KANTA ON MANGA / Panpanya’s beautiful dark fantasies

© panpanya 2013

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistThe manga this week

Ashizuri Suizokukan (Ashizuri aquarium)

By panpanya (Ichigatsu to Shichigatsu)

I’ve always wanted to introduce the work of panpanya in this column. Last November, a fourth manga book “Dobutsutachi” (Animals), their first release in about a year and a half, was published by Hakusensha, and I thought to myself that panpanya’s time had finally come. However, when I reread their previous books, I felt more inclined to recommend their earliest collection, rather than the latest release.

Panpanya is considered to be part of a new wave of “absurd fantasy manga.” The manga artist’s protagonist is always a girl drawn with the same characteristics, and she often gets lost and wanders off into strange places. In a short story titled “Kanzen Shotengai” (A perfect shopping street) in this week’s manga, a girl is asked to run an errand for her mother and is given a handwritten shopping list before she sets off. While shopping, she realizes she cannot read one item on the list.

An employee in one of the stores tells her it may be written in Russian, so she goes to a Russian shopping complex in a neighboring town (I wonder why such a place is so conveniently located nearby!) She finds no joy there either, and is completely at a loss when she happens to hear about a shopping street called Kanzen Shotengai. She manages to find her way there and becomes mired in an even deeper fantasy world.

This story really resonated with me, and I’ve reread it countless times. I was completely enchanted by the dreamy, otherworldly quality of the shopping street. The scenes look quite familiar, but drawn with dark shades, distinctively warped backdrops and blurred ink, they also seem to reflect the girl’s anxieties and fear. The waves of shop signboards recall the imagery from Yoshiharu Tsuge’s famous short manga “Nejishiki” (Screw Style).

In contrast to the dark background scenery drawn with elaborate detail, the girl and other characters in the story are drawn with overly simple, haphazard strokes. Strangely enough, this contrasting style makes the protagonist appear quite cute in comparison to her surroundings.

The titular story in this week’s manga, “Ashizuri Suizokukan” (Ashizuri aquarium), is also a bizarre tale, composed of illustration, color photos and prose. Panpanya was originally a self-published creator of amateur dojinshi manga who debuted professionally three years ago — nothing else is known about the creator, including their gender or age. Ashizuri Suizokukan includes stories from panpanya’s dojinshi era. The book’s design and print quality are both quite elaborate and the efforts of the publisher deserve recognition.

First and foremost, I hope you read this week’s manga to experience and enjoy panpanya’s visionary talent. I also highly recommend a story included in their second collection “Kani ni Sasowarete” (An Invitation by a Crab), in which a girl absentmindedly gets off at an unfamiliar train station and can’t find her way home.

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior specialist whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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