Published by Viz Communications under the Pulp or Cadence Books imprint in 2000, Secret Comics Japan is a look at the more underground or indie Japanese manga artists. Unusually, it doesn't fit the usual tankoubon proportions - the book is as tall as the usual American graphic novel and a centimeter or two wider, which combined with the depth of 200 pages makes for a fairly large book. The book is printed Japanese style, right to left, and a small note on the inside of the left cover reminds people that not every language reads the same.

The book opens with a small introduction from the editor talking about the diversity of modern Japanese manga and the blurring of "mainstream" and "underground" work that has followed the differentiation of genres. Chikao Shiratori, a Japanese editor with ties to the innovative, influential if not incredibly well read Garo magazine, picked a wide variety of authors for this collection in both style and popularity - as far as I know, only one author included has been published in America. Each work is prefaced with his notes on both the author and the work itself. This book is not suitable for children - several of the works deal with sex in fairly adult ways, and a few are downright disturbing.

Secret Comics Japan is composed of:

Junko Mizuno's The Life of Momongo, originally published in Comic Cue.
Junko Mizuno has a interesting cute-grotesque style which combines child-like feminine drawings with skulls and blood. Her webpage can be seen at Momongo is about a human insect who lives in a famine-starved 2020 and her urge to mate. Gloomy and strange, with its own special charm.

Hironori Kikuchi's Gedatsu Man, selected scenes.
Hironori Kikuchi is a Garo alumni whose work is firmly situated in the absurd. Gedatsu Man seems to be about robots, monsters and whatever crosses his mind at the moment - the art is simplistic, but the layout and plot is extremely non-linear in an interesting way.

Yuko Tsuno's Swing Shell, originally published in Garo.
Yuko Tsuno is a painfully independent artist who avoid commercializing her work. Swing Shell is a short surrealist piece about a young girl, her father and her escape.

Yoshitomo Yoshitomo's Jr., from Greatest Hits +3.
A popular mangaka who's worked for both shojo and seinen magazines, Yoshitomo's Jr. is inspired by the short story "Me and Miss Mandible" written by Donald Barthelme. It's about a 32-year old grade school student, and follows his usual pattern of a cool, detached protagonist. The art is nothing special, and it's probably my least favorite work of the collection.

Kiriko Nananan's Heartless Bitch and Painful Love, from Water.
Kiriko Nananan is another artist who started out with Garo and became well known. She draws in a cinematic and austere fashion, and her dialogue is realistic and distinctly feminine. Heartless Bitch is a short piece where a woman discusses a discarded lover with her friend, casually ripping him apart. Painful Love is an excellent piece where a woman meets with her lover for the last time. The layout of this manga is just excellent for reasons that are hard to put in words - the majority of the text is white words in black boxes of thought, and the man never speaks once as the woman finishes the wounded dog of the relationship off - being deliberately cruel in order to spare the one she still loves pain later on.

Shintaro Kago's Punctures, from Comic Massacre by the Train Station.
Shintaro Kago draws like Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame, but his stories are simply disturbing. Punctures is a bizarre work about an orderly husband who suddenly freaks out and starts worrying about holes in condoms, milk cartons and tires - and starts puncturing them in order to avoid the fear of finding them pierced later. This anguish spreads to the general populace, and holes start appearing everywhere - in signs, in desks and even people. The holes' influence only grows from there, resulting in unpleasant consequences for both the husband and the wife.

Makoto Aida's Mutant Hanako, selected scenes.
Makoto Aida is a fine artist who also works in manga, and originally published Mutant Hanako as an art exhibit. This is probably the most offensive work in the collection, as it tells the story of a girl transformed into a superhero after being raped by Americans and tied to Little Boy, which releases a huge cock of smoke as it destroys Hiroshima. It doesn't get much better after that. An interesting look at a little examined aspect of Japanese-American relations.

Benkyo Tamaoki's Editor Woman, from Sex 2000.
Benkyo Tamaoki (a pen name playing off the verb benkyo - to study) is the one artist in this collection to be published in America - his Sex-Philes comic is available from Eros Comix and the 18-and-over section of your local comics store. His webpage is available in English at Benkyo is interesting in that he creates very well drawn and written manga with realistic men and women that's strongly erotic - porn with a soul. Editor Woman is about a young female otaku, her job as an editor for a manga company, and her fling with a mangaka.

Usamaru Furuya's Palepoli, selected scenes.
Usuamaru Furuya comes at manga from an outsider's point of view, having studied numerous other art forms, and Palepoli is his humorous subversion of the standard four-panel manga. Elements from one panel may affect another, or even the entire page. He breaks the fourth wall and switches from art style to style with ease. A very unusual and excellent artist. Palepoli is the source of Secret Comics Japan's cover image of a angel holding a teddy bear.

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