First off, for some meta-news, I’ve been working on not only some of my own work, but on a project for Jacob Wiebe, which is very exciting. I can’t wait to share more news about this soon. For the time being, here’s a teaser:
Now, onto the rest of this post:
Note: I’m reviewing the French translation of Anamorphosis. To my knowledge, there is no English translation. If you got A’s in high school French, you should be fine.
I first came across Shintaro Kago when I picked up his minicomic, Zombie Games which is basically a series of nasty and explicit illustrations showcasing a brand of horror-shock humour that transcends culture, language, or any kind of decency for that matter.
Anamorphosis shows Kago tackling a more developed and sustained narrative in which a group of strangers are selected to stay in a painstakingly accurate re-creation of a crime scene in which the victim suffered a gruesome death by accident during the filming of a typically sadistic Japanese reality tv show.
The story grapples with the idea of visual deception on many levels, making for interesting reading, but it also works as a straightforward suspense/mystery. Kago’s draftsmanship on the page brings to life an illusory world of games within games in which you’re never sure what is real or not. The only drawback to all such tales in my experience, is that the plot twists and striving toward solving the mystery are always far more enjoyable than reaching the final explanation.
Anamorphosis also contains a second part of unrelated short comics that share the absurd, guro humour of Zombie Games, although I would say these tales are decidedly less innocent, if such a term could be used to describe a comic about dead rotting bodies in various states of congress. In any case, if you are offended by, well, anything, you should probably not read the second half of this manga. Cannibalism, dead babies, Kago will go there. In the hands of a lesser artist, these stories would be irritatingly purile, but they are really so bizarre and absurd – like the above image, taken from Permutations, a story in which body parts switch places – he manages to avoid such pitfalls.
I must say however, that almost all of the short stories sexualize young women and only women in violent ways. And the story that is by far the worst in this regard is “La Femme-Pluie” in which a young girl is raped and appears to be enjoying it. This was a major turnoff and is why the post is titled “Read” (as in the past tense, not the imperative) instead of “Recommended.” I don’t take an immediate negative stance against representations of violence against women as should be obvious by other comics I’ve recommended. I’d also never support a totalizing censorship of such things and do not believe there can be any rules regarding “acceptable” types of representations (i.e., only representations from a female, anti-violence perspective allowed). What I do want, is to see a compelling reason for singling out one gender in representations of sexual violence. I don’t see that in Anamorphosis’ short stories. It’s a shame because he is obviously quite talented and imaginative.