The first half of the book is made up by the titular story, a serial killer thriller that gets all kinds of meta and crazy as it progresses. The second half of the book consists of a short interview with Kago (and Ryuichi Kasumi, a Japanese crime fiction writer) and a number of short stories.
Shintaro Kago is many things. Like Godard he’s a jester of form. Like Bataille he’s a notorious poetic pervert. Like Rabelais he’s a defecatory satirist. Like Ligotti he reveals the monstrous behind the mundane.
In fact Fraction’s clearest parallel is to Ligotti’s Notes on the Writing of Horror. Both are stories that are also metafictional treatises on how to write fiction, and eventually both end with a blurring of the story and the treatise.
One of Kago’s main conceits is playing with frame. His art style, as expected of an underground comix style writer, is very loose and unperfected, which means that he has to develop
his story by eschewing traditional form. His visual imagination, despite being completely violent and sadistic, also expresses a deep knowledge of visual humor, and much of his humor comes from firstly, using the frame and the boundaries of the comic itself as a part of the joke, and, secondly, playing a mundane or slightly vulgar idea to a grotesque but also carnivalesque and humorous conclusion.
Abstraction is an example of his playing with frame. In fact it also doubles as a bit of Lovecraftianly Pessimistic humor. What happens when you remove the frame of a comic? Kago draws it as a complete over-material monstrosity and draws out the inherent ludicrousness of the concept of a frame. Why does a frame even separate two panels of a comic? Could the frame actually be blocking out a continuity of Space rather than be a symbolic delineation of Time? Fraction plays with this idea a lot more by showing how the frame can be used to fool around with perception. In this case it’s used as a true murder-mystery device, to hide the scene of the crime and the truth from the viewer. In another work like Blow-Up, the frame is used to show the blurring of two distinct moments, like a baseball plate is zoomed in in one frame and it expands to show two men playing Shogi, which then expands backwards again to show a different scene. This technique was duplicated in animation in the film The Public Voice. The Memory of Others is an ingenious way to show how the frame represents Time by making the frame itself a device in the story.
Content-wise, everyone knows that Kago is an extremely disturbing artist. People also call him random and surrealistic at times. But if you realize, besides the premise, Kago’s stories follow their own internal logic without deviation into a non-sequitur. So one of his premises would be “a future where even a person’s shit becomes commodified and turned into a collector’s item” or “a retelling of the Genesis which also doubles as a fun exercise into the diversity and weirdness of life as well as a metafictional playing around with the idea of an author’s absolute control over events”. Some of these logics are based on social norms, and double as commentaries about vanity in a materialist society. Other logics are based on form and genre conventions, like the above mentioned playing around with frames and playing around with romance anime clichés in Harem End.
Another trait of Kago is ‘banalizing’ or making light comedy out of the disturbing and evil. So a bunch of villagers who kill women as a part of a ritual will reveal that they’re actually using the corpses to create bloated ‘submarines’ for races, and the corpses even do things like transform or have propellers attached to them. Of course the scenes are still highly disturbing, and Kago is still most likely a hardcore fetishist and a sadist at his core, but his premises always aim at a worldview where the most despicable acts or the most grotesque visions are met with an essential human playfulness. Nothing is taken seriously. Kago cares more about the act of playing than anything else and his project is akin to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, except that rather than negate humanity he seems to embrace the whole of it, guts, genitals and all. He is uncompromising in his sadism but just as uncompromising in his innovation. If you don’t have the guts don’t look at the more extreme of Kago’s work, but even then you should still take a brief glance at his oeuvre, especially Abstraction, Fraction, Blow Up and The Memories of Others, just to understand his formal brilliance.
The first story in this is definitely what I expect from ero-guro artists this early into reading them. It's gory, it's messed up but it's also extremely clever in the way that Kago creates his world. The author even explains as he goes along how the manga is created, the tricks they are using to twist your mind and for them to see what they want you to see, but even still twists and turns fill the pages, making you question everything when you come to the end. It's an extremely clever use of literacy illusion throughout the manga.
With a well thought out storyline, causing
you to question everything you first believe in when it begins, Fraction is, I would say, a small work of art. It definitely only gives you a fraction of what to expect and it's amazing in the way it does that.
The two extra stories - they don't quite hold up to the same content quality. The first one - Tremors is relatively boring. For a piece of work in a horror collection, I don't expect to come across something that's basically science fiction. Reading it was intriguing, but the story offered nothing much past what was happening on the pages. There was nothing explained, just people vibrating. It is an interesting concept but for how much was contained in the story, it just didn't get the justice it could have were it longer or a full manga.
The second one, however, was much more into the ero-guro style, and much more graphic. Returning to horror imagery that makes you curl your toes and itch at your skin, Voracious Itches is a story that some bug haters should probably avoid. This story finishes the collection in true guro violence and a story that has definitely left my skin positively crawling.
All in all, if you're gonna read this, I kinda recommend dropping the middle story out. It's not so much in guro style and was interesting but then boring as it gave us nothing past the mystery on the page - which was a shame. However, the main story and second short story were spectacular in their own ways and are definitely worth the read if you're a horror manga fan.