Poignant — now there’s a word I never imagined I’d be using to describe one of Junko Mizuno’s works, given her fondness for disturbing images and acid-trip plotlines. But Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu is poignant, a perversely sweet and sad meditation on one small, sheep-like alien’s efforts to find his place in the universe.
The story is simple: on the “cute and pink” planet of Princess Kotobuki, Pelu lives with a beautiful race of women and a “calm but carnivorous giant space hippo.” Pelu has always been aware of how different he is from his fellow Kotobukians, but when he learns that he will never be able to have a family of his own, he falls into a terrible funk, begging the hippo to eat him. When the hippo demurs — Pelu is just too woolly to be appetizing — Pelu borrows the hippo’s magic mirror and teleports to Earth in search of others like him. What Pelu discovers, however, is that Earth women view him as an exotic pet, a companion who’s entertaining but disposable. He careens from one unhappy situation to another, meeting young women who are down on their luck: an aspiring singer with a lousy voice, a homely orphan who’s raising an ungrateful brother, a pearl diver plying her trade in the sewer.
Like Mizuno’s other works, Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu aims for maximum shock value by depicting cute characters engaged in degenerate behavior: popping pills, doing the nasty in nasty places. Yet Fluffy Gigolo leaves a very different aftertaste than Mizuno’s other manga. Pure Trance, for example, is far less coherent, a set of vivid, Hieronymus Bosch-meets-Hello Kitty set pieces, with doll-like girls binging and purging, brandishing chainsaws, and enduring medical procedures that might give Dr. No pause. One could argue that Pure Trance was intended to point out the absurd lengths to which women go to achieve physical perfection, though one could also argue, as Shaenon Garrity does, that Pure Trance is really a vehicle for Mizuno to draw whatever crazy-ass things popped into her head (i.e. naked, chainsaw-wielding Bratz dolls). Either way, Pure Trance feels like a stunt, its Grand Guignol excesses trumping whatever social commentary might inform the story.
By contrast, Fluffy Gigolo‘s shock tactics serve dramatic and thematic functions, inviting the reader to feel sympathy for Pelu while prompting reflection on pregnancy and motherhood — or perhaps more accurately, the way in which childlessness is dramatized in manga, movies, and soap operas, as if being childless were worse than being afflicted with a terminal disease. “I’m better off dead!” Pelu declares. “I can’t have a baby, and I’ll always be alone for life.” Whether or not Mizuno is striving for deeper social commentary is hard to gauge — after all, her story features copious nudity, drug use, and a teleporting, man-eating space hippo from the Planet of the Dolls — but in Pelu’s odyssey, many readers will recognize the way in which biology, social conditioning, and hormones can prompt us to make compromises in pursuit of motherhood.
LITTLE FLUFFY GIGOLO PELU, VOL. 1 • BY JUNKO MIZUNO • LAST GASP • 168 pp. • RATING: MATURE (NUDITY, SEXUALITY, STRONG LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE, DRUG USE — IN SHORT, THE WORKS)
Erica Friedman saysNovember 5, 2009 at 4:32 pm
Don’t all *your* stories contain “copious nudity, drug use, and a teleporting, man-eating space hippo”? If not, you just have to wonder what you’re doing wrong as a writer. ;-)
I love Mizuno’s work precisely because she’s hard to parse. Is it a brilliant commentary or society, or is it a drug-like hallucination because she likes it that way? Or both? Or neither? Mizuno hurts my head in the most delicious way. “Pelu” was a super yummy dose of WTF.
Hungry for Yuri? Have some Okazu!
Katherine Dacey saysNovember 5, 2009 at 6:39 pm
I’m thinking my dissertation would be much more entertaining for my committee to read if contained at least one thing from that list. (The teleporting space hippo is probably the safest bet!)
And I agree about Mizuno’s work; I never know quite what to make of it, but I’m always amazed at just how wonderfully weird her imagination is.
Alex Hoffman saysNovember 5, 2009 at 10:17 pm
Excellent review! I really loved Gigolo Pelu, for all the reasons you described, and you’ve explained it with twice the wit and clarity that I could hope muster. My review of this is probably not meant to be -I keep getting stuck half-way through the review at “doll-eating space hippo.”
Katherine Dacey saysNovember 6, 2009 at 4:27 am
Thanks, Alex — that means a lot coming from a reviewer whose work I read and enjoy! Believe me when I say this one gestated for a long time.
Jade saysNovember 6, 2009 at 11:04 pm
Thanks for this review. Every review I’ve read on Mizuno’s books have gone to great lengths to illustrate how bizarre they are, but never spent much of any time delving into why they’re at all enjoyable. You’ve really piqued my interest here though.
Katherine Dacey saysNovember 7, 2009 at 9:04 am
Glad to hear the review was helpful! I definitely enjoyed Pelu more than some of Mizuno’s other work, as I thought she struck a better balance between allowing her imagination to run wild and actually telling a story.
Tegan saysNovember 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm
Most reviews of Mizuno really remind me of Hajime Ueda’s work, right down to making a habit of sacrificing storytelling for the sake of drawing cute weird junk.
I’m going to be making a big amazon order of manga lately, and I think Mizuno just made my list. Thanks!
Katherine Dacey saysNovember 10, 2009 at 8:47 am
It’s been a long time since I looked at either FLCL or Q-Ko-Chan, but your critique seems right on the money. Now I’m thinking I ought to go back and look at those again…