Book Review – Ax : A Collection of Alternative Manga by Sean Michael Wilson (Editor)

★★★★ 4 Stars

“From deep within the damp earth, rotten tree roots and strange demons, comes a fetid gasp and a scarlet stare. Come, come closer and discover my mystery…” – From “Into Darkness”

A great menagerie of equal parts deliberate grotesque, schizophrenic stray thought and a bit of surreal fever dream. That 4-star is a very unevenly rounded star. It’s more like a blobby mass of squashed mushrooms than it is a star.

About a third of these short manga are aggressively “WTF” – drawn for the sole purpose of being offensive. People can draw what they like, but in my opinion that is still one of the worse reasons to draw something. Doesn’t keep some of them from being enjoyable, but keep in mind that they are quite out-there, and shy away from nothing.

The other two-thirds were creative and boggling of the mind, in the best way of course. A broad and for the most part, quality showcase of alternative artists working in gekiga (lit. “dramatic pictures”) and its evil twin ero-guro, genres that seem sadly to be in perpetual obscurity outside of Japan. Some that stood out, for good or bad:

“Into Darkness” by Takato Yamamoto – A piece of nightmarish poetry set to Lovecraftian, BDSM-ish imagery. It is also unabashedly beautiful in every aspect. The fact that this is the only widely available work by this artist is an outrage, because wow! Easily the best of the collection. 5/5

“Conch of the Sky” by Imiri Sakabashira – This is where the true fever starts to kick in. A comic interpretation of a literal nightmare. There is no linear plot as would be in a nightmare, but really well-written and with a fascinating art style. 5/5

“Mushroom Garden” by Shinya Komatsu – So adorable! Everything about this comic is amazing – a very cool (and shockingly mild compared to the previous) short about a boy who decides on a whim to abandon his rock-collecting for growing fungi. 5/5

“Six Paths of Wealth” by Kazuichi Hanawa – Wonderfully raunchy horror story about two women who become the size of ants after an encounter with a strange being. The ink work in this is superb. 5/5

“Rooftop Elegy” by Takao Kawasaki – A mystery short with a fantastic twist and interesting art that looks more like a Western comic than a manga. 4/5

“Les Raskolnikov” by Keizo Miyanishi – Fascinating and surreal, elaborate and utterly beautiful drawings as well. 4/5

“Twin Adults” by Kotobuki Shiriagari – Simple but funny, with some insightful social commentary. 4/5

“A Broken Soul” by Nishioka Brosis – Drab-humour short about a man who loses his soul unexpectedly, so tries to revive it by sticking a hand drill into his brain. Apparently he also lost his knowledge of basic human anatomy. The art style is reminiscent of Tim Burton’s. 4/5

“Inside the Gourd” by Ayuko Akayama – Gentle and sweet. A man raises a cocoon inside of a gourd, which turns into a butterfly who leads him to the woman he will marry. 4/5

“Alraune Fatale” by Hiroji Tani – A man rescues a beautiful woman who dissolves to death those she seduces. Strange and provocative, if it did go a little over-the-top. 4/5

“Puppy Love” by Yusaku Hanakuma – A (human) couple tries to raise a litter of puppies who are actually their children, by some baffling defiance of biology. Kind of cute… in a demented way, and an unusual analysis on parenthood. 3/5

“The Watcher” by Osamu Kanno – Started out intriguing, then random nude dance routines ensue and it falls to pieces. The hyper-realistic detail on the characters’ faces is also oddly clashing with their stringy, unrealistic limbs, but the art is not terrible. 1.5/5

“Arizona Sizzler” by Saito Yunosuke – Probably the worst of the lot. It’s like if you extended restroom graffiti into many panels. 1/5

5/5 – “Into Darkness”, “Six Paths of Wealth”, “Mushroom Garden”, “Conch of the Sky”, “Les Raskolnikov”
4/5 – “A Broken Soul”, “Rooftop Elegy”, “Alraune Fatale”, “Twin Adults”, “Inside the Gourd”, “My Old Man & Me”, “Enrique Kobayashi’s Eldorado”, “The Rainy Day Blouse”, “Tortoise and the Hare”, “Up & Over”
3/5 or 3.5/5 – “A Well-Dressed Corpse”, “Push Pin Woman”, “The Neighbor”, “The Brilliant Ones”, “Black Sushi Party Piece”, “Love’s Bride”, “Stand By Me”, “Kosuke Okada and His 50 Sons”, “Home Drama: The Sugawaras”
2/5 – “Sacred Light”, “Me”, “300 Years”, “Haiku Manga”
1/5 – “The Watcher”, “Arizona Sizzler”

General Score – 4/5 Stars

(Would recommend 17+ – while a few of the stories are mild, most of them are extremely graphic in most aspects.)


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