Monday, July 04, 2005


Bambi and Her Pink Gun, vol. 1
Atsushi Kaneko
Digital Manga Publishing
208 pp., $12.95
ISBN: 1569709416

What sort of book the forthcoming Bambi is is clear from its first page, which depicts a gun in closeup pointed directly at the reader. The gun turns out to be held by Bambi, a teenage (apparently) girl who has kidnapped a young boy whose name and origin we never learn and is delivering him to a shadowy group of figures referred to only as the "old men." A message has been sent to everyone in the underworld offering a five hundred million yen reward (about five million dollars) to anyone who will kill Bambi and shelter the boy, provided that the boy is not injured in any way. Hence Bambi is constantly having to fight off killers out for the reward; but she survives each encounter, leaving an extensive trail of dead bodies in her wake.

As with the collection of Kaneko's (not yet translated) that I reviewed earlier, we're clearly in Tarantino territory, though parts bring the Takashi Miike of films like the absurdist yakuza movie Gozu to mind as well. But Kaneko has a flair and style of his (her?) own. Bambi is a completely amoral character who seemingly lacks aany inclination for self-reflection. And she relates to other people, including the boy, exclusively through belligerence (though she softens a tiny bit in the last chapter): she typically introduces herself by announcing "Me Bambi" and demanding something at gunpoint. (I'd be interested to see what this corresponds to in the original, as Japanese makes no distinction between "I" and "me.") One character calls her a monster; but she's presented more as a child of nature, with her name and her refusal to eat artificial foods, which she claims sully her "beautiful, pure body." She eschews sex for the same reason; and, though on the cover her midriff is bare and she's briefly nude, she isn't portrayed as a sex symbol, unlike most femme fatales. The other regular character, the kidnapped boy, never speaks or shows any sign of unhappiness with his current situation; he seems to be interested only in eating, though there are hints that there's more to him than meets the eye.

The first three chapters of the book, about seventy pages, are exhilirating. The action is nonstop, and Kaneko's visual storytelling is marvelously fluid. The rest of the book is more uneven. The fourth chapter, featuring a "good" teacher, suffers from too heavy-handed satire. In later chapters, Kaneko broadens the scope of the story, introducing an orgiastic, demonic rock star called Gabba King who plays an important role in the plot. But it's not clear in this volume where Kaneko is going with this; and Gabba King isn't as interesting a character as Bambi.

But despite this unevenness, the book is a lot of fun. It may appeal more, in fact, to fans of American comics than to manga fans: it lacks the focus on relationships, complex plot, or fantasy which (singly or in combination) characterize most of the manga that have become popular here. Instead, it exemplifies a "cinematic" concept of comics as pure action. The art is unlike that of any other manga artist I know of. The nearest thing I can compare it to is David Lapham of Stray Bullets, at least when only individual panels are considered.

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