Monday, November 01, 2004


So far, I've largely tried to avoid approaching manga from the perspective of "wow, this stuff is bizarre." I've done this partly because there are more important things to say about manga; and partly because I don't think that Japanese are any more twisted than Americans, just a bit less repressed about it. But sometimes a manga, while very good, will feature a grotesque element so prominently that to downplay it would falsify both the manga and readers' likely experience of it. Today's manga is one of these.

Milk Closet is a manga about children with symbiotic aliens sticking out of their butts.

(You're excused to giggle, or make disgusted faces, or whatever you feel compelled to do.)

Now that that's out of the way, we can discuss the manga seriously. Miruku Kurouzetto [Milk Closet] is a four-volume manga by Hitoshi Tomizawa, the creator of Alien Nine which has been translated in the U.S.; and is similar in subject matter, except with a cosmic instead of a local setting. It begins in 2005, when there is an epidemic of children "disappearing": actually, jumping to parallel universes, which are filled with aliens similar to those appearing in Alien Nine. Some of the children, at least, jump and return repeatedly. Among these is the main character, 8-year-old Hana, who at this point is otherwise normal (i.e. has nothing sticking out of her butt).

Now you may think jumping to parallel universes would be pretty cool. But, as Harvey Kurtzman had Alice say in his otherwise unmemorable parody of Lewis Carroll: "By you it may be charming! By you it may be delightful! By me it's just one thing--scary!" All the places Hana jumps to are frightening. And since she has made six hundred jumps so far, and will likely make many more, she's pretty upset. But then a mysterious girl appears and gives her a pair of red ribbons, implicitly promising that if she wears them she won't jump to scary places. The ribbons don't work as advertised, however, instead placing her in a situation where she survives only by acquiring one of the symbiotic aliens mentioned above.

The alien's head sticks out from her butt, and looks like a large beaver's tail, but is capable of moving independently (a rather unsettling sight); while the alien's actual tail, which is several feet long, is inside her. We even see a shot of her nude (from the rear) to confirm that the tail is indeed inside her and not just hidden under her clothes. When I first read the manga, I assumed it was lodged in her rectum and intestine; but on rereading it, I can't tell whether this is the case or whether it's actually embedded in her flesh (I don't know which would be worse). As to how the alien gets there, as far as I can tell it actually ingests its host, and then somehow reconstitutes its host's body around its tail.

In any case, Hana gets to know several other children (mainly girls) with aliens, at least one of whom was "recruited" in the same way as Hana. Along with the aliens, they have acquired abilities to metamorphose different parts of their body: Hana, for instance, can turn her hands into knives, while another child can turn his entire upper body (including his head) into a large drill. The girl who gave Hana the ribbon organizes them into the "MILK [Macrocosmic Invincible Legion of Kids] Squad," whose mission is to rescue children who have disappeared, more and more of whom are not coming back; and the first volume ends with the completion of the MILK Squad's first mission. As with Alien Nine, though, there is a lot more going on than appears on the surface, and the next two volumes contain a number of horrific events and (even more) disturbing images. I can't say much more about these volumes without giving away spoilers. And I don't know how the story ends, unfortunately, because when I tried to order the final volume it was out of stock at the publisher's.

Milk Closet is similar to Alien Nine, but better: the art is better, and the story is easier to follow, at least in the three volumes I've read. (Readers of Alien Nine will also be happy to hear that Hana is not as whiny as Yuri.) Since Alien Nine has a fan base here, normally that would make Milk Closet a likely candidate for translation. However reasons that should be obvious by now, that probably won't happen, at least not in the near future. Fortunately, of all the manga I've read in Japanese, Milk Closet was by far the easiest (even though there are no furigana): there's not much dialogue, and what there is is usually simple. So if you have any Japanese reading skills at all, I encourage you to take a shot.

Milk Closet is published by Kodansha. Each of the volumes I own is 202 pages and costs 505 yen; the ISBNs are 4-06-314245-0, 4-06-314256-6, and 4-06-314270-1. The ISBN for the fourth volume is 4-06-314279-5.

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