading this won’t give it a second thought.
I didn’t like the story, though. I liked the basic story, which is apparently based on something else. Little girl is sold to circus, is abused, finds savior and escapes is a pretty good basic premise. It is extremely, EXTREMELY incoherent, though. Individual chapters tell stories which may or may not be related to others. This is okay, but the stories told in the chapters are just over the line of comprehensibility. I think this is explained away by the fact that it is surreal. To be fair, I think Suehiro Maruo is the only manga artist who could pull off surreal for an entire volume of manga, but it’s still not what I want to be reading. Perhaps I’m missing the point, or maybe Maruo’s manga stories just aren’t for me. There is a thin plot that picks up more and more meaning as the volume goes on, and the ending was quite enjoyable, even if I wasn’t entirely sure if what I thought happened was what actually occurred.
Well, if you don’t know what you’re getting into, I would probably stay away. If you’re looking for something nonsensical, depraved, and visually striking, this may be right up your alley. God knows I’d buy more Suehiro Maruo if it came out in English though, despite the fact I kind of hated everything I’ve read by him so far.