Artist Spotlight: Senno Knife

November 18, 2011

There are many artists who were popular in the late 90s and early 2000s in the US who are completely forgotten today. And by “popular” I mean “heavily published by manga companies at the time.” I assume they were popular, because often they made convention appearances and whatnot. But nobody really reads Kia Asamiya (Silent Moebius), Masaomi Kanzaki (Heavy Metal Warrior Xenon), or even very much of Kazuo Koike (Offered) anymore, but there are plenty of bizarre relics of their popularity scattered throughout backissue bins nationwide. Hell, I found issues of Gunhed, by Kia Asamiya, in the backissues at work today. I didn’t even know that existed, and I have a manga site with 3,000 reviews on it.

One of the less conventional of these artists is Senno Knife. Unlike the others I mentioned, Senno Knife’s English catalog is completely the efforts of Studio Ironcat and its adult label Sexy Fruit. I know that Knife made convention appearances, but the largest body of his English language work was pamphlet-only releases, with only 1 graphic novel squeezed out just before Studio Ironcat went bankrupt. It’s hard to get your hands on Senno Knife today, but he’s unusual enough, and accessible enough, that it’s worth taking a look at his series.

Knife specializes in horror, specifically erotic horror. His graphic novel, Mantis Woman, isn’t erotic, but it was unusual enough that it led me back to his erotic manga releases. They’re fairly harmless softcore-type stories, as far as I’ve read, and they’re extremely cheap to come by these days, so if you’re looking for horror manga, Senno Knife might not be a bad place to start.

The images are all from Bizzarian and Sepia. It is an utter tragedy that I do not currently have my volume of Mantis Woman with me. Also, Knife is an adult artist, so some of the images are 18+ and definitely NSFW, though Knife’s art is softcore and fairly tame, so the gross-out factor is nonexistent in the images I’ve scanned. But then again, I’m a bad judge of taste, so they may still be fairly offensive.

Knife’s first work, Ningyohime, appeared in 1981, and he’s still publishing short volumes of horror and erotica stories to this day (he’s got over 45 volumes available). Knife used to be an assistant to Leiji Matsumoto, and I think the strange aesthetic of Matsumoto’s women and worlds wore off on Knife. The influence isn’t obvious enough that you can tell by looking, but when I realized the link, there’s definitely some theme similarities. Also, Knife’s wife, Nekoi, is in a band called PSY-DOLL, which is pretty radical. His penname (which translates to 1,000 knives) was one he chose initially for his horror doujinshi and, not surprisingly, Shounen Champion, and wasn’t something he was going to use professionally, but the name stuck.

I haven’t read very many H comics, so I’m probably not well-qualified to compare these to other adult comics. But the sex doesn’t seem to be the point of Knife’s erotic comics, though the sex does happen. Knife is more interested in building mood and atmosphere, and the horror and sci-fi stories in series like Sepia and Bizzarian (the two I’ve read) are more gothic than they are frightening or pornographic. Knife tends to build mood with big splash panels and attention to details like costumes and setting, and the art is more illustrative than it is sequential, if that makes sense. His is a very clean and very old-school style, so some of the actions can be a little stiff, and the character designs definitely reflect an older style of female sexuality. Unfortunately, character design is one of Knife’s weaknesses, as he seems to only have a few different styles of female character in his repertoire. But, being short stories and adult comics, character development isn’t really the point.

He primarily writes short stories, and draws a lot of the ideas from urban legends and folklore. His erotica also frequently features lesbians, and often twins. The doll-like character designs tend to rob the latter of its creepiness factor, though.

MANTIS WOMAN (originally published 2000) – 1 volume – The one graphic novel and non-adult comic in English by Knife, this is definitely for anybody who wants more weird horror stories along the lines of Hideshi Hino. These are all contemporary and fairly tame horror stories, and the plots all have an urban legend flavor to them. One of the stories is absolutely unforgettable, about a girl who gets a stuffed koala in the mail and begins to suspect she has a stalker, only to realize that the koala is the stalker. The panels that start demonizing the koala towards the end of the story are a thing of beauty. At one point, his nose detaches to reveal a phone in a “It’s coming from inside the house!”-style scene, and later, a full-sized human arm holding a hammer appears out of his mouth to assault the hero. Other stories include things like a next door neighbor who has a torture room in his basement for criminals, a vending machine that awards pet monsters instead of toys, and a new teacher that murders his students.

BIZZARIAN (originally published 1993) – 8 issues – This is slightly different from his other series for a couple reasons. One, it is a sci-fi series, and the others translated into English are not. Second, it’s strangely humorous. It relies less on mood and atmosphere (Knife’s strong suit) and more on the bizarre situations that the characters encounter. These range from intentionally hilarious, such as a story about a woman possessed by the spirit of a stripper that frequently disrobes in public, to out there. One of the images that stuck with me from this series was of an enormous woman in an Alice in Wonderland parody, where you had to enter a different world through her gigantic vagina, larger than most people were tall. Some are silly porno stories, like one where aliens abduct a girl and set her up so that they can make porno movies starring her; and some are just porno stories period, like one where a girl makes a “pet” out of another girl. Unfortunately, this struck me as somewhat more “adult” than Sepia, and Knife’s sex scenes just aren’t that erotic (though there are a lot of lesbians and chicks with dicks, if that’s your thing), so this is one of the less interesting series published in English. But it’s still fairly amusing.

EDEN (originally published 1994) – 4 issues – I have not read Eden, mainly because the four issues that were published were only the beginning of a much longer period piece. Set in turn-of-the-century Japan, it’s almost Victorian in nature, with lots of high class touches and what sounds like bodice ripper-style sex scenes. Again, the sex in this seems to be less pornographic and more erotic in nature, and I believe the tone of the piece is all about the atmosphere and setting.

SEPIA (originally published 1993) – 5 issues – Sepia is the supernatural horror version of Bizzarian, but here again, it’s not really about gory horror, or a horror that’s meant to titillate. The horror elements are more gothic and supernatural in nature, and the stories are more ghost and fairytale-type affairs. Sometimes wish fulfillment situations appear as well, as in a story where a maid sneaks in and replaces what is essentially a gigantic wooden blow-up doll with herself, and the owner thinks the doll has turned human for him. In another, a Zashiki-Warashi-type house spirit tricks a man into taking over his family’s inn by making him fall in love with her. Many of these stories share a common theme in that they fetishize kimonos.

VALKYR (originally published 1989) – 6 issues – Another incomplete series, and another I haven’t read. This one is not so much a collection of short stories, but rather has an overarching plot that doesn’t really appeal to me. It’s a somewhat speculative piece where Nazis rule, and one of the main characters is an android searching for the meaning of her life. There’s Nazi fetishism, and I imagine it to have something in common with the Ilsa movies, but that could just be me imagining things.

Knife had two more series scheduled to come out in English, Labyrinth Circus and Dark Dimension Zero, but from all the research I’ve done over the years and all the outlets I’ve searched for these books (both would have been released as graphic novels, at the end of Studio Ironcat’s life), I don’t think either actually came out. Labyrinth Circus sounds like another book of horror stories in the same vein as Mantis Woman, whereas Dark Dimension Zero might have been something a little different.

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