There’s a heck of a lot more to manga than magical girls, horror, and sports. There’s a whole underground scene in manga, as weird as anything R. Crumb ever put to paper.
We English-readers get a glimpse into that world with the first volume of Ax, an anthology of short manga pieces published in the experimental/alternative manga magazine of the same name. The roster of talent varies from Yoshihiro Tatsumi (whose autobiographical A Drifting Life made such waves last year) to folks I’ve never heard of.
Ax is for experimenters. The art is often crude, sex frequent, and many of the stories don’t seem to go anywhere.
But it’s different, and that’s the point.
I’ve been trying to analyze this book for weeks now, and I haven’t found a way to do it. It can’t be summarized; the stories and art styles are too different. I can’t review each story; there are three dozen of them, and the individual reviews would become repetitive.
But then, a collection like this thrives partly on its surprises, on many small doses of bizarre and thought-provoking images.
Is this volume deep? Each story is insufficiently long to really dive deeply into any one subject or character. A few stories stand out for psychological interest: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s “Love’s Bride” and Katsuo Kawai’s “Push Pin Woman” explore the sad pitfalls of romantic relationships in completely different ways. But what to say about Namie Fujieda’s “The Brilliant Ones,” a story of a student who one day explodes into wriggling worms, drawn in a style that wouldn’t look out of place in Shonen Jump? Or Mitsuhiko Yoshida’s straight fairy tale adaptation of ”The Hare and the Tortoise?”
So I come back to the concept of surprise. Ax is full of strange art styles and unexpected plot twists. And that’s okay with me.