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Tokyo Zombie

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Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma, published by Last Gasp

Tokyo Zombie

© Yusaku Hanakuma

The Bottom Line

Mitsuo and Fujio are two working stiffs who would rather wrestle than work. But when they kill and bury their annoying supervisor at the Dark Fuji dump, they set in motion an invasion of the undead. In zombie-infested Tokyo, the rich start exploiting the poor for entertainment, and the two buddies are reunited in a fateful martial arts match.

Tokyo Zombie offers a rare example of heta-uma (bad, but good) manga for U.S. audiences. Most mainstream manga fans will be perplexed by its purposely unpolished artwork and over-the-top violence, but cult cinema fans will appreciate its black humor and bizarre twists.

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Pros

  • Raw, exuberant artwork is unlike most American comics / manga
  • Over-the-top zombie mayhem will entertain fans of low-budget horror films
  • Sly social commentary about a society of haves and have-nots that has gone terribly wrong
  • Includes some wacky black humor with lots of wrestling, ju-jitsu and male bonding
  • Dude. It's got wrestling, zombie fellatio, and pig-surfing. What more do you want?

Cons

  • Not many mainstream manga readers will "get" the heta-uma (bad but good) aesthetic
  • Art, storytelling and dialogue looks amateurish at first glance, which makes it hard to appreciate
  • Lots of random violence, nudity and zombie cannibalism makes it strictly for grown-ups

Description

Guide Review - Tokyo Zombie

Two working class stiffs bury a body at an illegal dump, then find themselves in the middle of a zombie invasion. But this isn't your everyday Japanese horror manga. Tokyo Zombie is an example of a little-known sub-genre of avant-garde manga described as heta-uma (bad, but good).

As Fred Schodt describes the heta-uma aesthetic in his book, Dreamland Japan, it's a "weird mix of primitivism, energy and dadaist storylines," that was created in reaction to work that was realistic and polished but lacked individuality and soul. It apparently takes a lot of effort to create work that is "bad, but good" vs. just plain old "bad." For many American manga readers, it may take some effort to see the "good" in this "bad, but good" offering.

However, the lack of polished draftsmanship works for Tokyo Zombie, because it conveys over-the-top exuberance like a low-budget horror flick, ala Troma Studios' Toxic Avenger films or Shawn of the Dead. Much like the Troma films, Tokyo Zombie has lots of outrageous action and random violence, but it's all done with a playful wink to its audience. So what if it's bizarre, bloody and sometimes a little hard to follow? Tokyo Zombie celebrates male bonding (and pig / male bonding) and offers wicked social commentary about a corrupt society where the bored rich exploit the poor. All the while, this twisted martial arts fable never takes itself seriously, which makes it kind of endearing.

If you're looking for refined artwork, dynamic character development and complex plots, this might not be your thing. But if you appreciate manic, manly manga and over-the-top black humor, then Tokyo Zombie will not disappoint.

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