They used to ask the foul-mouthed “do you kiss your mother with those lips?” For Japanese mangaka Shintaro Kago, the equivalent is “do you think about your mother with that brain?” This guy has made a career of being fucked in the head, and the Shintaro Kago Mental Pathology Express keeps on rolling down the tracks with Anamorphosis, yet another collection of the bizarre and the grotesque.
The centerpiece is a long-winded parody of House on Haunted Hill. A group of people must stay on a haunted movie set for 48 to win a bet. Not his most satisfying work, but quite enjoyable if you like black comedy and macabre slapstick. Unusually elaborate for Kago, too. It’s not every day he writes something that needs a dramatis personae. It also has a fair few kaiju/monster movie references, and the result is amusingly syncretic – as if Vincent Price and Godzilla had a baby together (in the world of Kago’s manga, such a thing is definitely possible.)
The rest of the volume contains a bunch of Kago one-shots. “Bishoujo Tantei Tengai Sagiri” is about a female detective who must solve a ludicrous murder. “Rainy Girl” stars a girl who attracts rain wherever she goes, and the complications this brings to her sex life. “A Small Present” returns to Kago’s much-loved theme of infant murder. “Hikikomori” is about students refusing to attend school – with nauseating results. Kago’s gross-out work gets all the press, but he’s a talented satirist, too. “Behind” uses a common real-life fear – doctors leaving surgical tools inside their patients – as its kick-off point, although obviously he takes it to strange and unwholesome conclusions.
“Previous Life” is rather clever. A girl is possessed by a snake, and a spiritualist discovers it’s because one of her ancestors killed a lot of snakes (karma, etc). Fortunately, the spiritualist is able to go back in time and stop the snake killer in his tracks. The girl’s sister sees a business opportunity, and manipulates other peoples’ pasts to help them succeed in the present. She has an swimmer’s ancestor kill lots of fish to improve her time in the Olympics. She has a mangaka’s ancestor kill lots of mangaka to improve his drawing skills (there’s a funny panel with Tezuka et all getting blasted with a shotgun). She also has her own ancestor kill buxom women so that she’ll have big tits (her father: “I wanted her to stay flat.”).
“Salesman” is about a girl who approaches the forlorn, and, rather than save them, helps them commit suicide in the most efficient way possible. “Changes” is a freaky gross-out story, archetypically Kago. “Weightlessness” is the volume’s finest moment. Such an unprepossessing little story, but the reveal at the end really took me by surprise.
The nice thing about Kago is that his comics, offensive subject matter or no, are always accessible and user-friendly. There’s none of the abstract Boschian ramblings of Usamaru Furuya’s Garden or the dizzying web of imagery that’s Suehiro Maruo’s Paranoia Star or any of the other excesses of most products described as extreme manga. Only Junji Ito beats him in mainstream appeal. With the title story Kago diverts a bit from his normal path, and it’s no coincidence that “Anamorphosis” is the only part that drags. Kago’s at his best when he’s on a roll – hitting you with shock after shock, not letting you breathe. The title story requires him to devote page time to subplots and characters, and you can feel some of his usual manic energy ebbing away.
But never mind. Kago’s a consistently entertaining mangaka, and Anamorphosis is another superior product from him. Step right up, and join the Kago Kult.