Like Vinland Saga before it, today's review was a darling of the scanlation scene long believed to be unlicenseable due to its content. Thankfully for us, Seven Seas took on the challenge and the result is nothing quite like we've seen previously in horror manga.
FRANKEN FRAN (Furanken Furan), by Katsuhisa Kigitsu. First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2016.
Fran Madaraki is a patient young woman. She's spent years waiting for her father and creator, the notorious Dr. Madaraki, to return. In the mean time, she spends her time helping others through surgery in the name of saving lives. Unfortunately, Fran's got a rather peculiar notion of what saving life means, and she's more than willing to use all sorts of horrific methods to get results.
I can totally understand why licensors were so shy about this series previously. Even by the standards of horror manga, this would always be a difficult one to pitch to others. Ironically, it's those same unmarketable qualities that make Franken Fran so good in the first place.
Make no bones about it: Franken Fran is pure body horror. Bodies are chopped up, torn apart, mutated, reassembled, and transformed in all sorts of ways and none of them are particularly pleasant. Surgeries are shown with abdomens and skulls opened up to the world. Then there's the matter of Fran's fellow 'friends' and 'rugrats,' the results of her various experiments. It's saying something that the most pleasant looking one is the guy whose head is attached to a cat's body. The others are rarely seen outside of the full-body costumes they wear when they leave the premises and it's strongly suggested that there's good reason for that. It can be gruesome at times and if any of the above sets you off in any way, Franken Fran is not going to be the series for you.
If you can get past that gruesomeness, then you are in for a real treat. Thanks to the omnibus format, there are a lot of different stories here. Here you will find tales of revenge, twisted love, mystery, crime and so much more. Franken Fran isn't quite as moralizing as a lot of horror manga are, mostly because the title character isn't terribly interested in teaching lessons (well...most of the time). In most case, her patients simply get precisely what they asked for. There is one thing you won't find here: a lot of continuity. Most of the chapters are one-off stories with little to tie them together beyond Fran herself. There are only two stories that deal with anything larger: one that digs a little further into Dr. Madaraki's past and another that shows that Fran isn't Madaraki's only creation.
Despite all that, I would almost describe Franken Fran as weirdly light-hearted. Compared to the suffocating intensity of a Junji Ito work, Franken Fran is entertaining and incredibly easy to read. I think that Fran herself is the biggest reason for that. She approaches every situation with the most noble of intentions. She truly believes in her work and her dedication towards preserving life at all costs. She's incredibly empathetic; indeed, most of her cases come from others coming to her with stories of woe or stumbling upon a problem. That empathy extends not only to her patients, but also to her many creations. Others might view her as a monster, but her mind she is a Black Jack, and it's that same positive attitude that makes Franken Fran ghoulish fun instead of a grim and gritty gross-out fest.
Don't let the fanservice-y cover art fool you: Franken Fran is far from a fanservice fest. There are a fair share of bared boobs, but it's always framed in a frank, medical setting instead of as fetish fuel. If anything gets that sort of loving treatment, it's the blood, guts and transformations. Those are the images that take center stage. In comparison, the characters here are quite ordinary, even cute. This even applies to Fran. While she's covered in scars and possesses giant bolts on the side of her head, she is otherwise a perfectly cute teenage girl with her long, blonde hair, sensible blouse and skirt, and her welcoming face.
Kigitsu's approach to composition is just as frank and unaffected as Fran herself. He doesn't employ a lot of visual tricks, but when you deal in weirdness like this you don't have to get creative to shock and scare people. That's not to say that he slacks on the visuals either. Everyone's expressions are fluid and clear, the backgrounds are nicely detailed, and he clearly did his research when it came to the real-world medical details. His down-to-earth approach to the art ensures that the fantastical mad science elements will still shock but not taking the gruesomeness too far and making the work unpalatable.
Kigitsu throws in a handful of short stories at the end of each volume. They're not tied to Fran's stories most of the time, but all manage to deliver quite the visual punch with what little space they take up. They're nice little bonuses for what is already a solid collection of horror.
Franken Fran was well worth the wait. If you're the kind of person who a bit of levity with their mad science and body horror, then you owe it to yourself to pick this series up.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available. 6 volumes have been released in 2-in-1 omnibuses and are currently in print.
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