Review: AX Alternative Manga

There’s a few things I don’t understand no matter how hard I try: most alternative comics and why people like Bon Jovi.

Thus, reviewing AX Alternative Manga is a bit of a challenge for me. I like art that’s attractive and usually art that’s clean. I like stories that I can follow, where I know what’s going on and it’s not just “Why are these people making a weird sexual dance contest out of a snoring man on the street?” I try to branch out as much as I can because I know there is merit in art and storytelling that is unconventional, but if I’m going to be honest here, sometimes I just want something simple, clean and attractive. AX has a lot of short stories that I neither found attractive or could follow well.

And that was the point of the whole thing!

AX is a compilation of short stories from the Japanese bi-monthly alternative manga magazine of the same name. The magazine itself rose from the ashes of the late alternative manga magazine Garo and now U.S. publisher Top Shelf Productions is publishing hand-picked stories from 12 years of AX history. It’s full of stories from manga greats like Tatsumi Yatsuhiro, Sakabashiri Imiri, Yamamoto Takato and, let’s face it, a ton of other artists most of us have never ever heard of before this compilation. There is a myriad of art styles, ways of storytelling and levels of absurdity. The magazine itself strives to bring whatever it is the creators want to publish to light, which is commendable in a publishing world where cliched stories and generic art can be the norm many mangaka are forced into.

I’ll start with some of my favorite stories, since that seems like the most logical place. My first favorite, and the story I could relate to the most, was Tatsumi Yastuhiro’s “Love’s Bride.” Because, (and I am not kidding) I have had a primate fall in love with me.  I was ten, he was an adolescent male orangutan in the jungles of Borneo named Gistok and we fast became friends. My last day there he tried to pull me up a tree by my hair very insistently, but alas, I had to return to California. There was something a little touching in the relationship between Usami and Chie-Chan, despite the fact that at the end of the story there was almost certainly some depravity going on.

I also really liked “The Rainy Day Blouse” and it’s sister story “The First Umbrella” by Akino Kondo, who did the cover illustration, because it just struck me as something very real that a girl would do and I like things that come off as inherently real despite it being fantasy. “Puppy Love” by Yusaku Hanakuma because I liked its message of accepting your family, especially the different ones, and its tragedy. “Rooftop Elegy” by Takao Kawasaki because it was one of those stories that is ridiculous and then just pulls together in the end, which I love.  And “Kosuke Okada and His 50 Sons” which was just strangely adorable.

Overall, AX was a mixed bag for me, and I expect it will be a mixed bag for most everyone who reads it. But I still LIKED reading it even if I didn’t get that “I get this entirely and my eyes have been opened and I love this” feeling about the entire anthology. I really wanted to get that feeling after reading it. I enjoyed about half of the stories in there,  most of the rest I didn’t really enjoy or just couldn’t understand and a few just grossed me out a little like Takashi Nemoto’s “Black Sushi Party Piece.”

In the end, I have immense respect for Top Shelf’s decision to put this anthology out. It’s certainly a risk to put out this kind of manga because most manga fans are going to avoid it and comic book and alt comics fans might reject it because it’s manga. This is certainly a book for people who are open to any sort of comics, people who are into short stories and/or people who don’t mind a lot of grotesque pictures of male genitalia. I do suggest you buy it because it is an important piece of manga publishing in the U.S. even if you don’t get alternative comics at all.

The publisher provided a review copy.

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