Lychee Light Club ライチ☆光クラブ Manga Review

Title: Lychee Light Club ライチ☆光クラブ, RaichiHikari Kurabu Lychee Light Club Manga Cover

Author: Usamaru Furuya

Launched in 2005, 1 volume and completed

Lychee Hikari Club is a one-volume manga whose origins can be found in a stage play that was performed at the Tokyo Grand Guignol Theatre in 1985. Usamaru Furuya takes the story and crafts a disturbing tale with a potent atmosphere given gory life by great artwork, a strong setting, ero-guro (erotic grotesque) and the excesses of yaoi all of which made me shudder and shocked me at points.

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I am a Hero アイアムアヒーロー Manga

I am a Hero アイアムアヒーロー Kengo Hanazawa

Author: Kengo Hanazawa

Launched in 2009, 16 volumes and currently ongoing.

I am jaded when it comes to zombies.

Zombies are everywhere in the West. They dash along cinema screens in horror movies like World War Z and they shamble across small screens in video games like Resident Evil and television series The Walking Dead, anime like Highschool of the Dead, and even reality TV shows like the BBC’s I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse.

I watch them but I am beginning to get weary of it all.

Gone are my teenage years when I first experienced the existential and visceral terror of the horror and bleak social commentary that Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead carried. Today it’s all a shooting gallery or dramas about snarky teenage zomboys and zomgirls and romance for the iPad generation.

It has been a long time since I was thrilled by zombie apocalypse
scenario. There is one exception. I have been reading Kengo Hanazawa’s manga I am a Hero since 2013 and each volume has proven to be a thrilling and scary read.

I Am a Hero Cover
I Am a Hero Cover

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6000: The Deep Sea of Madness 6000 ロクセン

6000: The Deep Sea of Madness 6000 ロクセン

Author: Nokuto Koike

Launched in 2010, 4 volumes and completed

6000 ロクセン Cover
6000 ロクセン Cover

Somewhere in the Philipines Sea, 6000 metres under water where neither the eyes of God or man can see lies a scientific facility once owned by a Japanese company. A tragic “accident” occurred in this underwater lab and it was abandoned for three years until a Chinese company buys the Japanese business and re-activates the facility.

The only way to access this facility is by an elevator of sorts that is 6000 Facility
connected to a floating platform with the master controls on the surface. This is how everybody gets down.

Taking the ride is Kengo Kadokura, our lead character. He is a liason between his Chinese bosses and the Japanese workers but even before he takes the plunge under water he has misgivings about the endeavour not least because the two sides he is working with distrust each other.

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Abara: Decay and Rebirth

Abara means rib in Japanese. It is drawn from the fact that the characters with special powers, Gaunas, can shape bone like armour and weaponry through altering their physical structure at will, creating layers and shapes to a partially chitinous exoskeleton like so.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei

It is never explained how but that’s just how Tsutomu Nihei rolls. Like the first volume of Biomega, he doesn’t go to great lengths to tell you what happens, who everybody is and what they do. All we know is that war has ravaged earth and left one population centre which is about to come under an apocalyptic assault from biomorphous creatures known as White Gaunas and the government of the city is at odds with a techno-religious group known as Kegen hall who use Black Gaunas to battle these creatures. That’s it.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei (24)

Any message, much like in Ridley Scott’s work, is in the visual aesthetic.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei (2)

The world is rotten. People do not so much as live in urban sprawl, rather they rot in urban choke. The city of the story is a post-modern gothic dystopian nightmare of cramped spaces and cyclopean structures veined with sinuous wire and punctured by vents bleeding waste.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Cyclopean Structures

Abara Tsutomu Nihei (35)

People work in hellish factories and live in hovels just off streets that are crumbling, surrounded by alleys that stretch into darkness and walkways spiral off into what? Nothing.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei (42)

Outside the land is vast and barren and man is truly insignificant. The world is an empty landscape of odd shapes that resemble something biomechanical.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Insignificance

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Public Transport

At least public transport still works.

Such art is compelling because it is detailed and the details relate a world that is slightly alien but still familiar. It revolts and attracts us. We know that filth and can see present-day humanity drifting towards it. Alien and Blade Runner’s aesthetics chime a similar note. Such details give something that is missing from so many other comics, character. Tsutomu Nihei lets his art do the talking and drive the story.

His characters and creatures are equally resplendent in their otherness and weirdness and sheer horror.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Gauna Rumble

Our hero, Kudou Denji much like Zoichi in Biomega is pretty much an unstoppable superman with the fate of the human race resting on his shoulders. He is a Black Gauna who can leap over tall buildings, run at super speeds and punch through brick walls like they were cardboard. He is awesome.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Kudou Denji

Tsutomu Nihei’s art captures his strength and speed with clever placement of frames and his heavy details.

Just look at the way speed is indicated by the smoke and twisting bodies.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Speed Gaunas

The towering monster is truly terrifying when one considers its size next to that bridge. Let us not forget the fact that Kudou is skidding on the side of a wall!

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Gauna Speed Run

It’s detailed and weird. The characters are brutal, violent, inhuman but also beautiful.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei White Gauna

If nothing else, Gaunas look so damn awesome!

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Gauna Awesomeness

But Kudou is burned out and angry. Just because he’s the hero is no guarantee he will be effective in the role. Nothing says he’ll be able to outrun the coming apocalypse. What of those who surround him? The chief of police? An ex-lover? An old woman settling down to eat soup? Heroes, villains and civilians alike are at the mercy of wider events and safety is not guaranteed as they all get sucked in.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Blorp

Blorp.

Fans of Tsutomu Nihei will know that onomatopoeia. It signals a sticky and gooey and very ugly human transformation and body horror into the monstrous. That usually forms a part of Nihei’s apocalyptic tales. The third volume of Biomega is one huge apocalypse with a messy end. But humanity has always had moments of monstrousness as this story’s art shows. Characters warp their physical bodies willingly much like the metal fetishist in Tetsuo, their environments have affected them, the evil of humanity lead to this horrendous ending but, much like Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film Pulse, as long as there is life at the end there is hope. Just don’t expect life to resemble anything you’re familiar with.

Abara Tsutomu Nihei Transformation

 God, if you can’t make me pretty, please make me superhuman like a Gauna.

Abara Gauna Aftermath Tsutomu Nihei

I Just Want to Start Over.

Scary Manga for Christmas

Christmas is coming and along with the festive cheer it is also a time for ghost stories. At least in Britain it is. Usually this means short stories by Charles Dickens and M.R. James. This got me thinking… When was the last time you were scared by a short story… or more specifically, manga?

Me? Never. I tend to read manga for humour – Welcome to the NHK/Excel Saga – or sci-fi action – Pluto/King of Thorns. I have read a lot of supernatural manga such as Claymore, Buso Renkin and Tsukihime and found them bland (apologies to anyone offended) so I have come to dismiss the medium in terms of scares… which is why I have been caught off guard by two recent reads – Biomega and Zashiki Onna. I just have to recommend them.

Biomega – Tsutomu Nihei

The N5S virus has swept across the Earth turning people into Zombies. Zoichi Kanoe is a synthetic human and agent of Toa Heavy Industries looking for a girl with the power to alter the virus. He rides into the city of 9JO on a motorcycle with built in AI named Fuyu only to encounter zombies and rivals also looking for the girl.

A Picture from the Manga, Biomega.

This is a bleak look at the future. The city and its architecture are very disturbing and labyrinthine. There is a lack of symmetry in the buildings and the spaces are all cramped and dark, cluttered with detritus and shadows. When spaces do open up, when you can see into the distance, what you get are post-industrial Escher nightmares stretching off into infinity – humanity created a hellish modernity for itself before the zombies showed up.

Tsutomu Nihei uses dense and dark imagery that imbues the settings with a disturbing quality which reflects upon the zombies. These walkers are genuinely chilling to look at, the human form bearing enough history from their past lives to make them individual but the disease distorting them physically. Seeing them in groups is just as unsettling.

The plot doesn’t give much away until it’s ready. Like Zoichi, we are venturing into this hell and discovering things at his pace. I found it very atmospheric and chilling. Reading this at night by the light of a small lamp across the room I felt a chilling physical and emotional response.

Zashiki Onna – Minetaro Mochizuki

Picture from the manga Zashiki Onna

College kid Hiroshi is living a relatively normal life, working a part time job, romancing a high-school girl and living alone in an apartment. One night he hears somebody banging a neighbour’s door and shouting. The knocking continues for a while but the neighbour isn’t in and Hiroshi wants to get some sleep so he goes outside. What greets him is a thin, tall bedraggled woman with torn, dirty clothes, messy hair. Bottom line: she’s disturbing. She sees him. So starts their ‘relationship’.

The manga goes from normal to chilling to absolutely deranged. What at first seems like a very realistic portrayal of stalking goes seriously off the rails into the psychological horror alley and then into the realm of the urban legend.

Japanese horror films have long since me primed for suspicion whenever a girl with Zashiki Onnaloooong hair pops up but at points I felt sorry for the poor woman. I believed in the characters and even if their actions weren’t totally believable I still found myself gritting my teeth at the creepiness, grinning with glee at the lunacy and crying out: 

“RUN HIROSHI! RUN!”

“DON’T DO IT HIROSHI! YOU FOOL!”

All without feeling the slightest bit of self-consciousness. Hell, I’m not embarrassed to admit it because I enjoyed the manga. Track it down if you can!