Note: For the purpose of this post, Peepo Choo will refer to the manga by Felipe Smith, while “Peepo Choo” will refer to the in-story manga.
In Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo, the main character Milton is a Chicago teenager and otaku who finds the opportunity to escape his life by traveling to Japan. Hopelessly dorky and even mistaking the gibberish language of his favorite show “Peepo Choo” for actual Japanese, the series initially feels like it might set him on the course for disaster and despair. Indeed, upon the revelation that “Peepo Choo” was an absolute flop in Japan and even ruined the lives of its creators, Milton is forced to re-evaluate all that he’s lived for up until that point. However, the comic is more than just a sobering wake-up call to nerds to stop living in delusion, instead delivering hope to otaku not just in spite of but because of those cultural misunderstandings.
The main reason that the truth about “Peepo Choo” is such a shock to Milton is that it found success in the United States because it was sold as the anime closest to Japan. The way its distributor “Japa-tastic” marketed it, “Peepo Choo” was proof that everyone in Japan loved anime as much as they did, that people cosplayed to work, that conflicts were a relic of the past, and that they could be understood just by living there. Having the series turn out to be completely unpopular in Japan flies in the face of all of that, but the dismal failure that is “Peepo Choo” actually does more to contribute to Milton’s growth and recovery.
We learn that “Peepo Choo” was the last manga ever made by a beloved children’s author named Ringo Plum. Coming off of the success of his latest title, Ringo Plum decided to create something for adults, pouring all of his talent and efforts into a comic that would be special in a way no other had been before. It was different, but too different, as its theme of universal understanding could not come across to the general Japanese public, who was too put off by the inscrutable visuals of “Peepo Choo.”As one character in the comic puts it, “Peepo Choo” was a little too ahead of is time, and yet Milton is able to fully understand the title and its peaceful message. He was able to do what most of Japan could not. Taking that into consideration, the fact that the series was unpopular in Japan is not an indictment of “Peepo Choo” or its American fans (nor is it an indictment of the Japanese for not “getting it”), but rather a sign that Milton himself is incredibly perceptive even if he is an ardent Japanophile. In other words, while Milton may have been an otaku with a warped image of Japan, his view on “Peepo Choo” is second to none, and it is not just despite but also because of his misconceptions. Even after he learns the truth of “Peepo Choo” and its lack of popularity, his openness and desire to understand others allow him to first, see that manga and anime still have an enormous presence in Japan (just not as omnipresent as he originally thought) and second, win the heart of the character Reiko (who might just be getting her own post dedicated to her).
“Peepo Choo” found success in the United States through deceptive marketing, but that unscrupulous tactic allowed fans in America to give the series a chance when its native readers would not. Whether the ends justify the means in this instance is not a relevant question, and it is simply how things turned out. Even though Milton made a number of mistakes along the way, how and why those mistakes were made are just as important to showing Milton’s true character as they are to darker and more disturbing characters in the story. As Milton is the main character, his particular tale leaves Peepo Choo feeling much more positive than one might expect it to, and that slight disconnect makes the message of understanding in both “Peepo Choo” and Peepo Choo all the more potent.