As David reported earlier this week, both he and I were guests on a recent episode of Ed Sizemore’s Manga Out Loud podcast, along with Ed (of course) and Okazu‘s Erica Friedman. Our topic of discussion was Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo, originally serialized in Kodansha’s Morning Two magazine and published in English by Vertical, Inc.
To prepare for the podcast, I did a full re-read of the series as it stands, and as I reached the end, I felt incredibly sad that there was no more of it. Whatever the reason(s) for the three-volume wrap-up, and however gracefully Smith managed to wrap it up (quite gracefully, indeed), there was so much more I wanted to see, and I was pretty much heartbroken to know I’d never see it. Would Milton really be able to be true to himself once he got back home? What happens when Reiko gets there? Can Rockstar possibly survive Chicago, and who will he ultimately be if he does? These questions tease me mercilessly, along with many more.
Most of what I have to say about the series, I said on the podcast, but I do want to emphasize how much I enjoyed it and how much I thought it had to say, not just about fans, but about people in general, and how much energy we devote to our strong need for connection and identification. There’s a subtle warmth running quietly through the story that becomes evident as it progresses, offering a fascinating contrast to the outrageous, even shocking imagery Smith often uses to make his points. Ultimately the series was one of my favorites of the year, and if I can’t have more of it, I hope at least that we’ll soon see new work from Smith, whatever it might be.
On to the point of this column! There are a whole lot of reasons to read Peepo Choo, but since this is Thursday, I’m going to give you 3. Trust me, they’re more than enough. A bonus: alliteration.
3 Reasons to Read Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo
1. Rants – One of the series’ most winning moments occurs right near the beginning of the first volume, when comic book store employee Jody calls out both the superhero fans and the anime fans in the store for being equal losers in the eyes of general society. Most fans will find that this rant hits home (maybe more than they’d like to admit). And just wait for what Smith does to US anime and manga companies later in the series.
2. Reiko – Easily the best (and best-written) character in the series, jaded teen gravure model Reiko kicks some serious ass, both literally and figuratively. She’s a strong female character who doesn’t have to give that up in order to find out who she really is. Hers is the most complete journey of the series, and it’s more than worth following.
3. Rockstar – I already admitted it in the podcast, so I might as well come clean here. Morimoto Rockstar is one of my favorite characters in the series, despite the fact that he’s pretty much a morally bankrupt psychopath. Somehow, right alongside his murderous impulses and shocking cruelty, he’s wearing his inner child right on the outside, plain for anyone to see. This juxtaposition of heartlessness and vulnerability is more than enough to fascinate me. Perhaps it’ll do the same for you!
So, readers, have you read Peepo Choo? What were your top three reasons?
CJ saysFebruary 3, 2011 at 7:04 am
I still need to pick up (and read) volume 3, but I did enjoy the first two volumes. It’s a shame it got cancelled in Japan, hopefully if it sells well, Vertical might let Smith make another volume or something.
Melinda Beasi saysFebruary 4, 2011 at 9:08 am
The third volume is definitely worth it!
David Welsh saysFebruary 3, 2011 at 9:47 am
I had a great time recording that podcast. Thanks for following up with this and giving me an opening to ask you about one of the elements of the series that isn’t necessarily an attraction for me. (And yes, I should have brought this up in the podcast, but time flies.)
I’m going to admit that one of the least interesting character narratives for me was Milton’s. As we discussed, there are enough concurrent arcs and journeys that, maybe by design, every character isn’t necessarily going to be a gateway character, but I found Milton’s contributions to the story to be somewhat flat. The changes he undergoes certainly contribute to the whole tapestry, but in terms of viscerally caring, I couldn’t really invest that much in the same way I could with Reiko and the others.
I wonder if this is partly due to his character design, which looks very childlike, to the point that it shocked me to learn that he was 16 or so instead of, say, 12. And that’s a huge age difference in that range in terms of emotional and intellectual development. Maybe it’s partly that Milton’s disillusionment feels kind of cruel to inflict on a tween and almost kind of belated to inflict on a teen?
Melinda Beasi saysFebruary 3, 2011 at 11:24 am
Oh wow, you have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say this! I actually felt the same way about Miltion’s journey, but I didn’t really want to say so on the podcast, because I didn’t want to step on the one thing Ed actually liked about the series. Heh. I think that the disproportionately young way he’s drawn actually makes him read more like a caricature than the others, which is an odd thing to say when all the characters are essentially built from caricatures, but for some reason this affects Milton’s more than the others. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking to him, as the protagonist, to be sort of my touchstone to reality in the midst of all the crazy.
I’m making this up a little bit, but I do think I had much the same reaction to him as you did. And your conclusion may make a lot more sense than mine.
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 3, 2011 at 11:22 am
I’m glad to see Reiko get her due! She’s a surprising character, one who initially seems to be all tough-girl attitude and bodacious curves, but turns out to be smarter — and a little sadder — than everyone else.
Melinda Beasi saysFebruary 3, 2011 at 7:05 pm
I’m extremely fond of her!
David Welsh saysFebruary 3, 2011 at 7:17 pm
I was so delighted when Ed asked about her and Melinda, Erica and I basically barked in unison, “Best character in the series.”
Melinda Beasi saysFebruary 3, 2011 at 7:29 pm
That really was a splendid moment!
Erica Friedman saysFebruary 6, 2011 at 11:16 am
It was! Tremendously interesting how all three of us – with such disparate tastes and perspectives all said that. It says something about Reiko that she communicated so strongly to all of us.
Jade saysFebruary 4, 2011 at 3:02 am
1. I found the rants pretty shallow. The stereotypical American otaku is something that doesn’t happen all that much anymore and yes, I even say that as someone who was once hit on by a girl in a Naruto headband at Borders. The publisher situation you mentioned is something that doesn’t happen. Reiko can only call you a sexist if you’re sexist enough not to appreciate her calling you a sexist. It’s a big bundle of straw.
2. Reiko would have been more effective if the source of her strength wasn’t just butthurt over men.
3. Absolutely everything involving Gill and Rockstar was shamelessly lifted from Ichi the Killer.
Feb saysFebruary 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm
My impressions exactly, Jade.
No slight intended to Melinda, because this was a very helpful article. I was curious before, but for me this review was three reasons to avoid giving Peepo Choo a chance altogether. Perhaps I’m just outgrowing this stuff and can’t appreciate fluff anymore.
Jade saysFebruary 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm
Ultimately, I think the book is a little too aggressive. Whether I agree with what it’s saying or not, it isn’t going to change too many minds.
Erica Friedman saysFebruary 6, 2011 at 11:15 am
The publisher situation does happen. ALL THE TIME. What you see here lauded as ground-breaking visionary, gateway stuff, may be an absolute failure in Japan.
And as someone who has worked in that comic book store, who sells at events and reads forums online, so does the otaku vs comics geeks thing.
You might not have personally experience these, but they are not “not true.”
Jade saysFebruary 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm
Predatory publishers putting on otaku-face to swindle readers doesn’t happen. Otaku interests are niche enough and especially after the big sales dips, anyone still in the business who doesn’t love the media is the exception that proves the rule.
I know you didn’t hop on some yuri bandwagon hoping for it to be your gravy train. You have a serious love of the genre and bust your ass to try to shape the genre over here into something good, ripping into popular titles that do the genre as you see it a disservice and bolstering titles that wouldn’t do so well if yuri was just left to be pandering fan-service. As much as we disagree, I respect you and what you do, but Peepo Choo seems to be telling me that you should have left yuri as it is popularly seen in Japan because otherwise would be somehow dishonest to the fans. If an American calls themselves a yuri fan and likes that janitor story…from Yuri Monogatari 6?…or Hayate x Blade but not Queen’s Blade, Peepo Choo seems to be saying that’s wrong and using seriously aggressive means to do so.
Fans aren’t as likely to fall for hype over a book or show these days either. I personally consider Hetalia to be jingoistic garbage, but the fans are getting precisely what they want out of it: mutable characters easily adapted to fan works, ersatz militaristic costumes and yaoi lite. I don’t like how the jingoism gets a handwave by everyone involved, but I don’t think anyone is being tricked by any hype.
The actual manga vs. comics arguments are mainly the lunatic fringe making waves with the majority of fans only pissed that their interests are being aggressively attacked because the weak arguments against manga or comics get blown out of proportion. Showing some geeks arguing and then having Jody attack both sides is just feeding into that hype.
Oliver saysFebruary 4, 2011 at 11:58 am
I like strong female characters, that’s why I love The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko, but when the strength is based on the mistreatment of men, I get a little skeptical. ‘Course there’s a lot of sexism directed at females in manga, too, and it’s wrong both ways. I don’t cheer for manhating characters nor male characters who think they’re better than their female counterparts.
At the end of the day, though, I don’t base my reading on political correctness, so I do indulge in slightly homophobic and sexist manga like Maria Holic. Perhaps if I read Reiko the character, I might like her, who knows? Haven’t picked up the series yet.
Melinda Beasi saysFebruary 4, 2011 at 12:02 pm
Personally, I disagree with Jade’s assessment of the source of Reiko’s strength. That’s the source of her bitterness and disillusionment, sure, but she proves herself to be plenty strong without it, and frankly, that’s half the point of the series’ third volume. And in terms of her own treatment of men, if you do read the series you’ll see that it’s really not as simple as all that, and her reactions are based on how she’s been consistently treated by them.
Jade saysFebruary 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm
Yeah, I can see Melinda’s perspective on the character too.
Really, Reiko is a lot like Revy from Black Lagoon. Revy is a total badass, but she’s also chaotic and her angry at the world nihilism thing really grates on some people. They’re both just examples of characters where you have to ask yourself whether the ends really justify the pathological means.
For me, Reiko reminds me too much of the man-hating feminist or lesbian characters that only act like that because they were hurt by men. I hate that. I’m pretty sure she was also intended as a foil against sexist readers so a lot of her humanizing reveals are intended to make you feel guilty about whatever you were thinking about her before. I just don’t think that sort of thing belongs in fiction.