Damn great! If you’re as distrustful and pessimistic as me, you probably also were (or would’ve been, had you known) wary of a manga about giant battle robots that look like school girls. Wtf? It will probably not go anywhere, because how? But no-o, scrap that, after translation has appeared, it’s evident that Matsumoto is at his brilliant again – Joshikouhei is dark, hilarious, and, God, can it develop its premise.
Stepping back for a bit, the thing that surprised me the most in Joshikuohei is that I felt something culturally close. Has Jiro Matsumoto really been in touch with Russian culture?.. The though is terrifying.
There’s a couple of details, but what really struck me was the panel that shows for a moment their whole (multi)universe – it looks like an immense starry vagina. The expressions “to be in a female reproductive organ”, “to go in a female reproductive organ” or “to be covered by a female reproductive organ” (which sorta implies that it’s something big and hovering) are widely used in my language to describe the state of affairs that the world of Joshi Kouhei finds itself in, i.e. being utterly screwed (the line of thought seems to be universal, yes).
And what’s even more important – this manga reminded me a lot of a type of the postmodern novel that was popular here in the 90-s and early 00-s, like those done by Sorokin or Pelevin… It’s ok that you don’t know these names, I’ll explain. What I mean is a plot that deals with sacred and taboo object in a disrespectful way, a highly absurd fictional reality, intertextuality and messing with a reader. And maybe also this characteristic feeling of your brain being washed clean in warm toxic sludge.
After all, here we deal with Japanese schoolgirls and giant robots, combined in one object (and it’s marvelous, it had to be done years ago, and it leads to stunning frames, like boarding a giant schoolgirl – no wonder Kojima was impressed with this manga!). We have a world operating on the logic of external irony. We see robot pilots, constantly shifting between their girl-robot selves and normal military men selves, slowly descending into madness, so you don’t always understand who is in charge.
Actually, if there’s one problem with this manga, it’s that Matsumoto is as unable to draw diverse female faces as ever, so sometimes it’s hard to understand what’s going on in general: the mug of which robot girl sticks out from the wealth of details, who hits who with what. Is it annoying? Yeah, certainly. Is it worth to put up with? Hell yeah.
I should also give a scat warning, a graphic violence warning, a sex scenes warning and a giant mess of a bunch of naked female bodies made into a jumbo monstrosity running around warning. Righto, there're Lovecraftian monstrosities here too. Honestly, I should be angry with Matsumoto for exploiting women bodies so much, but I can’t – I am biased, and everybody has it bad here, not to forget that the girl robots are and objects of power and they live in a giant vagina world.
I used to think it was unfortunate that among Jiro Mtasumoto’s warring schoolgirl shorts it was Female High School Soldier which got serialized, not Parlor31 (both were published in A City for Honest and Heretics). Parlor31 was more sober and down to earth psychologically, as far as it can be applied to a setting with a girl school being an army. But maybe it’s good that the strongest world concept won, and, if I think about it, most of the topics are shared: loss of self, addiction to war, harmful addictions, war damage, contrasts between teen girls and guns, war and play.
It’s interesting to compare Joshikouhei to Alice in Hell, another series by Matsumoto, that ran at the same time. One one hand, he produces Alice with its anti-war sentiment and hopeful kids (though the kids are already repeating adults, so it’s all likely doomed), and on the other hand, there’s Joshikouhei with its protagonist being addicted to killing people “like bugs” in his battle robot.
The world of Joshikouhei is inhumane, and it remains to be seen if there will be place for the soul or a non-greedy feeling. But at the same time Joshikouhei already poses interesting questions about self. For girl robot pilots outer shells, minds and information are often different entities, that compete and serve their own goals. Maybe there is higher meaning behind it, maybe not, but it’s incredibly thought-provoking and interesting (and very decently written, in case you somehow doubt it or haven’t read Matsumoto before).
So, yeah, the beginning of Joshikouhei is really good, full of dark humor, clever quotes, unabashed violence and delicious madness. I expect it to become only better.
But must I even say anything, if it has giant battle robots that are also schoolgirls in sailor uniforms, which is, probably, the ultimate bait? I know you want it. I want it too. We all will get it, will get bitchslapped for it, and will get lots of pleasure from both things. Throw your panties out of the window and get on board, everybody, who is up to snuff.