War looms over everyday life in the capital. Two girls who seek respite in the bucolic outskirts of Suginami Ward learn that a riverside where spirits reside is creeping with rotting anomalies. As the adults prove incapable, youth must take up arms.
It happens again. I think that I’ve already read enough of Jiro Matsumoto and I am completely desensitized, then I pick something by him up and it gets to me. Damn you, Jiro Matsumoto, I am disturbed and impressed again! Surprisingly, what you see here is one of his deeper manga, one, which is especially interesting in the context of his other works. And I wouldn’t recommend it as an entry point for those unfamiliar.
I didn’t want to bother with this text, and I hate to be the person who argues with the way others read, but the reviews here bug me a bit. I’ve
seen the same complaints about Freesia, and yet again I don’t understand some of them. The first being that the manga lacks plot, the second is the lack of social commentary.
While I agree that many plotlines here stay unresolved (namely the plotlines of individual characters remain tangles of hints and suppressed memories until and past the end), the main progression is pretty clear and is, more importantly, explained by the characters themselves. What we see here is sort of a shift change in the local purgatory – the place where the dead transition to the otherworld. Perhaps the main storyline can even be considered simple, though it is loaded with psychological complications, non-linear episodes and surreal trips. And Becchin and Mandara is not centered about social stuff, nor did it ever intend to be, from what I see, although it does contain some jabs on current society. Yeah, there is war, but a background war is present in most of Jiro Matsumoto’s works.
Nor only do the events take place in the crossing place and some of the characters cross lines, it seems to me that this manga is sort of transitory for the mangaka too – a brief feverish return to Freesia and the subsequent shift to the warring shoolgirls period simultaneously. After all we see a character, that looks and acts like Hiroshi Kano (the protagonist of Freesia, who, here, talks about the author directly as if he had an experience of playing his part before), passing the relay baton to the mad schoolgirl Becchin. I wonder, if Jiro Matsumoto’s worlds altogether moved closer to hell after this, since the warring schoolgirls settings (in Houkago no Hiroko, Zenryou naru Itan no Machi, Joshi Kouhei) are so inhuman and bloody, and he is working on “Alice in Hell”… For some reason I find Bacchin to Mandara heart-wrenchingly sad. Oh, and btw, the 4th wall is broken a lot in this series – it’s filled to the brim with references to anime culture, mainly Gundam and Ghibly.
I don’t think I overanalyze it. When reading, mind it (if you don’t already) that Jiro Matsumoto’s manga tends to be built like a good literary work – besides the layer of the characters’ actions there’re motifs, composition, imagery that add an additional level. What character do isn’t necessary the very point of the work they inhabit. Things that seem random at first return and play important parts. But, yeah, sometimes its’ not easy to keep track, and not everything is connected in the end, unfortunately. Personally I felt a sense of conclusion, even though I couldn't understand everything.
The art is the usual gritty, graphical and overdetailed mess. The characteristic pitch-black humor is there. The gore is overabundant – if somebody isn’t raped, then somebody is killed or people talk nuts, usually all of this happens at once. Though in the end I ponder not why I read a manga with a schoolgirl shitting and retching at once, but the ecology of death. It was interesting to have a glimpse in Jiro Matsumoto’s cosmology too, he doesn’t focus on it often.
It’s a fine read for anyone familiar or ready for Jiro Matsumoto’s storytelling (forgive me for mentioning his name so many times, but it’s all so typical), but it may take effort to parse. If you fit these criteria, don’t be discouraged by the low rating. It’s rough but impactful.
Becchin to Mandara is best described as a psychological slice of life. Set in a ruined, post-war Japan, the manga shows the bizarre day-to-day lives of two girls, Becchin and Mandara. However, unlike other stories with a post-apocalyptic setting, Becchin to Mandara isn’t a story about survival or adventure. Instead, it completely defies the genre’s conventions by being utterly abstract. Constantly shifting tones between twisted humour, disturbing imagery, and zombie-killing action, Becchin to Mandara will have the reader wrapping his head around its story (mainly, lack thereof) in the most unpleasant fashion possible. The manga is grounded (or ungrounded) by the twisted interactions between Becchin,
Mandara, and the anomalies (namely, swarms of ladybugs, large, flying insects, and fully sentient corpses) surrounding their countryside abode. To give you a little taste of the manga, here’s a description of its two main characters:
Mandara is as batshit crazy as a girl can get. Energetic and always referring to herself in the third person, she constantly shows sporadic behavior and thoughts. Of this behavior, she seems to be fond of imitating things – hillbillies, animals, and “crabvaders”? She also has a peculiar obsession with tape recorders, whereas any mention of this specific object leads to Mandara flailing her arms and breaking out into hysterical, tear-filled fits. If her dialogue doesn’t consist of incomprehensible rabble or delusional ranting, then it probably has something to do with the repetition of the words “tape recorder”. Like a broken tape recorder herself, another quirk in Mandara’s speech is that she tends to speak in loops, repeating her thoughts endlessly until interrupted.
“Who is Bill Gates?”
“The first man who succeeded in reaching the South Pole.”
Although a bit more mentally sound than her schizophrenic friend, Becchin suffers from a mild case of paranoia. She’s shown to hallucinate, and have conversations with herself on a regular basis. It’s through these hallucinations that we also see glimpses of Becchin’s pre-war life, as fragmented and far in-between as they may be. Although she takes pills to mitigate her hallucinations, the reader is left to wonder how much of the manga’s world has been distorted by Becchin’s mind, as we see it as Becchin does… Floating pianos, swarms of ladybugs, and all.
At first glance, Becchin to Mandara has all of the makings of a subtle, anti-war allegory – a post-apocalyptic setting, the defense of a dried out riverbed against “invaders”, and socially dejected, mentally unstable main characters. However, a complete lack of narrative, a scatter-brained introduction and conclusion, and failure to maintain a consistent plot made the manga almost incomprehensible, let alone able to convey any sort of message. Even the tidbit of social commentary introduced towards the ending seemed arbitrary, given the incoherent nature of the manga. Well, where does that leave the reader? What were the intentions of the author when writing Becchin to Mandara, if the story itself lacks any meaning or coherency?
Welcome to the twisted world of Jiro Matsumoto.
Ever wondered what it’s like to peer into the mind of a potentially insane mangaka? Well, Matsumoto’s stories will take you beyond the fine line of dementia and lunacy. Like all of his manga, Matsumoto doesn’t hold back on disturbing and graphic scenes. This is a man who will pull out all the stops for the sake of shocking readers, and he’s as unflinching as he is… Imaginative. On the milder side, the girls are often shown nude, or having vivid chats about sexuality and sexual acts. Or, in the middle of a conversation, another character will suddenly reveal a fully drawn, flaccid phallus. However, at its most brutal moments, the author doesn’t even bat an eye at, say, a teenaged girl wearing a school uniform, laughing maniacally while getting violated by a hoard of zombies in a horrific scat orgie.
… What? Yeah. Unfortunately, this is just senseless shock value. There’s little context behind these acts, and they exist simply to appall readers.
Becchin to Mandara isn’t without its black humour though. Throughout the manga, Matsumoto throws around not-so-subtle allusions to popular anime: Princess Mononoke, Evangelion, Gundam, My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaa, and even Full Metal Panic. There are also comedic elements in the manga’s styling, such as the use of a game’s inventory system when one of the characters was taking stock of her belongings, or the appearance of a JRPG battle menu when the same character later encounters a zombie.
Like all of Jiro Matsumoto’s manga, Becchin to Mandara’s artwork is… Unique, to say the least. The artist manages to make each panel highly detailed, yet crude at the same time. Matsumoto makes great use of etching, but these details create two effects. At its best, and quite often, these etchings create diverse facial expressions and highly intricate environments with fantastic shading. On a few rare occasions though, Matsumoto’s etchings can make for overly clustered panels.
Overall, Becchin to Mandara left me disappointed with a half-realized story, poor flow of narrative, and thoughtless imagery. Nonetheless, don’t let this manga deter you from reading Matsumoto’s other works. I was lead to Becchin to Mandara by Freesia (which is fairly underrated, yet highly praised by some), and Yuretsuzukeru, one of the few erotic works that isn’t overtly smut. It’s a dark collection of short stories that deals with psychology – what Becchin to Mandara could have and should have been with a little more care and restraint.
Becchin to Mandara is a story about two girls living in an abandoned battle tank at a dry Riverbed that spend their days exterminating zombies along-side a pantless man that lives in a small house nearby.
There isn't much to it other than that, though Becchin to Mandara does the whole zombie thing quite differently from what people are used to seeing, zombies actually talk and think, almost as normally, to the story's standards, as any other character there, so much so that it often feels like they are just slaughtering humans rather than zombies. Other than killing zombies, the story focuses on the main
characters state of mind, their relationship, and how they met.
Unfortunately, the manga is a bit confusing, you'll often wonder what the characters are talking about since there are various sudden changes of subject, and most of the main points of the story are badly covered, with little to no backstory to help understand how stuff turned out how it is, stuff such as the origin of the zombies, the strange skull kids, the pantless man, and other supposedly important aspects, they are all left almost unspoken of, almost assuming the reader already knows what and how everything is. It doesn't help that the dialog is often confusing or sometimes completely unnecessary, which makes it quite tedious to read through.
You'll also find some somewhat disturbing scenes in later chapters, such as characters "taking a dumb" outdoors, the pantless mans penis, and a zombie raping scene, each of these quite explicitly illustrated, so be careful if you dislike that kind of thing, and to be honest, they don't really add anything to the manga, they seem added just for the sake of shock.
There aren't much characters in Becchin to Mandara, you could say there are only three of them in total, and each character has a far-from-believable personality, Becchin may seem inhuman at times and Mandara is just plain stupid at times. Another aspect in their personalities are that none are very well established, Becchin is as often nice as she is incredibly mean, and Mandara is also as often stupid as she is not-as stupid.
The artwork has a very sketchy look to it, at first you may enjoy it if you're into sketchy looks, but it'll quickly wear-off on you and you'll realize it's just actually poorly drawn. The artwork is very inconsistent though, at times the backgrounds don't look too bad, and in others they look extremely cluttered and poorly drawn. The characters faces look very awkward more times than not, though they're not extremely bad.
Becchin to Mandara ends up being a quite tedious read and you might have to force yourself to read through the whole thing. That added with the subpar artwork, really leaves little to get out of reading it.
I love a story that will make me think. I love to question reality, even the reality of a fictional universe. If I need to watch or read something several times to understand it, then it is almost a guarantee that it will go in my closet full of wonderfully strange and complicated things. Velveteen & Mandala is not such a thing. It had the potential to be, but the presentation or lack of information and sheer intense strangeness of the story muddles this up.
The art is different, to say the least. It is very sketchy, while remaining quite detailed. I think this adds to
the story considerably, almost speaking to state of the title character’s minds. This being said, I am not familiar with Jiro Matsumoto’s work, and as such don’t know if this is intentional or a fluke. I was able to see the emotions on every character’s face quite plainly, though, from the variety of annoyances that cross Velveteen to the sheer emptiness of Mandala’s head, everything is quite clear.
The book itself does not know what it wants to be. It jumps from a cute black comedy focusing on the relationship between two mentally disturbed girls to disgusting rape/scat porn with the change of a chapter. This is interesting when handled well, but this was not handled well. Everything seems to come together in the end, but is too scattered in the beginning for that to really matter. I believe that Matsumoto had a concept in mind and just did not know where to start or how to get his points across.
Velveteen & Mandala is not nearly everything it could be. I was thoroughly intrigued by the world the characters lived in, but I feel as though it required a considerably larger amount of thought and story before it would have been able to reach its full potential.
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