I knew I was in for some shit even just by reading the genre tags for this one, which included a nice mix of things like “anal,” “bestiality,” and “dystopia.” And Keep on Vibrating certainly didn’t disappoint there – the seven stories here offer a pretty consistent mix of prostitution, violence against women, and occasional scatterings of war and cultural decay. Keep on Vibrating doesn’t quite match the overtly misanthropic tenor of Denpa Teki na Kanojo, but its author sure has a lot of violence in his head. And that’s about all there is to it.
(incidentally, there’s definitely going to be some NSFW image links in this one, so watch out!)
The first story sets the tone, in more ways than one. The acts of violence here might well be considered motifs, considering how often they reappear across the collection – a desperate woman being sexually abused for money, another women being murdered in a sexual context, and a generally oblivious male proxy just sort of wandering through it all. It’s all so even in its miserable tone that it becomes kind of numbing – it’s like Jhonen Vasquez work, a Hot Topic monster that’s grown into an adult man with nothing of interest to say.
But beyond the violent and sexually charged narrative touchstones, this first story also seems to reveal a thing or two about author Jiro Matsumoto’s views on art. The premise here is that a naked man known just as “sensei” is renowned as a calligraphy artist, but has no new ideas. And so he wanders the neighborhood for inspiration, and eventually receives it from two women. The young prostitute Kame writes “CUNT” on a piece of paper, and the doomed woman Mrs. A requests his phone number, splattered on a sheet of paper that he eventually hands to his agent.
The agent responds fairly predictably to these simplistically outrageous acts – he marvels at them as genius, and states that “your collection will shock the world of calligraphy!” It’s a narrative beloved by people who have little trust or even resentment for the conventional art world – striking back through their own stories, they frame “high art” as a deluded temple that only makes up its own significance. “Look how silly these art collectors are, marveling at this thing that was barely even intentional!” When you’re uncertain of your own artistic place in the world, it can be comforting to think all successful people are actually just lucky jackasses.
The stories largely proceed at about that level of insight and narrative invention. Sex is omnipresent, but rarely given much significance – the stories often read like the author has just recently discovered sex, comics, or both. At one point, a news anchor talks about what humanity has done to the environment while in the foreground, a woman is beaten to death with a bat. As that story continues, the murderer dumps his wife’s body, returns home, and finds her alive – so he kills her again, dumping her new body on top of the old one. At the end of the story, the wife discovers this pile of bodies and kills her husband, only to dump him on top of a pile that has now changed to be composed of his bodies.
Is there any significance to this? Am I supposed to draw some parallel between the woman who was repeatedly murdered and the man who murdered her? Or is this image supposed to somehow better convey his monstrous nature, considering the fact that the woman shouts “who’s the monster? You’re the monster” as she dumps him. I frankly don’t think the author thought the story through enough to consider such questions. The point here is violence – repeated violence, violence that justifies itself because violence is apparently inherently interesting.
The collection’s second half introduces a pair of kids, Sanpol and Krezol. These kids wear gas masks and cavort around their author’s dystopia, occasionally beating cats half to death or talking to women who are being forced to have sex with pigs. Their stories aren’t interesting (one ends with the punchline being the “fireworks” they enjoyed were actually bombs being dropped, because war is a meaningful twist in and of itself apparently), but their presence actually feels like a better author surrogate than the naked calligrapher. Smug children, certain of their nihilistic understanding of the world while in truth drawing no meaningful conclusions from anything. That’s about the level we’re at here.
The art does have its moments, at least. There are some occasional evocative profiles, and though Jiro Matsumoto’s character drawings rarely rise above the level of raw doodles, the use of blacks can occasionally seem somewhat inspired. But moments like that are few and far between – I generally got the feeling Matsumoto’s teachers were a combination of newspaper comics and porno tracings.
And of course, the manga’s treatment of women is… something. For all the manga’s stories of revenge against evil men and despising men who “treat women like toys,” Matsumoto sure is happy to use violence against women as a cheap punchline again and again and again. Earnest emotions are laughed at by the creepy children, and the characters that get happy endings are rarely the female devices, but the callow men pontificating over their bodies. None of this is necessary to reflect any underlying darkness in the world – it’s always possible to create a grim story that still treats its characters with dignity. But Matsumoto does not have the talent or inclination for such a task, and his work reflects the most casually sexist of worldviews.
There is a silver lining, though. After six stories of sexual violence and tedious unmessages, Keep on Vibrating actually arrives at a weirdly poignant little conclusion. The final story is about a sniper so dedicated to his job that he never leaves his post – ultimately spending so much time waiting for his target that he accidentally raises a family with the woman whose apartment he’s sharing. That still isn’t groundbreaking storytelling or anything, but there’s at least a bit of tenderness there. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
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