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Goth Manga Review

5 min read
The grisly artwork packs a real visceral punch

While Goth’s manga adaptation features fantastic artwork, the writing isn’t up to par with the novel.

Creative Staff:
Writer/Artist: Otsuichi and Kendi Oiwa
Translation: Lori Riser
Adaptation: Anthony C. Andora

What They Say:
“She first caught my eye when I saw her white wrist peeking out from the edge of darkness. It was pale as porcelain…and the mark loomed out from it.”

Before they were friends, he had already noticed her. He wanted her hands – those beautiful, enchanting hands – to himself. And he hoped that the local madman who had been “collecting” the hands of anything that moved – babies, children, men, women, animals – would get them for him… until the day she asked him to teach her how to smile.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Depending on how you count Goth’s stories — I’ll explain what I mean by this later — there are either four or five distinct ones in the manga out of the original novel’s six, including a two-part story that closes the volume out.  The plots are essentially unrelated, sharing among them only the narrator and the presence of his brooding classmate Yoru Morino; but there are still obvious stylistic similarities among these stories, since they all involve grisly serial killings and they all share a goth-inspired aesthetic.  (Readers who’re coming to this title for the goth cachet, be warned that the “goth” bits of the manga only go skin deep: the title, the borrowed aesthetic, and Morino are about the only things that Goth has to do with goth subculture.)

Since all of the stories are structured around a big twist ending, I’ll keep the plot summaries short and relatively spoiler-free.  “Wrist-cut” introduces the reader to the (initially unnamed) narrator and his friend Morino, who have a chilly relationship mainly held together by their mutual fascination with death.  When the narrator’s not busy at school trying to pretend to be a normal teenager, he’s been closely following a widely publicized criminal who cuts the hands off of living people and animals.  In the titular second story, Morino brings the narrator a murderer’s diary that she found lying on the ground.  After the two follow the notebook’s directions to a mutilated corpse, Morino inexplicably stops showing up at school.  “Grave” has the narrator following a man who obsessively buries high school students alive in his backyard, with implications that Morino is his latest victim.  Finally, in “Twins”, an anonymous stalker begins mailing Morino drawings made by her twin sister, who died of accidental strangulation when Morino was young.  Even considering the circumstances, Morino seems so unnerved by these drawings that the narrator suspects that she’s hiding something about her involvement in the accident.

As a stand-alone entity, the Goth manga is far too compressed and diverges too much from the original material to work well.  Let’s be clear: I don’t expect Otsuichi and Oiwa to preserve every little detail from the Goth novel, since the original novel is too long and too dense for that to be realistic.  Nor do I mind them wanting to do something different in terms of tone or plot, which they do frequently as they speed up the stories and shuffle them around.  The problem isn’t that Otsuichi makes changes; it’s that too often he makes the wrong ones: rather than focusing on a small selection of stories from Goth for this one-shot manga collection, he’s crammed five out of the six from the novel into 192 pages of manga by cutting all of the stories down to the bone.  In the novel, the killers detail their motives while the narrator uses complex thought processes and trial-and-error to identify them; in the manga, the killers appear to be mindless lunatics who’re only stopped by the narrator’s near-psychic deduction skills and tremendous luck.  The new version may be faster-paced, but I wouldn’t say it’s better in any real way.

Now, going back to that “four or five” stories comment — the closing two-parter, “Twins”, is a glowing example of the unfortunate sacrifices that were made in converting Goth from text to comic.  What was once two unrelated stories (“Memory/Twins” and “Voice”) have been sloppily merged into one lumbering Frankenstory that tries to cover two mysteries at once, excising entire characters and subplots out of Goth in the process.  What’s even more puzzling about this decision is that one of these stories relies on the reader not being able to tell two characters apart most of the time, which it accomplishes through a liberal use of indefinite articles.  Rather than having Otsuichi rewrite his way around the problem for the manga version or just skipping the story altogether, Oiwa opts to draw the two characters identically … until it’s necessary to the plot that the reader be able to tell who is who, at which point one of the two character designs magically changes.  Between the shapeshifting and having all of the exposition stripped away, two of the most interesting stories in the novel end up being made borderline incoherent in manga form.

Though I may not agree with all the creative decisions that Otsuichi took in adapting his own novel, pairing with artist Kendi Oiwa is one of the smarter ones.  Oiwa is effective in his use of gore, laying it on thick where it’s warranted without using it so frequently that it loses its edge.  A single revealing shot of a mutilated corpse in the opening of the second story manages to unnerve me more than whole blocks of text in the original novel … no small feat indeed, considering how graphic the source material could be in spots.

Besides the blood and guts, the art is peppered with bold stylistic choices throughout the manga: shots like the macabre opening panel for the fourth chapter, or the cute visual pun of a murderer kneeling in front of his refrigerator like an altar are particularly good.  It’s not high art by any means, but a little bit of clever composition goes a long way, especially when the manga marketplace is flooded with homogenous artwork that’s been polished to a dull shine.  Not everything Oiwa that tries actually works in the end — the falling leaves motif in the third chapter comes off as unnecessary clutter, for example, and the visual “twist” in the last chapter is painfully awkward — but he manages to pull most of it off in the end.

In Summary:
The main point that the Goth manga has in its favor is that the grisly artwork packs a real visceral punch, and on that advantage alone it’s almost worth reading the manga as a supplement to the novel.  (Not enough that I think it’s worth paying full MSRP for, mind you — but if you can borrow a copy from a friend or from a library for free, go for it.)  That aside, stick with Otsuchi’s superior source material.

Content Grade: C-
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B

Age Rating: 18+
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Release Date: September 9th, 2008
MSRP: $10.99

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