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AX Alternative Manga Volume 1

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AX: Alternative Manga Volume 1

AX: Alternative Manga Volume 1

© Akino Kondo / Seirin-Kogeisha Co. Ltd.

The Bottom Line

From one of Japan’s most boldly original magazines comes a hefty collection of comics that will challenge your assumptions of what manga can be. The stories collected in AX: Alternative Manga Volume 1 are bizarre, beautiful, revolting, charming, disturbing, sexy and funny, sometimes all at the same time.

While only some scenes feature graphic sex and violence, there’s enough of it here to make AX an adults-only read. Sensitive souls may be disturbed by its moments of perversity, but adventurous readers will be invigorated by the diversity of stories and art styles here. Be prepared to have your mind blown.

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Pros

  • A mind-boggling array of stories and art styles that challenge conventional comics orthodoxy
  • Showcases an invigorating mix of decadent horror, charming slice-of-life tales and gross-out humor
  • Crude, rude, funny, surreal and sexy, AX takes readers on a hallucinogenic roller-coaster ride
  • Provides a glimpse into avant-manga that normally doesn't make its way to American shores
  • Includes a thoughtfully curated selection of stories from new and familiar manga creators

Cons

  • The multiple instances of penis, poo and fart jokes come across as juvenile and revolting
  • Features a lot of crude nudity, violence and profanity, so don’t read it on the subway
  • The artists' bios at the end are a little disjointed and awkwardly written.

Description

Guide Review - AX Alternative Manga Volume 1

Most of the manga that arrives on American shores looks like what most folks expect out of "Japanese comics." Then along comes something like AX: Alternative Manga to chop those expectations to bits.

AX: A Collection of Alternative Manga is an anthology featuring some of the most interesting and idiosyncratic comics creators, from one of Japan's most boldly original manga magazines. Where most mainstream manga creators are content to rely on predictable plots, familiar character archetypes and standardized drawing styles, AX comics go out on a limb where most creators dare not go. Nothing is too profane, too personal, too sexy or too bizarre for AX. AX provides comics creators with a playground without fences that allows them to tell stories in new and provocative ways.

This 400-page chunk of comics goodness was handpicked by Mitsuhiro Asakawa, the founding editor of AX and a veteran of another influential avant-manga magazine, Garo. Asakawa selected stories to present a broad spectrum of the AX aesthetic, and what a spectrum it is.

There's no one "style" of artwork here – it ranges from the crude, aggressively naïve scrawls in The Neighbor by Yuka Kanno to the sophisticated decadence of Into Darkness by Takato Yamamoto. There’s no one type of story – some are straightforward, like Mitsuhiko Yoshida’s charming retelling of The Hare and the Tortoise fable. Other stories bombard the reader with an array of hyper-sexualized perversity that would give a Freudian psychologist a field day, or a migraine.

For fans of "alternative manga," there are new stories by some familiar names, including Yusaku Hanakuma (Tokyo Zombie) and Imiri Sakabashira (The Box Man). Kazuichi Hanazawa's Six Paths of Wealth is an exquisitely creepy Heian-era horror tale that is quite different from his earthy prison diary Doing Time. Meanwhile, Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Love's Bride is about a man who feels emasculated by his cheating girlfriend, and is probably one of his weaker stories.

But what really makes AX an invigorating read are the new talents showcased here, many for the first time in English. There are too many highlights to mention all of them, but I especially enjoyed the stylish horror of Alranne Fatale by Hiroji Tani, the surreal break-up parable of Push Pin Woman by Katsuo Kawai, the elegant slice-of-life vignettes by Akino Kondo, and the quirky humor of Enrique Kobayashi’s Eldorado by Toranosuke Shimada.

One downside to AX is that a few of the stories are juvenile and revolting, in that "look at my penis" / "look at my poop" kind of way. It's not my thing, but I respect that AX is a place where artists can flip the middle finger at conventional comics, and shock even the most jaded reader with their cheerful irreverence for the "rules" of "good" manga or even good taste.

Despite its occasional gross-out moments, AX has an undeniable energy that crackles from almost every page. You probably won’t love every story, but chances are, reading AX will blow your mind.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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