Felipe Smith is an American artist who found his way to Japan and became serialized in an actual manga magazine. His resulting comic, Peepo Choo, is a fusion of the two cultures, feeling like both and neither at the same time, but unlike many others actually manages to succeed in creating something unique.
Peepo Choo follows a young otaku, Milton, living in the south side of Chicago. Forced to hide his anime fandom to survive the harsh urban environment, Milton finds reprieve in anime, particularly his favorite title, Peepo Choo and sees Japan as an ideal paradise from which he can escape his life in Chicago. When he wins a ticket to Japan, he sees it as an opportunity to really be himself, but learns that his dreams and reality don’t quite line up.
The first volume of Peepo Choo can create an odd initial impression. The art is very in-your-face. The heavy amount of sexual content and violence can seem out of place even knowing that there are plenty of sexual and violent manga out there, and the way in which it makes fun of geeks can be a turn-off for the geeks reading it. However, there are reasons for all of this, and it’s not simply to offend everyone.
Peepo Choo appears to glamorize sex and violence, but does so in a way that also simultaneously removes much of the fetishism in both. The “Peepo Choo” meta-series itself that Milton so adores resembles superflat artwork crossbred with Pokemon, looking not like anime so much as the impression someone completely unfamiliar with it might get from watching an episode. And while Milton comes across as pathetic, he’s also a very good and righteous person in his own way.
Most, if not all of the characters in Peepo Choo are horribly flawed in different ways. Paralleling Milton is a yakuza member who has so fallen in love with the “American gangsta” aesthetic that he has adopted a wardrobe (cowboy hat included), attitude, and name (“Morimoto Rockstar”) that is a garish parody of the lifestyle, essentially trying to obtain the life that Milton is trying to escape. Supermodel Reiko has an as-of-yet unexplained violent streak to her. Comic book store owner Jody lords it over his customers by telling them how pathetic they are, but is only covering up his own insecurities. Everyone wants to be more than they are, or at the very least feel like there are two conflicting sides to them.
Yet, despite all of these human faults, all of the characters show some degree of goodness and altruism through their otherwise broken personalities. And so while the message one might initially take from Peepo Choo is “hopelessness,” there is also a glimmer of progress and growth in all of them, or at least the potential for such. In a way, it reminds me of Ressentiment, which also has a similar theme of the beauty in ugliness.
Is Peepo Choo going to be uplifting, or is it going to be a heel to the face of fans? Honestly, as of Volume 1 I cannot tell. The story can easily go in either direction, and while I hope for the former I can’t make any guarantees.
Pick up Peepo Choo Volume 1 if you feel like something different. It’s not like any manga you’ve ever seen, and it also goes to show that perhaps the way to achieving that manga dream is to do something unique.
Thanks to Vertical Inc.’s Ed Chavez for providing this copy.