I can hardly believe it, but this month marks the tenth anniversary of this humble little review blog. What started out as a mere hobby blog has turn into...well, it's still mostly a hobby blog, but considering how much the manga blogging scene has changed it's one of the few still left standing.
Regardless, it's an achievement that's worth celebrating as part of our usual Merry Month of Manga. But what theme could fit such a moment? That's when the answer came to me: to have no theme at all.
Think of this as "dealer's choice," if you will. There is no overarching theme to the reviews this month beyond the fact that I want to talk about these books, be they bad, good, or merely mediocre. So let's kick things off with a manga that also defies a lot of categories.
PEEPO CHOO (Pipo Chu), by Felipe Smith. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2010.
Milton is just another ordinary black kid growing up in Chicago, but he wants nothing more than to go to Japan. Surely it will be just as wild as his favorite anime, Peepo Choo, and Milton would finally find a place where he could be himself. In the meantime, all he can do is hang out at the local comic book store with the other weebs while the store clerk Jody calls them dorks and entertains them with lurid (and entirely fake) stories about his sex life. The two end up on a store-sponsored trip to Japan, unaware to its true purpose. It turns out the store's owner is in truth a hulking assassin whose latest target is Morimoto, a yakuza lackey who has styled himself as an American gangsta. Along with tough-as-nails gravure model Reiko, their stories are about to collide in the most chaotic way possible.
The story behind this manga could be a manga in its own right. Felipe Smith started out as just another wanna-be comic artist from Chicago until he managed to place in one of Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga contests. He didn't settle for making just another OEL series, though. He managed to achieve what many would deem impossible: to create a manga for an actual Japanese seinen magazine. That's no small feat, considering the amount of work, language skills, and connections necessary to make such a thing happen. It's rather fitting then that the end result is Peepo Choo, a story all about the collision of Japanese and American pop culture and the willful misinterpretations that can happen as a result.
Poor sweet Milton is your classic weeaboo. His favorite show is childish randomness, spouting nonsense English phrases that Milton dutifully imitates as if it were real Japanese. He literally believes that Japan is a wonderland where everyone cosplays and watches anime. It's naive, but it comes from a sincere emotional place: a desire to share the interest they love with others, a desire for a unique identity, a wish to belong. This becomes a little more complicated when you consider that Milton is black. Smith doesn't delve too deep into this particular subject, but he makes it clear that for Milton, being a weeb is also in part an escape to a place where he believes that people will make fewer assumptions about him based on his skin color.
He's also clearly being set up as a foil to Morimoto...oh excuse me, I should use his preferred title of "MOZZAFUKIN' ROCKUSTAH!" His identity crisis shares a lot of similarities with Milton's, in that it comes from a desire to be more than he appears and to belong (in this case, with the Yazuka). It's just that Morimoto's desires are far more entwined with his own insecurities about his masculinity and stem from a far more ignorant place. Morimoto is basically a reverse weeaboo, and his fandom revolves around an American TV show called Brick Side, which itself is a hideously exaggerated collection of stereotypes about black people and gangs. He's basically adopted those stereotypes as an identity and wears it like one of his gaudy coats, oblivious to how removed it is from reality. The big difference between him and Milton is how Morimoto's facade hurts others. Milton's weebdom might be embarrassing, but it only affects himself. Meanwhile, Morimoto's gotten so lost in his new identity that he can't see how much his girlfriend has come to loathe him or how his Yakuza aniki hates him so much that he would literally hire an American assassin/part-time comic book store owner to kill his increasingly burdensome subordinate.
The facades that people wear and the ignorance and insecurity that fuels them are a big theme in this book, and it extends well into the supporting cast. Jody likes to talk big and look down on the anime and comic book nerds at the store, but that's just him projecting to cover for his own loneliness and lack of sex. Reiko might come off as a tough bitch (even to the only girl who knew her before her modelling career), but this persona is clearly a defensive measure against a world that looks at her face and career and presumes that she must be either a bimbo or a slut. Smith delivers all this while telling his story in the most outrageous fashion possible, cranking the sex, violence, and humor to 11 in the most attention-grabbing way possible. It might be too much for some, but those willing to look past its salacious front will appreciate Smith's deft character writing and pointed commentary.
Smith not only has a background in comics, but in animation as well. This shows in his commitment to delivering the biggest, most rubbery expressions and the most extreme proportions possible. That being said, it's not all chaos. There are some well-crafted montages here, like the one at the beginning where Milton gets ready for his day. He mopes through his household, puts on a sort of 'street' costume after getting out the door, only to change into his 'weeb' clothes at the comic book store. Others are more fantastical and extreme, such as Jody's porn-influenced fantasies or Gill's bloody massacres, but are equally well-drawn and compelling in their construction on the page.
This series was published by Vertical. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. All 3 volumes were published and are currently out of print.
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