芋虫 [The Caterpillar], is an adaptation of the 1929 Edogawa Rampo short story of the same name. The Caterpillar is a haunting psychosexual tale of Lt. Sunaga, a disfigured and limbless veteran of WWI who returns home to his young and beautiful wife. Sunaga initially is given a hero's welcome, but is quickly forgotten and shunned because of his injuries. Unable to speak or care for himself, he is completely at the mercy of his wife as she grows to loathe and toy with him.
I was under impression that Mauro had no initial idea for this one, as far as outcome is concerned. It fluctuates between his tendency to shock the reader, and his attempts to convey a more profound story.
You will often notice themes such as moral perversion, hardship of an unorthodox situation, dysfunctional relationship, deprivation of human needs, and many other under scrutiny. Problem is that they are often, not really abruptly, but still interrupted by superfluous visuals of sexual nature. Due to it, reader could end up repelled and miss the excellent story hidden beneath Mauro's psycho-sexual outburst.
On the other hand, the detailed art and his well polished sense for anatomy are adequate to keep you immersed till the end. You could even say that his style is borderline poetic expressionism, that is, when he steps away from what I mentioned before.
As far as characters are concerned, they serve more or less as conveyance tools for those themes I listed previously. They aren't that defined, devoid of development, and situational. From the way story is presented, you can't even expect more, nor is it a necessity.
Despite its apparent esoteric nature, Imomushi can easily be recommended to casual readers, albeit they could be forced to keep one eye closed. Even so, this story by Rampo, embellished by Mauro's art is an extraordinary work. Guro with brains I'd say, I mean, just look at the ironical title.
I'm sad to say I was really disappointed by this manga.
I had already read Edogawa Rampo's short story "The Caterpillar", which is not only good but one of the best Japanese horror stories of all times. More than that... It is probably one of the masterpieces of horror literature in the world (hand in hand with Maupassant and Edgar Alan Poe, who the Japanese writer admired, his admiration being the reason for his pen name which is a japanization of Poe's name). The manga doesn´t get even close to the short story.
If I had to review this manga in a few words, I would have to say: great story, horrible adaptation.
Story - 5
If I had to score Edogawa Rampo's short story, I would give it a 10. The story is extremely disturbing, one of the most disturbing stories I've ever read. A man goes to war, leaving his wife behind. He returns handicapped, unable to speak, or hear, with no legs, no arms, and with a deformed face. His wife takes great care of him, but she has a lot of trouble accepting it and at some point she turns violent towards him. And I'm stopping here -at the same point where de MAL review stops-, because anything else would be a spoiler. The end is one of the most memorable endings in literature.
The plot and the ending in the manga are basically the same. But when I read the manga I got the impression that a deep, moving and shocking story was turned into an excuse to show morbid sex between a woman and a handicapped person. The manga is full of completely unnecessary and gross scenes that do not even happen in the book. There is a scene with a banana that is just disgusting. The need to include that scene remains a mystery to me. Sex isn´t even an issue in Edogawa Rampo's story. I am not of the thought that adaptations (be it movies, manga of whatever) must be true to the original (they don´t need to be, that's why they are adaptations). I also have nothing against sex in manga. But I think the decision to turn this story into a rampage of sexual encounters, and the way in which it is done, goes against the depth of the story. It would have been a completely different thing if the inclusion of sex had been handled more seriously.
Characters - 5
I cannot say the characters lack in depth, but the development of the female character is so much deeper in the book, that I was left wanting more. The male character doesn´t allow much development, as the story is told from the point of view of the wife, and he cannot even speak, or move, but this is probably intentional, as it adds to the awkwardness of the relationship: he has become a stranger, his wife even sees him as an animal.
Art - 6
I am not particularly fond of the art, but I must admit it is probably due to my personal preferences. The art goes well with the story, it is disturbing, it gives the feeling of traditional Japan (some sex scenes even reminded me of certain erotic ukiyo-e works), and the settings are faithful to the era in which the story takes place.
I am giving this manga a 5 mainly because there is no doubt the story is a masterpiece, we are to thank Edogawa Rampo for that. But this adaptation doesn't do justice to that magnificent story.
If you are planning to read this manga, go ahead. But I highly encourage you to read the short story too, which is a hundred times better.