Velveteen & Mandala, which I believe is Jiro Matsumoto's official introduction to English speaking audiences, that's hard to stomach. It's a veritable series of creepy and disturbing episodes involving gratuitous nudity, violence, mutilation, rape, and defecation. It's a kind of otaku-laden phantasmagoria starring two sailor-suited teenage schoolgirls fighting zombies when they're not too busy making each other's lives miserable. All the while, Japanese society crumbles around them. And that's a strangely upbeat feature of the book. When everything and everyone else is dying, these two symbols of fanboy perversity somehow endure, inexplicably resistant to the forces of decay surrounding them. What does that say about humanity if the freaks and geeks are the people who inherit the Earth?
There's not really a great deal to be said about the plot, as it meanders about from chapter to chapter for 300+ pages and ends up explicating very little. Every so often, bombers drop corpses onto the riverside of Suginami Ward, Tokyo. And into this latter-day Sanzu wander two runaways - the violently antisocial Velveteen, and the ditzy Mandala. They both seem mentally unhinged as they take up residence in an abandoned tank and go about foraging for food. But the story takes a dark turn when the two are drafted into what appears to be an organized effort to process the corpses, which have turned into undead hordes that walk and talk like they're still very much alive. Where they originated from is unclear, but it seems that Tokyo's residents are being overwhelmed by war.
This is a visually dense book. After awhile the pop cultural references start to pile up: The vaguely reminiscent WWII setting, Hayao Miyazaki films, video games, RPGs, etc. As the violence and repellant behavior ramps up, Matsumoto gleefully captures all this with a frenetic drawing style that is both scratchy, yet detailed and accurate. Everything is covered in a texture that exudes a layer of dirt and grime. And the man loves portraying many scenes from the distorted perspective of a fish-eye lens. It's hard for me not to admire his virtuosity, even as I balk from some of the more upsetting subject matter.
What's the point of all this? Not much, actually, beyond Matsumoto exercising his artistic prerogative to shock or titillate. This is a work that actually breaks the 4th wall more than once to admit to the creator's lack of taste. And its social critique doesn't run particularly deep. Its nerd-centric focus seems more a twisted joke than embodying anything seriously-minded. But against my own better judgement, I found the final fate of these two unlikeable characters emotionally affecting. It's a strange, little book, though, which many readers will find unpalatable.