by Felipe Smith
published by Vertical; $12.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Initially, things seem to be going great for Milton. He has met someone who speaks the Peepo Choo language and has made his first friend in Japan. Jody isn’t as happy with the situation. Japan isn’t turning out to be the sex wonderland that he hoped for. However, the more time they spend in Japan, the more Milton begins to realize that Japan isn’t the otakon paradise he had envisioned either. Reality hits Milton hard. He has to decide whether to let his disillusion crush him or find a way to cope with it.
As I alluded to in my previous review, there is a lot going on in Peepo Choo. In fact, there is simply too much going on. Smith has a strong central message in the manga that gets lost in the pandemonium of sex, extreme violence, and zany humor.
The core of Peepo Choo is the story of Milton and Reiko. Both sought solace in a foreign culture, only to be disillusioned when reality failed to live up their fantasies. Milton discovers that Japan isn’t the land of the otaku. Just like in America, the hardcore fans of comics and animation are a minority on the fringes of society. Reiko discovers that American men have the same sexual desires as Japanese men. American men simply want to sleep with her, and their girlfriends see her as someone trying to break up their relationships. At heart, Milton and Reiko are lonely people in need of self-acceptance and a community of true friends that will support and encourage them.
Milton’s story alone has enough material for a multi-volume series. You have an inner-city youth who feels alienated from thug culture. He enjoys anime and manga, but he’s getting these filtered through companies that market to the insecurities of their audience. There is the conflict when Milton encounters superhero comic fans. His disillusionment when he visits Japan. His realization that Japan isn’t the paradise he hoped for. Finally, his own self-awakening and maturation.
Reiko’s story also could be a series in its own right. However, I like how it serves as a counter-balance to Milton’s experiences. It’s a reminder that Americans aren’t the only ones prone to romanticize another country. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see more of Reiko’s burgeoning friendship (romance?) with Milton. Seeing them connect and begin to mature together was my favorite part of the series.
Jody’s story and the yakuza plotline fall flat. It’s just eye candy for people that like over-the-top violence and gore. The characters are two-dimensional, and the whole thing feels tacked on. Jody gets integrated into the yakuza storyline nicely. However, the yazuka plot never intersects with Milton (and thankfully so). This has the unfortunate effect of creating a manga with two very distinct and different stories. Fans of the yakuza plotline are probably unhappy that it gets interrupted by Milton’s plotline and vice versa.
Smith really is a very versatile artist. He’s developed an art style that works well with ultraviolent action sequences as well as more sedate everyday street scenes. He does a great job showing emotions and making the characters feel real. He also has wonderful page layouts that make the series easy to read.
I can’t help feeling like Peepo Choo is a collection of lost opportunities. It could have been a great series exploring cultural misunderstandings and differences. It could have offered a much welcome critique on the way manga and anime have been marketed to Americans and the false expectations companies like Tokyopop and ADV have created. However, Peepo Choo lacked the needed focus to offer the insights Smith seems capable of. I think Smith has a lot of good things to say on these topics. I hope he will develop a series that allows him to give full voice to his thoughts. With Peepo Choo, we only get a fleeting glimpse of someone who promises to be a great manga artist.