Becchin to Mandara is best described as a psychological slice of life. Set in a ruined, post-war Japan, the manga shows the bizarre day-to-day lives of two girls, Becchin and Mandara. However, unlike other stories with a post-apocalyptic setting, Becchin to Mandara isn’t a story about survival or adventure. Instead, it completely defies the genre’s conventions by being utterly abstract. Through constantly shifting tones between twisted humour, disturbing imagery, and zombie-killing action, Becchin to Mandara will have the reader wrapping their head around its story (mainly, lack thereof) in the most unpleasant fashion possible. The manga is grounded (or ungrounded) by the twisted interactions between Becchin, Mandara, and various anomalies (namely, swarms of ladybugs, large, flying insects, and fully sentient corpses) surrounding their countryside abode. To give you a little taste of the manga, here’s a description of its two main characters:
… Best friends forever.
Mandara is as batshit crazy as a girl can get. Energetic and always referring to herself in the third person, she constantly shows sporadic behaviour and thoughts. This is suitable considering her behaviour, as she seems to be fond of imitating things – hillbillies, animals, and “crabvaders”. She also has a peculiar obsession with tape recorders, whereby any mention of a tape recorder leads to Mandara flailing her arms and breaking out into hysterical, tear-filled fits. If her dialogue doesn’t consist of incomprehensible ramble or delusional ranting, then it probably has something to do with repetition of the words “tape recorder”. Like a broken tape recorder herself, another quirk in Mandara’s speech is that she tends to speak in loops, repeating her thoughts endlessly until interrupted.
“Who is Bill Gates?” – Mandara
“The first man who succeeded in reaching the South Pole.” – Becchin
Although a bit more mentally sound than her schizophrenic friend, Becchin suffers from a mild case of paranoia. She’s prone to hallucinate, and constantly has conversations with herself. It’s through these hallucinations that we also see glimpses into Becchin’s pre-war life, as fragmented and far in-between as they may be. Although she takes pills to mitigate these hallucinations, the reader is left to wonder how much of this world has been distorted by Becchin’s mind as they are guided through the story through her eyes (floating pianos, swarms of ladybugs, and all). The interplay between Becchin and Madara’s distinct manifestations of insanity makes for an interesting relationship. On one hand, the mental states of these characters make them completely unrelatable to the reader. On the other hand, Becchin and Mandara often share brief moments of respite in each other’s madness, which results in some touching and comedic moments. After all, if your only companion in the world is equally deranged, you’ll grow to understand and empathize with them eventually.
At first glance, Becchin to Mandara has all of the makings of a subtle, anti-war allegory – a post-apocalyptic setting, the defense of a dried out riverbed against “invaders”, and socially dejected, mentally unstable main characters. However, a complete lack of narrative, scatter-brained introduction and conclusion, and failure to maintain a consistent plot make the manga almost incomprehensible, let alone able to convey any sort of message. Even the tidbit of social commentary introduced towards the ending seemed arbitrary, given the incoherent nature of the manga. Well, where does that leave the reader? What were the intentions of the author when writing Becchin to Mandara, if the story itself lacks any meaning or coherency?
Welcome to the twisted world of Jiro Matsumoto.
Ever wondered what it’s like to peer into the mind of a potentially insane mangaka? Well, Matsumoto’s stories will take you beyond the fine line of dementia and lunacy. Like all of his works, Matsumoto doesn’t hold back on disturbing and graphic scenes. This is a man who will pull out all the stops for the sake of shocking readers, and he’s as unflinching as he is… Imaginative. On the milder side, the girls are often shown nude, or having vivid chats about sexuality and sexual acts. Or, in the middle of a conversation, another character will suddenly reveal a fully drawn, flaccid phallus. At its most brutal moments, the author doesn’t even bat an eye at, say, a teenage girl wearing a school uniform, laughing maniacally while getting violated by a hoard of zombies.
… Wait, what? Yeah. Unfortunately, this is just senseless shock value. There’s little context behind these acts, and they exist simply to appall readers.
That isn’t to say that Becchin to Mandara isn’t without its black humour. Throughout the manga, Matsumoto throws around not-so-subtle allusions to popular anime: Princess Mononoke, Evangelion, Gundam, My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaa, and even Full Metal Panic. There are also comedic elements in the manga’s styling, such as the use of a game’s inventory system when one of the characters was taking stock of her belongings, or the appearance of a JRPG battle menu when the same character later encounters a zombie.
Like all of Jiro Matsumoto’s manga, Becchin to Mandara’s artwork is… Unique, to say the least. The artist manages to make each panel highly detailed, yet crude at the same time. Matsumoto makes great use of etching, but these details are a double-edged sword. At its best, and quite often, these etchings create diverse facial expressions and highly intricate environments with fantastic shading. However, on a few rare occasions, Matsumoto’s etchings can make for overly clustered panels.
Overall, Becchin to Mandara left me disappointed with a half-realized story, poor flow of narrative, and thoughtless imagery. Nonetheless, don’t let this manga deter you from reading Matsumoto’s other works. I was lead to Becchin to Mandara by Freesia (which is a fairly underrated, philosophical manga set in an alternate, warring Japan), and Yuretsuzukeru, a rare, “erotic” anthology (NOT pornographic) that isn’t overtly smut. It’s a dark collection of short stories filled with ingenious surrealism – what Becchin to Mandara could have and should have been with a little more care and restraint.
This critic doesn’t seem to know about transgressive art.