Peepo Choo 1
March 20, 2011
Felipe Smith – Vertical – 2010 – 3 volumes
I didn’t pick up this series initially because the cover of the first volume put me off so much, honestly. It says many things, none of which I’m interested in. But it got such consistently good reviews that I decided to pick it up when I found out all three volumes were out. Felipe Smith’s MBQ was also one of the few Tokyopop OEL series I was considering picking up when they did their Rising Stars of Manga competition, so I recognized him from that as well.
I loved this book. One of the things that I feel might go unappreciated by many is that it takes place in Chicago, and it makes good use of the city. Not even American comic books really use Chicago as a setting, so I was pretty excited when I figured out a good chunk of the story, at least in this volume, was going down in Chi-town. The comic store where much of the action takes place is in approximately the same place as the Graham Crackers comics off Michigan Avenue (and the exterior looks about the same, for what it’s worth), and I loved Milton’s transformation from south side to otaku extraordinaire at the beginning. There are also a lot of little details, like the completely accurate police uniforms, the tourist view of Buckingham Fountain… I’ve never seen a better representation of Chicago in comic form.
Also, I am totally biased because I live in Chicago. But my comments stand.
The other thing I loved about it is that it seems to be a story about what our hobbies say about us, and this is 100% why nobody I know in real life has any idea I have a massive manga collection. Granted, all the characters are taken to extremes, but even so, there’s a lesson in there for all of us about the face we show to the world. There’s Jody, the porn-loving virgin who yells at the geeks in the comic store all the time. There’s the geek war between the overweight middle-aged superhero crowd and the younger anime fans in the comic store. The ridiculous portrayal of both anime and the way Milton hero-worships it and believes all of Japan is like that. Gill’s hobby/side business as an insane hitman. Morimoto Rockstar’s love for American gangsta films and culture that turn him into Milton’s exact geek opposite. It took me a long time to figure out his deal, but when I did, I couldn’t get over how clever it was.
The actual plot of the series is secondary at this point, but involves Gill, Jody, and Milton taking a trip to Japan so that Gill can do a hit on Morimoto Rockstar. Jody is nonplussed until he finds out about Japan’s sex industry (the scene where he oogles the ads on the trains while in Japan is priceless), and it’s a dream come true for Milton, who believes everyone in Japan can speak “Peepo Choo.” There are a few characters who don’t quite fit in as of yet, but it looks like at least one of them will get a bigger role next volume, and I’m curious to see what their roles will be. To be fair, most of the characters are filling up a geek/terrifying stereotype (there’s a yakuza boss I didn’t mention in the above paragraph, only because being a yakuza isn’t really a hobby), but that’s the point of the story, and it illustrates the stereotypes so well that I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
I feel like there should be a handful of footnotes to explain some of the cultural nuances that might be missed by an American audience (there’s a great scene where all the characters are labeled with a neighborhood in Tokyo that matches them, but I was in the dark about what the implications of two of the neighborhoods were), but that’s a minor quibble. The only other problems I had were that the story is very… LOUD all the way through, and confusing at the beginning. Those two factors make for a difficult and frustrating first chapter. But what seems like scrambled and disconnected narratives at the beginning come together in very interesting and clever ways later on, so sticking with it quickly becomes worth it. I don’t know about the loud factor… many of the characters, especially Jody, shout and swear excessively, and the long and nonsensical Peepo Choo anime scenes are simultaneously hilarious for their complete insanity and excruciating to sit through because of their length. But that’s just the nature of this series. It wouldn’t be quite as extreme and interesting if it wasn’t so loud, and it blows my mind how verbally profane it gets in places.
I loved it. I love that it ran in Morning Two, and it makes me sad it didn’t last long, because judging by the first volume, it totally deserved more. It’s totally unique, and although I’m still trying to make sense of some of it, I’m really, really looking forward to what the second volume is going to offer up.