Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby reviewed by Ng Suat Tong

Posted by on December 17th, 2009 at 10:00 AM

*This review contains images that are NSFW.

You can get a decent idea about the qualities of Takashi Nemoto’s Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby just by reading the first few lines of the handful reviews that exist online. One reviewer advises a strong stomach and another calls it “an important and brave release”. James Hadfield of Metropolis magazine describes it as “the heart-rending tale of a radioactive sperm” while Johnny Ryan calls Nemoto the “undisputed master of dirty comics”. Dan Nadel (the publisher of said book) simply proclaims it “criminally overlooked”.

This 189-page manga consist of two major works by Nemoto. The first, “Monster Men Bureiko”, concerns the commercial and erotic life of a penis who turns into a head while “The World According to Takeo” is about the life and misadventures of a mutant sperm (he attends elementary school and later becomes the owner of a gay bar). Picking up this book should be a no-brainer for anyone who is interested in the the history of the Japanese “undergrounds” or outsider art. This is particularly true for readers who have a soft spot in their heart for the works of S. Clay Wilson, Rory Hayes or Johnny Ryan.

The most informative article about Nemoto in the English language is by the co-translator of the book being reviewed – Kevin Quigley. In The Comics Journal #154, Quigley recounts Nemoto’s youthful interest in transgressive images and his Damascene experience when he saw the work of King Terry for the first time in Garo. In the same article, he describes a working method based on word association somewhat similar to what Lynda Barry elaborates on at length in What It Is. And while these two artists would appear to be world’s apart on a superficial glance at their comics, what results from this method is quite clearly an intimate peek into the heart of the artist.

One assumes that Monster Men‘s lukewarm reception by alternative comic aficionados is due to its inhospitable subject matter. An off-the-cuff comment by Bill Randall at the Comics Comics blog site compares Nemoto’s work to Japanese noise bands. This is something which the artist brings up himself in Quigley’s Journal article where he describes finding a kindred spirit in the leader of Totsuzen Danbouru. In other words, this is marginal material which one would hardly criticize a person for feeling lukewarm toward and perhaps of minimal influence to the aesthetics of the vast majority of adult manga.

Randall also suggests that the audience for American alternatives is largely conservative and would hardly accept material of this ilk. It’s certainly possible that readers more interested in Yoshiro Tatsumi or Yoshiharu Tsuge will find Nemoto’s work a bit distasteful. The real problem, however, lies in the book’s somewhat dated aesthetic. Monster Men is not quite the sunrise that never gets old but the border which once crossed can never be returned to without a certain sense of loss – the magic never to be regained without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia or historical importance. In this slightly more enlightened age, S. Clay Wilson’s Checkered Demon has become almost an old friend even as he is sticking his engorged phallus into a half-willing woman – almost adorable in his transgressions. You might never show Nemoto’s manga to a person whose knowledge of cartooning stops short at newspaper strips and various Disney characters, but to most long-time readers of comics (and who else might these tales be for?) these stories will be par for the course. I wouldn’t recommend reading Monster Men on a crowded subway train, but then again, I wouldn’t recommend having sex regularly in a public area as well (and there’s nothing particularly disgusting about sexual intercourse). There are just some things which are more suited to the privacy of the bedroom or an art gallery.

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3 Responses to “Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby reviewed by Ng Suat Tong”

  1. Bill Randall says:

    Since you quoted me, I’ll go on record as actively disliking Nemoto’s work even if I admire Dan Nadel’s commitment to publishing things he believes in. (And I quite like a lot of 80s/90s J-noise). Nemoto’s a graphic innovator and social critic/provocateur. In a Japan he occupies a tiny niche, just as the noise club Bears still has its spot in America-mura. The transgression’s contained, a very Japanese, very urban solution. And he’s a very minor artist.

    In the US, he drifted over with a lot of transgressive & extreme Japanese porn/counterculture/music after the economic wave of the 80s. I associate it with Urotsukidoji & such nonsense, appreciated in the US only because our own perverse imaginations hadn’t caught up. (The take on noise music then also had more to do with episodes like Yamatsuka Eye’s “Backhoe Show” more than the actual music; the first “manga movies” were marketed much like Heavy Metal had been before.) My take on these works is that they’re reactions against social norms that don’t translate. They make sense in the web of social strictures that define Japanese life and not elsewhere. He’s far from the most interesting artist of his generation, from Garo, from heta-uma, whatever.

    And stating that they work’s rather dated is quite right, I think. Transgressive works– even Wilson, Viennese Actionism, a hundred banned films– get subsumed by the culture. Now Nemoto’s a commercial illustrator, basically. And when I tried and tried to find value in the American undergrounds past getting a sense of history. Deitch & Greene, sure. The rest, like Nemoto, I can leave.

  2. Ng Suat Tong says:

    Thanks for the knowledgeable perspective, Bill.

    Lumping “Monster Men” together with “Urotsukid?ji” is far more damning than anything I wrote in my review. You would appear to like “Monster Men” even less than I do. Nemoto fanciers will not be pleased. “Urotsukid?ji” to me is on the level of dreck like “God Sider” which, I should say, I had a good time laughing at when I first saw it in the 80s because of its OTT stupidity.

  3. Noah Berlatsky says:

    Bill, I’m wondering what you (or Suat) think if Johnny Ryan’s work? I’m a fan myself, obviously….