Yuki Tachibana sees faces in droplets of water, puzzles over the portents of flowers blooming out of season, and plays harmonica to entertain the spirits who live on the top floor of his school. He’s a third-grade student and the other kids think he’s weird
“He’s just trying to get attention,” says one child. “There’s a kid like that in every class, right?”
Being considered the weird kid at at Asahi Elementary School is quite an accomplishment, considering there’s an older boy at school who prefers to see the world through the single eye-hole of a cardboard box he wears over his head and shoulders every day.
Taiyo Matsumoto covers familiar territory in GoGo Monster, which was translated and published in English by Viz in November, 2009. Originally published in Japan in 2000, GoGo Monster echoes two other manga of his that were translated into English recently: Blue Spring, with its concentration on Japanese school life, and the acclaimed Tekkon Kinkreet, which follows the adventures of two orphaned street kids, who are best friends and lethal ass-kickers.
Of the three, GoGo Monster seems the most meditative and metaphorical. Tekkon Kinkreet might have packed more of an emotional wallop, while GoGo Monster feels like a work where Matsumoto is pushing himself to explore a more complex set of themes. They feel of a part, both being published during the same 1998-2000 period.
GoGo Monster follows Yuki and his friends (on “this side” and “the other side” of something supernatural) over one full school year and the start of the next. Among other stories, we follow Yuki, and his burgeoning friendship with Makoto Suzuki, a new student who has transferred to the school. There’s also Ganz, the old gardener with a mysterious understanding of Yuki’s visions, and the aforementioned box-wearing, brilliant boy nicknamed I.Q., whose sense of reality seems to depend on a certain white rabbit he looks after on school grounds.
The main story concerns Yuki’s knowledge that mysterious and dreadful changes are happening, both within him and in the school. He has been friends with an entity he’s named Super Star, “the boss of the other side,” where mischievous but benevolent spirits live. Apparently, evil “others” have encroached upon Asahi Elementary School, and they’re upsetting the delicate balance, trying to cause disharmony between “this side” and “the other side.”
Making things worse is the difficulty Yuki experiences in hearing Super Star’s communications. The boy knows a day will come when he’s simply too old to hear or even remember that there is another side to the world.
“When people turn into grown-ups, their insides melt into a mushy glop and their brains get hard and stiff,” he tells Makoto. “They get infested with maggots and a purple stink.”
Among the themes Matsumoto touches upon here are the mysteries of childhood, especially the points when a child becomes aware of something changing with age. Yuki and others seem to dread the loss of childhood, and “the other side” promises a way out for him. It brings to mind Pablo Picasso’s line: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” GoGo Monster is also about power of friendship, imagination and art, and the isolation familiar to anyone who has ever been an outsider.
Surreal moments occur throughout the story: heads turn into flowers, a child sees the branches of windblown trees form into overlapping faces, a group of rabbits seem to call to the box in the box, telling him, “The light is full of blood.”
His panel breakdowns and pacing feel cinematic, at times bringing to mind Stanley Kubrick’s emotionally distant observation. At other times, the surreal back-and-forth between reality and the “other side” feel a little like David Lynch, while at still other times, the concentration on personal, quiet moments conjures the appealing idea of Wes Anderson directing a Japanese ghost story for children.
Don\‘t You Know, We Need You Now: Step back to see the moster-face emerge over the page as a whole
Matsumoto’s art is often compared to Moebius, Enki Bilal and other Metal Hurlant artists. The blog let’s fall asleep also identifies other intriguing, possible influences, notably Italy’s Hugo Pratt, creator of the classic Corto Maltese.
One of the most striking aspects of this publication is it’s format. Encased in a beautiful, full-colour sleeve, the English version duplicates the hardcover format of its original Japanese publication, even matching the effect of having all the pages edged in bright red, with drawings continuing onto them from the cover. There’s a meticulous and loving attention to detail throughout the book (its format, story and artwork). Its pages seem to demand to be pored over and they reward re-reading.
Appearing every other week, Four-Eyed Stranger looks at classic manga reprints and unusual modern work by Asian artists.
- #1: Blue Movies
- #2: Unpacking “The Box Man”
- #3: Time, “Travel” and Sesame Street
- #4: Loving Life in Liquid City
- #5: The eternal loneliness of “not simple”
- #6: Heavy Metal Monkey King
- #7: Myths to Die By
- #8: Strange Stories From Singapore
- #9: The “Anti-Manga Manga”
- #10: The God of Comics Goes to Hell