A few years ago, there was a mini-trend for stories that directly addressed the lives of manga/anime fans. Genshiken was the gentle one showing otaku lead eccentric, but essentially happy, lives, Welcome to the NHK was the depressing one full of miserable people, and Densha Otoko was the ridiculous magical-girlfriend fairy tale targeting people who desperately wanted to believe it was real. Peepo Choo is what happens when the preferred Western otaku fantasy — The Japan That Loved Me — collides with a screaming exploitation film fantasy of nonstop sex and killing.
Our protagonist is the young and naive Milton, a poor Chicago kid, whose daily escape from ghetto life is skipping school to don his cosplay outfit and work at the local comic shop in exchange for anime merchandise that he wouldn’t be able to afford on his own. His raison d’être is the titular Peepo Choo, a surreal Sanrio-esque character with heavy undertones of John Kricfalusi, and his sole life skill is a perfect memorization of the character’s Peepo Dance, which resolves all forms of dissent and brings harmony to the world.
More than anything, Milton would like to leave the ghetto behind to live in Japan, where he anticipates being able to live the Peepo Choo life of dancing on streets paved in styrene and PVC along with the rest of the country’s 100%-otaku population. You’ve heard this story before, of course, the persistent myth in American fandom of Japan as the place where you’ll finally fit in, if you could only make it there.
Naturally, by the end of the first book, Milton is in Japan, which turns out to be very much a land of whores aplenty and yakuza murder galore. The people who come with him and the people he meets in Japan are outcasts in their own worlds: the psycho gravure model, the insecure comic chop clerk, and the yakuza who probably wears SLANGY. Will the innocent light of the Peepo Dance burn through the smoky haze of gangland violence and make everybody say I’mma miss home egg (TL Note: let’s be friends)? If I had to guess, I’d say “probably”, but not in the way Milton intends.
Not surprisingly, this story, steeped in intimate knowledge of American anime fandom, irrational Japan-love, and the resultant culture shock comes courtesy of Stateside creator Felipe Smith, who has worked for Tokyopop and Kodansha (the latter published this comic in its Morning 2 magazine). This guy’s employment history alone exposes the stupidity inherent in the entire “sanctity of Glorious Japanese Manga” argument, so, rather than style it OEL or manga, we’re going to call Peepo Choo a goddamn comic book, like we’ve always called boxed picture-pages.
The art isn’t as rough or as aggressively intent on shocking and disgusting the reader as Smith’s previous effort MBQ, which is not to say the book’s not deserving of the shrinkwrap or the 18+ label. Anyone wondering as to exactly what sorts of atrocities are contained within: if you’re worried at all that this kind of thing might not be to your taste, chances are that it won’t be. The order of the day is excess: the constant dismemberments and disembowelings are punctuated by sex with women whose figures are as over-the-top as the violence. Even Peepo Choo itself appears to be vomiting feces throughout his show.
That about tells you what you need to know, don’t it? The first book is busy depositing Milton in Japan and introducing the people around him. As such, it gives no indication of where this story is going to go (or whether it will indeed actually go anywhere) and what kind of fate could possibly await our naive, hard-to-hate, lead in Japan Murderland. Does Peepo Choo love otaku or hate them? Only time will tell.
(Thanks, as ever, to Vertical‘s Ed Chavez for this review copy.)