When I was still working as a manager in a comic book store I had a big box of manga sent to me by the district manager. He had picked them up at Anime Boston for a song and it was now my duty to sell them to the lovely residents of Massachusetts. I had never heard of this Tokyopop title until it tumbled out of that old banged up Diamond box and into my heart, but based on the title, the year of publication and the reputation of the publisher during this time I was expecting something very different than what was delivered.
For a company that was bending over backwards to ride the wave of the gothic and lolita craze it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Toykopop slated Goth for an English translation simply based on the title. Gothic manga in the late 2000s was insanely popular with a decent variety of flavors that included a lot of vaguely European drama and family intrigue from Kaori Yuki, fashion dramas like Paradise Kiss and Nana, and supernatural American titles like Bizenghast, ShutterBox, and The Dreaming. Manhwa (Korean comics) were also making their way into the American pop culture conscious with their distinctly stylized wispy vampires and demons.
Goth, however, is far more appropriate for current horror consumption. The popularity of shows like Hannibal, American Horror Story, Bates Motel, and Dexter rely on a revelry in the manipulation done to, and by, sick minds. It’s the very old, timeless tale of getting ahead and getting your way, but from the inside perspective of society’s predators and parasites – the psychopaths and sociopaths.
Rather than being a frilly horror romance in the same vein as the other shojo horror of the 2000s, Goth is a josei THRILLER!
(SPOILERS) The two main characters are both highly detached high schoolers who share an unconscious gravitation to one another. The first is a girl named Yoru Morino who has a scar across her wrist and a permanent blank frown on her face. The other is a boy whose name is amazingly avoided throughout the entire book. Only referred to in passive ways like, “brother”, “my friend”, or “you”, he is a twisted individual whose morbid fascination with the other main character starts off simply enough. Inspired by the recent violent rampage of a man collecting hands as trophies, the boy wants to see his own fascination with Yoru Morino’s scared wrist realized by inspiring the hand collector to target and decapitate Morino. Ideally he would like to be there to watch.
Other chapters have a similar plot of the boy wanting to see his fantasies of violence and death acted out with Morino and a variety of killers. Morino, for her part, actively seeks out the boy’s company so that they can discuss their mutual fascination with death, murder, and torture. With what seems to be absolute disdain for her own mortality Morino goes out of her way to place herself in the paths of the killers they come across. She even goes so far as to dress in the clothes of a murder victim they found in the woods and wear them in a cafe where they found the diary of the killer.
It’s a weird almost romantic attraction that these characters have for each other. Morino, the girl with a shadowy past who keeps needing to be saved, and the boy who wants to see someone kill Morino but ultimately won’t let anyone but himself do the act. Contrary to what the reader might expect, instead of being a weak willed wanna-be killer who can’t go through with the murders himself, the boy is portrayed as a strong figure who enjoys wavering on the line between predator and protector. While he willingly admits in his internal narratives that he wouldn’t stop anyone from actually killing Morino should it prove interesting, he finds such evil delight in tormenting other killers that Morino is almost safe from him in her role as bait.
As the story progresses he comes to realize more and more that she holds a special importance as his final girl, while she comes to see him as the holder of her secret past and a comforting, inevitability shadow of death. Awww, isn’t that just so beautiful and tweaked. Very Clarice and Hannibal.
As a fun bonus an interesting note from the author at the end of the manga describes the process of writing the novel, the joy of seeing it adapted into a manga, as well as his thoughts on writing and creating the relationship between the two characters. Goth the manga contains 4 of the original 6 stories written in the novel by Otsuichi. Not having read the book I can’t say whether the other 2 stories would have added anything to his world or characters, although having found out that Tokyopop translated the book and there is now a live-action movie adaptation I really really want to read and watch more! As always the paper quality of Tokyopop’s books can be an issue, but given how rare this comic is becoming if you see it add it to your collection immediately. Especially if you are a Kendi Oiwa fan of Welcome to the N.H.K fame. This was the first book he worked on!