Reptilia – a Japanese slasher manga.
A hidden killer who won’t stay down, an innocent, young last-girl constantly being chased by said killer, and if you count “Goosebumps” logic then of course all of the adults in the story believe children are untrustworthy, pathological liars. It’s a simple premise, and one that is explored in Kazuo Umezo’s creature feature: Reptilia.
Umezo attempts to create a mythology around the legacy of a giant snake demon who lost an eye to a hunter’s rifle. In a Dracula-like fashion, one bite to the neck and the venom of a snake woman turns you into a snake creature as well. A person will begin to slither across the ground, to grow scales and be compelled to eat raw eggs, frogs, and humans. Or rather just little girls, since the snake women of Reptilia don’t show much interest in eating people in favor of turning them into fellow snakes. Except for those nosy little girls who keep popping up and threatening to expose them. Ppppffft. Jerk kids.
(Spoilers) Reptilia has its moments of terror, such as the transformation of one little girl into a snake person. But mostly Reptilia is one long chase scene playing off childhood fears – fear of creepy crawlies, fear of family turning against or not believing you when you warn them of danger, fear of being alone against a monster. By far what breaks the tension the most in Reptilia is the unclear motivation of the snake women. When a snake woman is introduced and begins her mischief it’s not clear if she is attempting to create a new nest of snakes, or just wants to run about in a mad fury of frog consumption. The snake women continually threaten to eat the protagonists, but we never see or hear of this actually being done. More often than not in Reptilia the, “I’m going to eat you”, line is a dead giveaway that a chase scene is about to commence. An empty threat just isn’t that scary for the reader. Yes, we know that the snake women want to harm the kids that cross their paths, but how and why is left unclear.
Reptilia is a strange case of rebranding. The book is a 2007 manga from IDW, publishers of Astro Boy: Underground, Vampire Hunter D for the PSP, and a slew of boy’s love (BL) manga. Their biggest in-house publishing companies include Digital Manga Publishing, which itself was broken down into DMP: its mainstream imprint, DMP PLATINUM: its classic manga imprint, JUNE: its boys love imprint, 801 MEDIA: its adult boys love imprint, and DokiDoki: its exclusive co-publishing imprint with Shinshokan Publishing. Reptilia is a strange edition to IDW’s roster of titles largely comprised of franchises. The book falls in line with the wave of Umezo titles that flooded the market in the mid to late 2000s, however the replacement of the original cover with completely new western artwork and the tiny print of the author’s name make one wonder who this title was marketed to. Other hot companies at the time like Tokyopop, Dark Horse, Viz and JUNE were quick to use original artwork and the names of popular creators as big selling points in a market that was just starting to reach the saturation point. Reptilia, on the other hand, seemingly disguises the nature of the book as a manga. Aside from the usual printing size and right-to-left format, you wouldn’t know that Reptilia was a manga by just glancing at it on a bookshelf. If I had to guess I would say that IDW cautiously released Reptilia to see how well it could merge with the highly competitive manga market. Given the lack of manga titles under the IDW banner today it was not the big hit that they expected. Reptilia is another manga that is out of print in English, although copies are readily available at used bookstores and online. It’s a simplistic story with a few problems, but overall Umezu’s disturbing combination of cute and grotesque make it a worthwhile read for fans.