Similar to Kakumeika no Gogo (“A Revolutionist in the Afternoon”) or Yuretsuzukeru (“Keep on Vibrating”), Zenryou naru Itan no Machi (“A City of Honests and Heretics”) is a collection of short stories. While fairly mature and graphic, each story also sees its fair share of Matsumoto’s twisted, black humour. A rating, summary, and impression of each short story can be found below, with my views on Matsumoto’s art and overall thoughts in the final two paragraphs.
Short Story 1: My Daddy (9/10)
A young, upbeat girl tells a story of her father during a formal class presentation. Oddly enough, there’s a prideful gleam in her eyes when she speaks about her dad, despite the fact that the story supposedly involves elder abuse in the delinquent pastime of “old-man hunting”. She recounts the story with cheerful, childlike innocence, contrasted with keen observation and a bit of wit, fostered while living with her dysfunctional family. However, an unexpected twist turns this somber tale of a dissolving family into utter hilarity, guaranteed to make you “b’aww” by the ending.
Short Story 2: Camilla (8/10)
The second chapter takes place in a rural, South American town. It’s a short story of lust and obsession as Camilla, a young woman, attempts to uncover the past of a beautiful yet senile lady residing in a mental hospital. As Camilla continues to read the old woman’s letters love letters, she becomes increasingly enthralled with her, becoming both physically and mentally obsessed. The connection between the two is accompanied by a sudden shift in narrative perspective – from first to third person, and later back to first person – which brings in the idea that it isn’t the first time a girl has been caught in this lustful craze…
Short Story 3: Far Away (8/10)
An incompetent, cowardly samurai is tasked with delivering his teacher’s letter. Along the way, he runs into an obstacle in the shape of a revenge-crazy woman, which resolves in a messy, moral lesson for the young messenger. Set during the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, the story involves as much irony and debauchery as the Restoration itself, with not-so-subtle criticism to the Western reforms.
Short Story 4: Parlor31 (7/10)
In a twisted world where high school girls are eligible to carry firearms and wage violent wars with their neighbors, an “autonomous armed force” of students embarks on a whorehouse crackdown. It’s the most action-heavy of the seven short stories, but the message, if any, was inexplicit. One of Matsumoto’s other one-shots, Hiroko at After School, is set in the same world as Parlor31, whereas Matsumoto revealed a great interest in pursuing a long-running series with these two stories as pilots.
Short Story 5: Fehde in the Desert (6/10)
The fifth short story is where Zenryou naru Itan no Machi takes a turn for the bizarre. Set in a lavish school that somehow borders a vast desert, a group of students challenge each other to knife fights (Fehde being the German word for “feud”) for control over the desert’s large, abandoned tower. The story revolves around two androgynous children, who seem to be connected by an ambiguous affection towards each other, the mysterious tower, and collecting insects from the desert. There’s a vague theme of obscured sexual identity, but it’s far from being fully realized in the one-shot.
Short Story 6: Female High School Soldier (4/10)
“In order to survive, we have to abandon our humanity. But unless we regain that humanity, there will be no point to survival.” Since this was the first and only quotable line throughout the manga, short story 6 started off with high hopes. However, these expectations were run aground by the fact that chapter 6’s “female high school soldiers” were actually giant mecha high school girls, piloted by Japanese soldiers. So what was the point of this?
… Well, the majority of chapter 6 involves a gory bloodbath of said giant high school girls being dismembered, disemboweled, and horrendously disfigured. It’s a scene straight out of an eroguro manga, but it’s totally okay, since you know, they were just giant mecha and all, right?
Short Story 7: Family Restaurant (8/10)
The final short story is unique in that, unlike most manga, it adopts an even 2x4 panel layout without any gutter space. Furthermore, all of the dialogue goes one way, whereas the audience is only able to read the thoughts of the family restaurant’s sole female employee. We follow this waitress through a seemingly normal workday, until it becomes apparent that, well, she’s absolutely batshit crazy. It’s an interesting snippet of a delusional girl’s psyche, and Matsumoto’s styling shows a mangaka who’s obviously adept at depicting the clinically insane.
Matsumoto is incredibly capable of matching the vibrancy of his characters with diverse and lively facial expressions. Moreover, his settings are as immensely detailed as they are varied – from quiet Latin villages, feudal Japanese towns, war-torn urban landscapes and deserts, Matsumoto takes the reader all over the globe with his artwork. At first glance though, the artist’s use of etching instead of solid shading might look jarring. Nevertheless, the sheer detail put into every panel is astounding, and Matsumoto’s eccentric art style can only be described as “fitting” for his equally outlandish stories.
If you’re looking for Matsumoto at his best, defer to his other two one-shot collections. Zenryou naru Itan no Machi is by far his least memorable anthology, showing neither the artistic restraint that made Kakumeika no Gogo so brilliant, nor the ingenious surrealism and dementia that captivated readers in Yuretsuzukeru. read more