Trading Up: Matsumoto Goes GoGo Monster

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While others are content to merely tap into genre storytelling without adding anything new, Taiyo Matsumoto is famous for imprinting his own iconoclastic views on the genres he tackles. As a creator of Japanese comics, his line combines the best of European iconography with the Japanese manga style of storytelling, filtered through the creator's inner mind. Matsumoto likes to jump around in the genre pool and this has led to graphic novels featuring the 'Matsumoto weird' from sports manga entitled PING PONG, the Moebius sci fi inspired Number 5 and his most famous work: the violent urban teen fantasy Tekkonkinkreet (which even led to an animated feature). In 2000 he set his eyes on the supernatural and the result was GoGo Monster.

Third grader Yuki Tachibana lives in two worlds. In one world, he is a loner ridiculed by his classmates and reprimanded by his teachers for telling stories of supernatural beings that only he can see. In the other world, the supernatural beings vie for power with malevolent spirits who bring chaos into the school, the students' lives, and nature itself.

The manga format fits the supernatural horror premise like a glove, being the sort of horror that the Japanese excel in : long drawn out scenes oozing with tension; focus on the details; the horror of the everyday world. It is difficult to tell whether Yuki is schizophrenic due to genetics or a massive trauma (his parents for example are never mentioned or touched upon) or is truly in contact with beings from another sphere of existence - this is comics after all. Matsumoto enjoys playing with the reader, making it seem as if one solution is presenting itself to then veer off in another direction. It is a massive tour de force to keep this game of paper/rock/scissors engaging in over 400 pages because this is a very laid back book with almost no action whatsoever.

Further enhancing the atmosphere is the fact that we all watch the proceedings largely through the eyes of our two protagonists. Adults only linger around on the periphery, their function consisting of commentary on the proceedings, enhancing the kaleidoscopic immersement of viewpoints. And just as Yuki seems trapped in his own world, the reader is also trapped at the school setting where the whole book takes place. Another part of the joy of GoGo Monster is the inside look the western reader receives at Japanese schools and - storywise - seeing your own doubts unfold as the pages keep turning.

Matsumoto's storytelling style is very fragmented with word balloons of one scene carrying over into another; characters' thoughts and inner monologues flying over buildings and scenery and the dialogue is often chopped up, spread over multiple balloons and containing a cryptic attitude. The whole of the text and drawing have a mesmerizing quality; a gestalt that coalesces into a floating modus of reading. You don't just read this graphic novel, you almost literally fly through it. Like the camera in television series pioneered by E.R., you never stand still except on a particular noteworthy beat, turning the pages like a leaf blown by the wind.

The scratchy chunky style of Matsumoto's drawing holds the middle between his looser line in Number 5 and his more illustrative line work in Blue Spring. He applies a very instinctive approach to his drawings. One time his characters' faces are represented by nothing more than a few crude lines - without falling into the traditional Japanese cartoon trappings like bleeding nose equals horny - while the next he goes full out on rendering the texture of a leather jacket or a vista of the elementary school seen from a plane.

As an aside, the packaging itself is a like Russian matryoshka doll, a beautiful slipcase containing a 460 pages counting beautiful hardcover that starts immediately on the inside front cover. It contains a few different paper stocks and even a drawing on the sides of the paper in red ink. It sums up to a very impressive package at a low price point. The size of the HC is inbetween the US comics size and the traditional manga digest size.

Taiyo Matsumoto's GoGo Monster is a psychological tour-de-force disguised as a fantasy horror story. The eerie setting of the teenage high-school coupled with the mounting tension of confusion and multiple interpretations possible for the predicament of the protagonist sets this graphic novel apart from all the other horror mangas. Matsumoto has once again put his unique stamp on genre comic and produced an intense and surprising book.

GoGo Monster is published by Viz Media. It is a black and white hardcover containing 464 pages and retails for $ 27.99. It is available online and in finer bookstores and comic shops everywhere.

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