Another week, another Say It With Manga. Three titles again, this time on the themes of love, war, and parasites.
Horror: Parasyte – Hitoshi Iwaaki (8 volumes)
If I haven’t said it already, I do love horror manga almost unconditionally. Usually the more gratuitous and over-the-top the better, but sometimes a title can get its point across without being gory. Parasyte is one such title. Mysterious spore-based life forms begin taking over human bodies one day, with no explanation given. These life forms can twist themselves into different shapes at will, and lack a human conscience. The main character has a parasite that accidentally inhabits his arm. He keeps his personality, and has conversations on morality with the creature. Why is it wrong to kill humans? What if the parasites become the dominant species? The main character and his parasite often fight other parasites in battles where they morph into long, twisting blades, and there are many scenes of the spores killing innocents, so it’s not completely non-violent. But its strengths lie in the chilling questions the parasites ask. His art is quite plain, but the fight scenes with morphing characters are very dynamic.
Romance: Skip Beat – Yoshiki Nakamura (30+ volumes)
This comic stands head and shoulders above others around it simply because it is unbelievably mean and petty. The main character, Kyoko, is brutally dumped by her jerk celebrity boyfriend in the first volume. Rather than falling to pieces and planning on how to get him back, she begins plotting how to get back at him. She decides that the best way is to become a bigger celebrity than him. She begs her way into a talent agency and starts at the bottom. Another point in her favor is that she’s not a naturally gifted actress, and gains her roles and jobs by working hard and paying attention. She eventually gains a romantic interest in the form of another super-popular celebrity, but 30 volumes in the two are still not a couple. As you may have guessed from a character that hates a celebrity so much she vows to become an even bigger one, this manga is fairly crazy, and Nakamura loves to humiliate her characters on a regular basis. I rarely laugh as much as I do when I read a new volume of Skip Beat.
War: Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths – Shigeru Mizuki (1 volume)
I always feel like well-researched war comics make for a good bridge for non-comic readers. Barefoot Gen is the usual go-to war story in English-language manga, and that one is a harrowing story of a survivor of Hiroshima. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths was published in English last year, and takes a slightly different approach. It follows a unit of Japanese soldiers stationed off the coast of New Guinea, and does a good job of portraying the ridiculous waste of human life that went on during the fringes of the war. Not only were the soldiers (especially new recruits) abused terribly, there are also questions about how holding their position in New Guinea helps Japan at all, et cetera. Mizuki was himself stationed in New Guinea, and the story is based heavily on his own experiences. He lost an arm there, and draws all his work with only one hand. His art is extremely unusual, with highly detailed and realistic backgrounds contrasted with sparse, cartoony characters.