“If I lived in Japan I could be de me, the real Milton” Milton
One of the many things that I look at in a work circles around one sentence, “Can you excite me enough through the imagery you create better than the last guy”. I hold up artists like Salvador Dali and H.R. Geiger (that’s just for the high art crowd) to this standard because they are able to translate the vivid recesses of their minds into the visual world. Not many creative people can do that; really shock me in the back of my mind like a hammer. Thankfully, the creator of the Vertical title Peepo Choo, Felipe Smith, can do just that.
Felipe Smith’s art plays heavily in the world he is trying to convey. Similar to Kinichi Sonoda’s work in Gunsmith Cats, his Chicago background holds a special place. From the fashion, to the look of his characters, to even the dialog shared between characters, Felipe draws heavily from Chicago life. Smith is really into putting names on things. Let me explain; throughout Peepo Choo, Smith’s name and the name of his characters appear constantly in both the clothing and things in the backgrounds. Smith’s artwork sometimes does not hit its mark, with people’s faces often clash strangely from panel to panel. Granted, it is the ability to give a level of visible uniqueness to each character, but it does stick out too much at times. The shading in the interiors that Smith’s creates are interesting; I would compare them to door-less, square rooms with the only light coming from the ground, sort of like the floor lights in a dark movie theater.
The story starts with an assassin living in Chicago’s South Side by the name of “Fate” is hired for a job by a Yakuza mob boss; the job entails flying to Japan and killing his troublesome subordinate “Rockstar” Morimoto. Through the guise of comic shop owner Gil, he creates a raffle to take both his erotica prone assistant Jody and one of his costumers with him. Super Japan fan Milton, our hero, is beyond ecstatic. Milton is sick of the conformist life of Chicago, and only wants to live the life of a Japanese citizen like he sees from the Anime and Manga that he watches. Milton specifically loves the super popular title Peepo Choo; which he and his friends watch religiously.
While this is happening, “Rockstar” Morimoto continues to abuse his authority in Japan’s underground; to the chagrin of Aniki, the man who got Morimoto into this line of work. Morimoto applies all that he has learned from American gangster thug life to his business, something that disrupts Aniki’s old Yakuza traditions.
And that is but a small look into all the things that are happening.
Peepo Choo focuses heavily on how two cultures see one another. Milton sees Japan as this ideal nerd Mecca, where he can live with people just like him; a place where everyone gets along and enjoys everything that he does; something that devastates him when he discovers that this is very far from the truth. Morimoto romanticizes gangster culture (specifically the almost self-parody movie Brick Side) to the point that it reflects in the way he talks and the way he dresses. This is very apparent when some of the characters visit “Authentic Brooklyn style”, an “American street” style clothing store. This culture is labeled and marketed specifically for the hungry Japanese consumer.
Peepo Choo focuses on how some people are not comfortable with their old ways being taken over by the new. Much of Volume One takes place in Gil’s comic shop, Enyo’s Game (an Ender’s Game insert); here both American comic fans and manga fans fight daily to see which is superior. The American comic fans hold their comics up as classic works of art that are far more coherent than the craziness that the young manga fans partake in. Aniki’s old Yakuza ways compared to Morimoto’s new American gangster ways illustrate the new taking over the old. There is one part of the story where Aniki comes back from a hospital visit to find that Morimoto completely redesigned their hideout into this loud and obnoxious pad.
Pros: In depth characters that are likable, even in their obscenity. Moments of truly biting satire that plays well with Felipe’s artwork. Has enough insanity to get you through the day.
Cons: Felipe Smith’s many threads unfortunately don’t all come back together. Take for instance Morimoto’s girlfriend who is introduced early on in the series. She is important up until the second volume where she drops off the face of the Earth. I do not know if Felipe got tired of using her but, she just disappears from the story.
One of my favorite publishers, Vertical Inc., took a shot on the three volume Peepo Choo; something that I hope pays off for them. It paves the way for similar works to come out, taking ideas and charging them to the highest degree. Peepo Choo is worth the time investment.