Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Guru Guru Pon-Chanby Jason Thompson, Dec 16th 2010
Episode XXXIII: Guru Guru Pon-chan
"Pon-chan is perhaps the most beloved of all the characters I've created…If I do say so myself, I'm sort of a twisted person and I like black humor, so I never thought I'd draw that kind of 'good girl.' (Ha ha!)"
- Satomi Ikezawa
Guru Guru Pon-chan is the best manga about bestiality available in English. There's not a lot of competition (like for, say, stepbrother-stepsister romance manga), there's not an Eisner Award for it, but I thought I should get that out of the way first. In the grand panoply of manga, it's one of those books that is simultaneously twisted and perverted and heartwarming and sweet, and it was published in Bessatsu Friend, a shojo manga magazine for junior high and High School Girls. It proves that there is almost no kinky thing that manga will not cutesify; it also proves that dogs can have eyes as big and sparkly as any human being.
Ponta is a young labrador retriever, one of a litter of puppies. She is seemingly destined for a life of normal dogness, were it not for one thing: her owner is an old inventor/wizard/mad scientist/weirdo (it doesn't really matter, since his only function in the story is to be wacky and to get the plot rolling) who dreams of inventing a device which can cause dogs to speak. (BowLingual, perhaps?) But when his device - in the form of a little doggie bone - is swallowed by young Ponta, it proves to have an entirely different effect: it transforms her into a human! Since she is still a puppy, Ponta transforms into a toddler, a cute but feral-looking little kid who poops in the yard and runs clumsily around. While she is causing a mess, young Ponta is noticed by the boy next door, Mirai, who wonders who the weird little girl is. Mirai picks her up, Ponta stares into his handsome face and get excited, and then she pukes up the bone and turns back into a dog. Mirai doesn't see the transformation, and is left wondering what happened to that little girl.
But Ponta never forgets his face, and thus begins the romance of a young dog's life. It's nine human months before Ponta is able to get the bone again, and by that point her human form is the age of a teenage girl. She transforms and glomps onto her beloved Mirai, who is surprised to find a random naked girl with a dog collar climbing in his lap and hugging him. Mirai is a pretty cool guy, so he doesn't blush and freak out like some prudish pervert in a shonen love comedy manga, but he's a bit shocked to realize that Ponta is a dog, and that she transforms back and forth whenever she kisses the "Guru Guru Bone" which is attached to her dog collar. Soon enough, Ponta (in human form) is talking and wearing clothes and attending high school, although she can't really read or write and spends most of class curled up on the floor asleep drooling. Mirai's classmates are confused by the strange girl, and one of them thinks Ponta must have picked up her strange habits from studying abroad. On the other hand, Yuka, who has a crush on Mirai, is simply jealous. Like the Little Mermaid, Ponta must struggle against all odds to love a man from another world. "A love between a dog and a human can never be," one of the other dogs warns her. And as for Mirai, can he accept Ponta as a woman, or just as a household pet? Or is he simply afraid that, if he tries anything with this girl who is always flashing him, he'll be forever known as (Ikezawa's quote) "the pervert who does it with dogs"?
Ahh… now this is why I read manga. This being a love comedy, Ponta and Mirai face countless obstacles and rivals. Go Fujinaga, a freak who likes animals more than people, finds himself uncontrollably attracted to Ponta. Hana, one of Mirai's exes, shows up and tries to get Mirai back, mocking him for having a "puppy love relationship" with a little girl. The rivals aren't all two-legged, either. More than one canine is attracted to Ponta's charms, and they aren't shy about showing it. The ultimate combo threat might be Aoka, a girl who likes Mirai…and who owns a dog, Gang, who likes Ponta too! Will everyone find love with a member of their own species? Will Mirai get germs from kissing a dog in the face?
Most of the humor in Guru Guru Pon-chan is about a dog in a girl's body, and to Ikezawa's credit, she never runs out of ways to make this funny. When Ponta eats, she gets food all over her face. When she sleeps, she drools. When they go camping, she jumps into the river and catches live fish with her mouth. Ikezawa does a good job incorporating dog facts into the story, from the minor (dogs aren't supposed to eat onions) to the major (female dogs go into heat twice a year). Some of these factoids are used in the "Baby Pon-chan" sequences scattered throughout the manga, which depict Pon-chan's life as a puppy, sort of like Chi's Sweet Home. In addition to switching between human and dog, Ponta also develops a middle form of a dog-girl with a dog's ears and tail, which she transforms into when she's excited. (Like most furry characters, a theme I am not interested in personally unless maybe it's drawn by Tomoko Saito), it's hard to imagine this looking good in live-action, but in manga, somehow it works.) Ponta's simpleminded cheerfulness brightens up everyone's day, although she's a total innocent about human society. But even she has needs. "I bet you guys haven't even kissed yet!" Ponta's classmates tease her. "No, but I've licked him," Ponta says.
In case it isn't clear: Guru Guru Pon-chan is a very pervy book. For a shojo manga, the amount of nudity and sex humor is really heavy (not as heavy as Gakuen Prince or Sensual Phrase, but still heavy), and it's no surprise that Del Rey changed the age rating from 13-and-up to 16-and-up midway through. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the central theme is bestiality. "Supposedly a book about dog lovers, in actuality a book about 'dog lovers'…eww," writes one disappointed reviewer on goodreads.com. "This is cute, but comes very close to pushing into squick territory," says another. But the squick part isn't just in the fact that Ponta has the body of a dog; it's the fact that Ponta has the mind of a dog, an eager loyal dog who loves her master. "Human and dog" or "owner and pet" are the very definition of an unequal relationship, leading to some of the same creepiness as all those relationships between adult guys and teeny-weeny girls in moe and lolicon manga.
Indeed, Guru Guru Pon-chan sort of goes "there" too, and not just in the first chapter when Ponta is a toddler. Ponta's human form looks quite a bit younger than Mirai, particularly with her clothes off, and she seems to get younger instead of older as the series progresses. She is barely two years old in human years, after all. Squick. And it's not like she turns into a brain surgeon as the series progresses: it seems like Mirai is always gonna be intellectually ahead of her, and he has the unenviable task of teaching her about the cold hard adult human world and all its restrictions. "I don't understand because I'm a dog!" Ponta cries in exasperation at one point.
When one of my friends said that she liked Guru Guru Pon-chan but it was a guilty pleasure because it was so creepy, I couldn't really argue, except to say: at least in Guru Guru Pon-chan, the heroine has an excuse for being a clueless ditz, unlike in sadly too many other shojo and moe manga where this kind of behavior is portrayed as cute just because. Looking at it from another perspective, one of the nice things about being a dog is that you don't give a $%&# what other people think (except maybe for your master), and you can do what you like, without worrying about all that manners and society and homework stuff. Judging from the admittedly small sample of her Del Rey translated manga - Othello and Guru-Guru Pon-chan - Ikezawa is a mangaka who likes manic, rules-breaking heroines, and in this way, Pon-chan is fun by anyone's standards. In one chapter of his essay book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes and Make-Believe Violence, Gerard Jones (who, incidentally, used to be a Viz Manga rewriter) suggested that tween girls liked young pop singers a la Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera (this book came out 10 years ago) not because of their sex appeal, but because they were in good shape and could sing and dance and be active—they were self-assertive and the center of attention, regardless of the way skeevy men might view them. (It's the same way that both creepy old men otaku and young girl otaku might like Sailor Moon for different reasons. And like Sailor Moon, I can't help but feel that Pon-chan tries to target both audiences. There is a lot of nudity.)
As a dog-person, Ponta gets to be hyperactive and athletic, to jump all over things and catch Frisbees with her mouth and play with her food and act on impulse. Furthermore, when her master is threatened she can jump-kick bad dudes in the face and kick ass. Better than being some little moe girl who is clumsy and shy, it's more fun to act first and think later, and to not have responsibilities…whether you're a dog (Pon-chan) or a split personality lunatic (Othello) or a gang boss leader, or any of the countless other disobedient, crazy main characters that mangaka love to write. Who wants to read about someone who obeys the rules? This is one of the joys of doghood in Guru Guru Pon-chan, and it makes me glad that Ikezawa doesn't really depict dog society in the manga (as in, say, Yoshihiro Takahashi's Ginga Legend Weed). It's hard enough to be a member of society in the human world, and while I'm sure some people fantasize about escaping the human world only to trade it for the same people-politics in the dog world (or the werewolf world or the vampire world or whatever), it's refreshing not to have to worry about whose butt to sniff.
In short, this is a funny and sweet and clever manga, unless you find it gross and disturbing, in which case you probably know your answer after reading this review. (The final volume pushes the envelope the most, and is also totally insane and wrong, but at least you won't forget it.) Ikezawa is an enjoyably twisted writer and a good artist, and her experience as a dog owner shines through in her nice, gestural drawings of dogs (considerably better than Yoshihiro Takahashi's Ginga Legend Weed, although perhaps Ikezawa has it easier because she didn't have to draw dogs for 16,000 PAGES). The male love interest looks like the main guy from Mars, and the female protagonist looks like a typical feisty shojo heroine with pigtails, until later, when she starts to look like Megu from Honey and Clover. And the puppies are just too cute. Unlike Ikezawa's Othello, it doesn't make the mistake of trying to get too serious. Years later, Ikezawa drew a pseudo-sequel, Guru Guru Pon-chan Okawari ("Guru Guru Pon-chan Round Two"), but it isn't focused on the same characters; instead, it's about a girl and a guy chihuahua. For the record, I consider myself more of a cat person, even though I've reviewed two dog manga in the last month. Next week's manga will be a dog manga too, at least technically, since the dog in question gets nearly beaten to death on multiple occasions. That, at least, is something that never happens in Guru Guru Pon-chan. Leg-humping or dogfighting: take your pick!
Jason Thompson is the author of Manga: The Complete Guide and King of RPGs, as well as manga editor for Otaku USA magazine.
Banner designed by Lanny Liu.
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