Dandadan Vol. 2
Written and illustrated by Yukinobu Tatsu.
Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian.
Adapted by Jennifer Leblanc.
Lettered by Kyla Aiko.
Published by Viz Media.
Dandadan is back. The more things change, the more they stay the same. No, wait. The same things stay changed and get strange, and then more things. Things like a kaiju crab spirit composite. Or a big eyeless dinosaur lady in a “Wuthering Heights” dress. Yukinobu Tatsu gives and gives. Mouth mashing. A cat turd tangerine. What a thrill! What a mess! Dandadan is back and same as it ever was.
Things cooling off from the crazy crab confrontation shows Momo and Okarun that, love interests or not, they’ve got an ongoing relationship with each other to figure out. Life won’t wait. Not like in a schooldays romance, though there’s that, more like life gets in the way of making plans and by life I mean twisted, consumptive horror creatures drawn to the power of Okarun’s magic balls. I am mostly a seinen reader (the manga market aimed at “older” readers) rather than shonen manga (essentially the mainstream genre comics scene in Japan), but one of my all-time favorite manga is- like Dandadan– a shonen book: Rumiko Takahashi’s supernatural martial arts rom com classic, Ranma 1/2. It was the protagonists’ screwball comedy sparks in both that led me to compare the two books- I love a love story where the couple’s primary struggle is letting themselves get together. And Dandadan is back stoking the fire between Momo and Okarun that got them in this mess.
But the star-crossed lovers isn’t the end of it. How serious it is between them taking the perpetual backseat to danger is sitcom territory. Akane and Ranma had that serial situation, martial arts on ice, martial arts street race, martial arts on the beach, with their relationship’s awkwardness as the only constant. Too busy to work on “us” with all the fighting, too good a vehicle for comedy to give up as a writer. Tatsu in Dandadan does feel like he’s moving the story (their story, Momo and Okarun’s) towards something. But! The monster-of-the-week challenges they have to team up to overcome, that’s the relationship. Isn’t it? Anyway, the last volume had me losing my shit over the Bengus-looking Flatwoods Monster. This time I’m all about the crab comprised of murdered girl parts. There’s creepy lizard mom. Turbo Granny’s new form is sheer perfection. The creature encyclopedia continues to grow like clockwork, yet the general feeling is once Okarun gets all his junk back, something will change.
One last Ranma comparison: Dandadan is onto some P-chan shenanigans this round. Rivals undergo transformations to inappropriately cute animals and end up as part of the family. Takahashi created an all-timer by having one of Ranma’s unrelenting enemies turn into a piglet in a bandana— and then Akane falls in love with him! Tatsu has sexy witch grandma Seiko performing an exorcism on Okarun, trapping a familiar spirit in a maneki-neko (the waving cat doll of good fortune). So now there’s foot tall cat doll running around giving terrible advice, eating sloppy sandwiches, and generally not helping with their only job: the mystery of the missing magic testicles.
That good good good Jillian Tamaki (or Jane Mai) comedic filthiness! The actual randiness in this volume is tame in comparison to Ranma (or even Dandadan’s first collection), but the shit that these folks say and the way they act is still just… uncalled for. It’s weird. So wonderfully weird. This book (spoilers) Okarun gets his dick back but his balls are missing, misplaced, in the wind. It’s sexual humor, but it’s not sexy, not particularly sexual even, just a vehicle for absurdity. Tatsu knows what the beats are and hits them like a carpenter, bang bang bang. It isn’t the clipped off raunchiness of mainstream American comics picking low hanging fruit while skirting parental advisory status. It’s funny because it knows how sex makes people uncomfortable and bounces an extremely nonchalant attitude off of that inflexibility.
On the other hand, the standout chapter in this collection was utterly earnest, some real Buster Keaton sight gag with sweet intentions, missed connections made comedy, romance comics. No monsters, just an early/strong front-runner for best comics kiss 2023. A Ghost Dog comedic repetition where girl and boy look for each other in the adjacent space over and over, assuming there is a barrier between each other that isn’t there; they’re sharing a moment despite what they think. Look at the giant arrow you dummy, your crush is right on the other side of the wall and they are crushing on you just as hard! Both of them taking their fruitless search for each others’ avoidance stirs in me, what is the book equivalent of when you’re shouting at the TV set? That. For a moment, the story shifts back to the opposites attract (through repellance) style the first book opened with.
But things have mutated, not just the case of the disappearing golden balls, this time the classic classroom scene is disrupted by the talking cat doll that snuck in inside Okarun’s backpack. Seriously, the cat has a Dola the sky pirate degree of bombastic personality, I fucking cannot get enough of it. The first book got weird tout de suite and stayed that way well into the second volume. After a celebratory dinner of questionable taste and an awkward day at school, everyone is thrown right back into their roles as ultra-violent yokai magnets. This time around: more players in the game, new allegiances, there is no normal to return to.
Everything I was into about volume one is still happening in Dandadan‘s second collection. The Carpenter’s Thing psychedelic face kaleidoscope horror acid melt aesthetic is still being used. Tatsu is still doing the constant unobtrusive explaining thing, it is neat there’s a logic to the seeming utter madness. Comics are able to pull off a best of both worlds trick that feels very filmic in concept but benefits from being static. The exposition is given during some pretty badass fight sequences. On a show or in a movie, explaining yourself during a fight might make for a drawn-out scenario. But in a comic, you can drop an unholy amount of information into a bare minimum of truly explosive action story beats (instead of a flurry of meaningless ones). The flurry is the dialog. I like what Kyla Aiko has been doing with yelling in this volume, a lot of looong vertical words, with each character as wide as the bubble, some great stacking. There’s a “IT’S HERE!” that gets piled up nice.
As awesome as all the artistic departures are, it should be said that the style Tatsu uses on, you know, the bulk of the book is as great as all the breaking he does from it. The sense of humor in the plot side of the writing is just as present in the art side of the writing, in the comedy of (over)reaction slapped across someone’s face, or impossible repetition of images. There’s so much synchronized running. The terror in a scene where Okarun and Momo are mirror running while verbally tearing each other apart is nonexistent, like what the campy capers of Army of Darkness did to the raw yikes of the original Evil Dead. The horror isn’t lessened. It’s just also hilarious. There’s moments of people being really Blue Monday cool (the characters are all real), moments of action that freeze the reader with awe (the fights all rip), just generally Dandadan is always on. And turned up to eleven, even the slow beats slap real hard. Picked up Vol. 2 and it was like the months between it and the debut didn’t exist at all. You open the book and the story flies away with you.
The second volume of Dandadan (as well as the first) is available now from Viz Media or from wherever finer comics, manga, and books are sold.