REPTILIA (Hebi Shôjo, “Snake Girl”) (????) • Kazuo Umezu • IDW Publishing (2007) • Kodansha (Weekly Shôjo Friend, 1966) • 1 volume • Shôjo Horror • All Ages (violence)
One of Umezu’s earliest horror manga, this anthology of snake- and reptile-themed shôjo stories feels as much like fairytales as horror. (A girl’s mother is replaced by a snake-woman doppleganger, a legend tells of a monstrous snake in the forest, etc.) The stories lack the psychological depth of some of the better works in Umezu’s Scary Book, and the characters’ behavior is illogical even by Umezu’s standards, but the simple artwork is lively and the collection ends on a high note.
Kazuo Umezu is one of my favorite manga artists. I learned Japanese to read his stories, and I later had the privilege of editing “The Drifting Classroom,” one of his epics, for Viz. Umezu started out drawing shojo manga in the ’60s and children’s gag comics in the ’70s, but his work always had an undertone of horror, and in the ’80s and ’90s his work became increasingly violent and terrifying, culminating in the mature-readers splatter manga “Fourteen” and “The Left Hand of God, The Right Hand of the Devil.” “Reptilia” is from his early-mid period, when his work was still basically children’s comics with a fairytale feel. I actually prefer his later, gorier manga, but “Reptilia” is still a fun book, if you don’t mind the general lack of logic. Umezu, who is retired, is also a famous eccentric, known for fronting a band in the ’70s, painting his Tokyo house pink (over the objections of his boring neighbors) and singing Paul Anka’s “You Are My Destiny” on Japanese TV.
Moving on, today’s winner is Lisa A. of North Carolina! Congratulations, Lisa! I’ll be sending you five manga in the mail today. Let the manga rumpus start!