Poignant — now there’s a word I never imagined I’d be using to describe one of Junko Mizuno’s works, given her fondness for disturbing images and acid-trip plotlines. But Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu is poignant, a perversely sweet and sad meditation on one small, sheep-like alien’s efforts to find his place in the universe.
The story is simple: on the “cute and pink” planet of Princess Kotobuki, Pelu lives with a beautiful race of women and a “calm but carnivorous giant space hippo.” Pelu has always been aware of how different he is from his fellow Kotobukians, but when he learns that he will never be able to have a family of his own, he falls into a terrible funk, begging the hippo to eat him. When the hippo demurs — Pelu is just too woolly to be appetizing — Pelu borrows the hippo’s magic mirror and teleports to Earth in search of others like him. What Pelu discovers, however, is that Earth women view him as an exotic pet, a companion who’s entertaining but disposable. He careens from one unhappy situation to another, meeting young women who are down on their luck: an aspiring singer with a lousy voice, a homely orphan who’s raising an ungrateful brother, a pearl diver plying her trade in the sewer.
Like Mizuno’s other works, Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu aims for maximum shock value by depicting cute characters engaged in degenerate behavior: popping pills, doing the nasty in nasty places. Yet Fluffy Gigolo leaves a very different aftertaste than Mizuno’s other manga. Pure Trance, for example, is far less coherent, a set of vivid, Hieronymus Bosch-meets-Hello Kitty set pieces, with doll-like girls binging and purging, brandishing chainsaws, and enduring medical procedures that might give Dr. No pause. One could argue that Pure Trance was intended to point out the absurd lengths to which women go to achieve physical perfection, though one could also argue, as Shaenon Garrity does, that Pure Trance is really a vehicle for Mizuno to draw whatever crazy-ass things popped into her head (i.e. naked, chainsaw-wielding Bratz dolls). Either way, Pure Trance feels like a stunt, its Grand Guignol excesses trumping whatever social commentary might inform the story.
By contrast, Fluffy Gigolo‘s shock tactics serve dramatic and thematic functions, inviting the reader to feel sympathy for Pelu while prompting reflection on pregnancy and motherhood — or perhaps more accurately, the way in which childlessness is dramatized in manga, movies, and soap operas, as if being childless were worse than being afflicted with a terminal disease. “I’m better off dead!” Pelu declares. “I can’t have a baby, and I’ll always be alone for life.” Whether or not Mizuno is striving for deeper social commentary is hard to gauge — after all, her story features copious nudity, drug use, and a teleporting, man-eating space hippo from the Planet of the Dolls — but in Pelu’s odyssey, many readers will recognize the way in which biology, social conditioning, and hormones can prompt us to make compromises in pursuit of motherhood.
LITTLE FLUFFY GIGOLO PELU, VOL. 1 • BY JUNKO MIZUNO • LAST GASP • 168 pp. • RATING: MATURE (NUDITY, SEXUALITY, STRONG LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE, DRUG USE — IN SHORT, THE WORKS)