Cracking open a copy of Secret Comics Japan: Underground Comics Now, my first thought was, “Wait, Viz published this?” Don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of the books in Viz’s various imprints, but if this is the kind of stuff they were publishing six years ago, somebody get me a time machine.

Edited by Chikao Shiratori, the book collects an eye-popping mixture of shorts with an experimental, Garo-esque flavor. In assembling the stories, Shiratori wanted to offer an alternative to the magic girls and young men with a dream who dominated much of the translated manga at the time.

The cumulative effect is dazzling. There’s a rich range of styles on display, from the adorably disgusting Junko Mizuno to the stylish, cinematic josei of Kiriko Nananan to the bizarrely detailed Usamaru Furuya. Narrative structures run from utterly straightforward to thoroughly abstract, and the subject matter is similarly diverse.

Each piece contributes something different to the big picture that Shiratori is trying to assemble. Diversity is a difficult concept to illustrate in a meaningful way, but Secret Comics Japan offers an absorbing cross section of ambitious weirdness.

Shintaro Kago’s “Punctures” is both visually revolting and hilarious. In it, society has become so paranoid about the possibility of injury that they’re resorting to preemptive self-mutilation. In a world where restaurants are forced to warn you that the contents of your coffee cup are hot, it’s depressingly plausible, even if Kago takes the notion to grotesque extremes.

Benkyo Tamaoki takes a surprisingly slice-of-life approach to erotica in “Editor Woman.” As Shiratori says in his introduction to the piece, Tamaoki produces “high quality manga that also happen to be porn.” The title character is painfully normal, and Tamaoki packs the story with mundane details and petty frustrations that somehow manage not to counter the story’s function as erotica.

My favorite selection in the book is easily Furuya’s “Palepoli,” gloriously weird, beautifully illustrated one-page cartoons. They’re disturbing, profane, and hilarious. (“Golgo 31” is one of the funniest things I’ve read in years.) I’ve really got to order his Short Cuts.

There’s glorious stuff in here, and fans of Digital Manga Publishing’s Robot series would do well to try and track down a copy. It’s an amazing collection of the kind of styles and stories you don’t generally see on the shelves at Borders.

(I ordered this from Viz’s on-line shop, but it’s also in stock at Amazon. Other books by some of the creators with work in Secret Comics Japan include: Tamaoki’s Blood: The Last Vampire; Mizuno’s Princess Mermaid and Pure Trance; Nananan’s Sweet Cream and Red Strawberries and Blue; and others I was too lazy to research.)

14 Responses to From the stack: SECRET COMICS JAPAN

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure how easy to find it is, but the similar anthology “Comics Underground Japan” is also good stuff.


  2. David Welsh says:

    The Amazon listing made it look way out of print, but it’ll be worth keeping an eye out for a used copy of it based on the details at the publisher’s site (


  3. Queenie Chan says:

    It’s wonderful to hear you mention this! I think I recommended “Secret Comics Japan” on my LJ last year (or something), but it’s simply fantastic and a refreshing taste from “normal” manga. It introduced me to Kiriko Nananan and made me this total fan of Furuya’s work. I think it’s a crime more of Furuya’s work isn’t available around – you must read “Short Cuts” 1&2 if you like Furuya. He’s just superb at what he does.

  4. David Welsh says:

    Furuya is just amazing, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do with a long-form narrative. Those cartoons were just incredible.

  5. John Jakala says:

    Sounds like an interesting book. I’ve just added it to my Wish List at, which seems to have some of the best prices around on manga, plus free shipping!

    I love Furuya’s work. Here’s a scan from Short Cuts Vol. 2 (scroll down past the scans from Uzumaki) to further tempt you, David. (Although if I’m remembering correctly, Short Cuts is pretty much all short strips rather than long-form stories.) And wasn’t Furuya one of the featured artists in Manga: Masters of the Art?

  6. David Welsh says:

    I’ll have to dig out my copy of M: MotA to see! The only profilees coming immediately to mind are Erica Sakurazawa and CLAMP, but my memory is notoriously poor.

  7. Huff says:

    As for Furuya’s awesomeness, check out Music of Marie, my favorite thing from him and pretty much one of the best things I’ve ever read. As great as his bizarre comedy strips are, he’s got an amazing talent for epic (yet still introverted) fantasy, as shown in Marie. His disturbing, Tatsumi-esqe shorts are also great.
    But I hear you about old-school Viz. It was a huge blow when PULP finally ended. Comics Underground Japan is another great book.

  8. Adam says:

    Yes, Furuya is in M:MotA. And with apologies for self-promotion, I have reviews of some of Furuya’s longer works on my blog (though not Music of Marie, which I haven’t read yet).

    There was a third “underground manga” anthology, Sake Jock, which was published by Fantagraphics iirc. I actually wasn’t too crazy about it overall, but it had a couple of good stories, including a great one by the woman who created Nekojiru, the manga on which the anime Cat Soup was based.

  9. David Welsh says:

    No apologies needed, Adam, as it made me realize that I hadn’t put your blog in my sidebar, even though I meant to ages ago.

    I’m thinking that Music of Marie is only available in Japanese and French so far, right? Yet another reason to improve my language skills.

  10. Huff says:

    Well if you don’t have any problems with scanslations you can DL it on the interweb. One of the two volumes have been scansalted so far.

  11. […] to Save Her, which was snatched up by CMX. Furuya’s Palepoli strips from Viz’s out-of-print Secret Comics Japan still amaze me, so I’m thrilled to see more of his work headed for English release. 51 Ways was […]

  12. […] Finishing up on the Viz front, how tragic is it that Secret Comics Japan is out of print? It’s a collection of edgy, alternative manga that is a bookshelf highlight for me. […]

  13. […] my fondness for Usumaru Furuya’s “Palepoli” strips in Viz’s Secret Comics Japan and my abiding love of episodic “psychic helper” manga, Genkaku Picasso (also from Viz) seemed […]

  14. […] my fondness for Usumaru Furuya’s “Palepoli” strips in Viz’s Secret Comics Japan and my abiding love of episodic “psychic helper” manga, Genkaku Picasso (also from Viz) seemed […]

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