Pupa (manga)
Adapted into: Pupa (anime)
Medium: comic
Year: 2011-2013
Writer/artist: Sayaka Mogi
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: Pupa, manga, SF, horror
Format: 5 volumes, 34 chapters, about 1200 pages
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=15247
Website category: Manga
Review date: 10 May 2016
I bought this manga because I'd been greatly struck by the anime. Not many people liked the latter, but I thought it was intense and nightmarish. The fragmented narrative (twelve four-minute episodes) and incoherence only added to that.
The manga's not that long either by manga standards, but 1200 pages is still respectable. It's a love story, with a few potentially problematic elements.
(a) the happy couple are a schoolboy and his little sister
(b) when she loves to get her mouth around his meat, that's because she's literally eating his flesh. No, that's not a euphemism. It's dinner time. She's biting off chunks of her big brother and swallowing them. Naturally this is an expression of their love and they undress to lie down together for their ultimate expression of intimacy. It's an insanely disturbing and occasionally stomach-turning metaphor for sex, but also bizarrely evocative. It works. It's arguably more erotic than actual sex because the emotional commitment's more intense. (Would you let your partner do that to you?) You'd be hard-pushed to find a more post-coital picture than vol.3 p.246, yet it's just two people in a door. Vol.5 p.163 shows us an, um, unique kind of union.
(c) spoilers... but trust me, they're ghastly.
The main characters are Utsutsu (which means "reality") and his sister Yume (which means "dream"). Other characters include Ai ("love") and Hotoki ("truth, reality"). Life has not been kind to our heroes. Their father was a sadistic wife-beater who was also happy to take his fists to his children. Their mother didn't stick around. However that's just the set-up. Their lives are about to get a hundred times worse, when we learn what the manga's title refers to and meet the people who want to explore its possibilities.
Vol.1 doesn't begin that well. It takes a few chapters for the full horror to hit you, while the art isn't great. It fits, mind you. Horror can positively flourish on distorted figure work in a scratchy impressionistic world. I also think the art improves as the series goes on, although it's hard to put your finger on the difference. The art gains confidence and awareness of line quality.
The storytelling also seems to falter a bit when introducing ultra-violent characters into the story. Sayaka Mogi just doesn't seem very good at it. Those scenes are a bit cliched and shallow, although fortunately the narrative always recovers. On the other hand, I liked our heroes' school friends. They're ordinary. They have nothing to do with anything. This is paradoxically important. The manga keeps returning to them long after they've stopped having any connection to the main story, just to keep us aware of the real world and of Utsutsu and Yume's long-lost everyday lives.
The sexual metaphors are interesting, if you can stomach them. They have force and they're being explored in ways I'd guess you probably haven't seen before. There's also more to it than just Utsutsu-Yume, so for instance Maria is openly sexualised in a way that Utsutsu and Yume aren't, despite the heavy subtext, while Yuu puts his tongue in Utsutsu's ear in order to insert himself in him. The story's addressing reproduction and parenthood as well as the, um, preliminaries. (There's one true innocent in this story, it's a monstrous blob in vol.5 and it's almost heartbreakingly lovable. I feel for that blob.) There's also a hidden parallel incest story, alongside the main one.
It can be funny. "I'm not... hurting you, am I?"
It can also launch off into psychedelic surrealism so metaphor-laden that one's unsure how literally to take what's on the page. That's most of vol.5, really, not to mention the anime's last episode. This could let you take the ending as anything from bittersweet to tragic, or even possibly transcendent. By that point, one's almost come to assume that apparent death is just another stage of metamorphosis for the sufficiently trippy and/or monstrous.
Reactions to this series will vary, even among people who haven't already run away screaming. It's not pulling its punches. Even the characters we're (possibly) meant to like are heavily flawed and potentially audience-repelling. Is Utsutsu creepy? He couldn't be more devoted to and protective of his sister (obviously), but he's going to cross quite a few lines in being so. Are you expected to be able to relate to these people? Personally I found the Utsutsu-Yume relationship to be powerful, but there's certainly a heavy squick factor. (If you're reading it on the train, don't be surprised if the person sitting next to you changes seat. It could be worse, though. Had that person been able to read Japanese, she'd have been creeped out about the sibling thing.) At its best, it's likely to make you feel wrong, ill and/or soiled.
I admired it. I think it's great.
"I remember the taste of my big brother's meat."