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For the month of May, Shea and Derek discuss two books that, at first glance, seem quite different, but whose similarities become more apparent upon closer examination. They begin with Masahiko Matsumoto’s Cigarette Girl (Top Shelf Productions), a collection of eleven short comics originally published between 1972 and 1974. This is one of the few books by Matsumoto available in English — another translation, The Man Next Door, was published by Breakdown Press in 2014 — and the guys strongly advocate for more attention on this mangaka. Shea and Derek recall their earlier discussion of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, where the figure of Matsumoto is central to Tatsumi’s autobiographical narrative. The stories in Cigarette Girl demonstrate the artist’s style storytelling, which he referred to as “komaga” (or “panel pictures” in English), with its emphasis on a cinema-influenced panel breakdown and a more adult subject matter. Along with this, all of the stories end ambiguously or “obscurely,” without any neat resolution or closure, underscoring the mature and real-life tone found in Matsumoto’s work. About all of the pieces in this collection have something to do with , complicated, compromised, or unrequited relationships, with Matsumoto writing from both male and female perspectives.
And it is this theme where Derek and Shea find the common ground with the other book they discuss this month, Riichi Ueshiba’s Mysterious Girlfriend X, Vol. 1 (Vertical Comics). This story has everything to do with relationships, but, as the guys point out, it has perhaps the weirdest premise they’ve encountered on the manga series so far. The narrative’s 17-year-old protagonist and focalizer, Akira Tsubaki, becomes addicted to his new love interest — literally! — after tasting some of her drool. He gets sick if he goes without a dose of her saliva every day or so. His drool-defined heartthrob, Mikoto Urabe, is a complete enigma, a mystery made all the more confounding by her hobby of scissor play. Urabe has an uncanny ability to cut quickly and precisely almost any material with her scissors, which she carries holster-like in her panties. In fact, it’s the “panty part” of this book that receives much of the guys’ attention. Shea and Derek aren’t exactly sure what to make of Ueshiba’s fascination with older teenage girls’ bodies, or the fact that he finds certain “cute” acts so alluring. As the artist summarizes at the end of this first volume, “Don’t you think a girl who drools when she falls asleep is cute? Well, this is a comic about that sort of girl.” Still, the guys never suggest that Ueshiba is any sort of creepy pedophile, and, in fact, they even see the benefits of setting his particular story within a high school milieu. Be that as it may, Mysterious Girlfriend X has to be one of the most head-scratching stories Shea and Derek have encounter in some time, and, along with Cigarette Girl, provides them with much discussion fodder for this month’s episode.