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Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga: Bride of Deimos

by Jason Thompson,

Episode IV: Bride of Deimos

"This is a dark and brooding yet tantalizing anthology filled with passion, mystery, despair and one lovesick Demon."
Bride of Deimos volume 1 (English back-cover text)

The manga publisher ComicsOne (1999-2005) were, in many ways, ahead of their time. Like Tokyopop, they were one of the first companies to publish manga in the original right-to-left instead of left-to-right. They released their graphic novels in smaller sizes, for $9.95 each, instead of the oversize $15.95 books that was standard among the major publishers of the time. They were the first manhwa publisher in the U.S. And, later overlooked but perhaps most interesting of all, they started out as an ebook store and only published their most popular manga (relatively speaking) as graphic novels. Among the good titles released in print by ComicsOne were Wild Seven (a demented shonen motorcycle-cops manga), Kazan (a Miyazaki-esque fantasy), Iron Wok Jan! and Bride of Deimos.

Originally released from 1975 to 1983, a time associated forever with the Atari 2600 and great shojo manga, Bride of Deimos is a shojo horror soap opera. Horror has always been popular in shojo; in the 1980s and 1990s there were numerous shojo horror magazines with names like Monthly Halloween and Nemurenu Yoru no Kimyo Hanashi ("Strange Tales for Sleepless Nights"), which printed the work of artists like Junji Ito, Hideshi Hino and Kanako Inuki. Most of the horror-specific magazines are gone, but horror continues to be the anxiety in the shadow of shojo's romantic dreams, in manga like Petshop of Horrors, Nightmare Inspector and Hell Girl. Maybe angst-loving shojo manga readers are more willing to face their fears than shonen readers. But these manga face the perennial problem of horror: it's arguably better suited for short stories than long works, because in long works the main characters can't be casually killed off, and it's hard to keep upping the ante of scariness in the same way as, say, opponents in a battle manga. The answer, for many mangaka, is to do an episodic manga where each story is self-contained, except for some storyteller/guide character who provides a lead-in to the story (like the Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt or, more bishonen, the Count from Petshop of Horrors). But these short-story collections often lack an emotional center, because who really cares what happens to the Cryptkeeper? How do you combine a steady series of horror shocks with a sympathetic, character-driven ongoing story, without it becoming increasingly ridiculous by the time the main characters have survived encounters with 250 serial killers, 375 living corpses and 7,500 vampires?

If you're Yūho Ashibe and Etsuko Ikeda, you just ignore these details and run with it. Bride of Deimos is the story of Minako, a typical blonde, curly-haired shojo manga Japanese schoolgirl who suffers the unwelcome advances of Deimos, the Greek god of terror. In the first chapter, Minako meets Deimos (usually referred to in kanji as simply akuma, "the devil," suggesting he's gotten an upgrade from his relatively minor position in Greek mythology), a dangerously seductive man with long dark hair, devil's horns and great black bird's wings. Deimos is in love with Minako, and wants to drag her down into the underworld with him to be his bride. Minako refuses. But Deimos doesn't take no for an answer, so he sticks around, demonstrating his dark power by showing Minako a series of horrible and unfortunate supernatural events usually involving star-crossed lovers. Or maybe it's just a coincidence that, once Minako meets Deimos, everyone she encounters seems to get bitten by a vampire/stabbed with a crucifix/thrown in a rock grinder/stabbed in the eyes? "I'll show you the curse and horror of a true demon spirit which cannot be explained by nature or science!" Deimos vows. Perhaps Minako's determination to live a normal high school life despite being surrounded by gruesome terror is one of the things Deimos likes about her. Perhaps it's her mystical teleportation ability, which allows her to begin one story in a drafty old European castle, the next story on a mysterious island, and the next story at a normal Japanese high school. Or perhaps it's her pure-hearted, passionate arguments with Deimos: "We humans may be trivial to you, but we're trying our best to believe each other, help each other, love each other! I guess it's something you'll never understand, Deimos!" In response, Deimos, who I imagine sounding like David Bowie in Labyrinth, typically shrugs his shoulders, says something cynical and mocking, and laughs "Hehehe."

Bride of Deimos, then, packages episodic horror stories in a sausage casing of dark romance. When we discover Deimos' back story, the romantic element comes a little more to the forefront; turns out that Minako is the reincarnation of Venus, the goddess of love who was punished for her incestuous love for Deimos, her own brother. But although Minako looks just like Venus, the original Venus is still hanging upside down from a thorn-covered tree in Hades, half of her body rotted away, jealously scheming to get her brother/lover back. Venus occasionally shows up to torment Minako, which strains Deimos' loyalties: is it Venus or Minako that he loves? Is he actually a good guy (as in the Christmas story "Love is Stronger with Deimos" which ends with him saying "Hehehe! Merry Christmas, eh?") or is he a total bastard (as in the story "Love in the Fire")? Occasionally when things get too rough, Deimos comes to Minako's aid, flinging black feathers like daggers. At other times Minako relies on religion to protect her from Deimos and the other supernatural menaces, with mixed results. (Deimos: "That damn Bodhisattva got in the way!") The common elements between all the stories are the enjoyably old-school shojo manga artwork, the enjoyably bad translation by ComicsOne, and the funky mixture of gory horror and mythology, of Buddhsm, Christianity and Greek myth. Reincarnation, or rather animism, is a recurring theme; basically, in Bride of Deimos, anything can have a soul and take any other form. Whether something is an animal, a plant, a human or a god, anything can be wronged (or fall in love) and reincarnate or appear in the form of just about anything else. Thus, Deimos rubs shoulders with black widow spiders, fairytale characters (as in the story where he meets Thumbelina), the Grim Reaper and the Greek gods. 

In the end, the best way to explain Bride of Deimos is to summarize some of the strories:

* "Geniuses Die Young": Two brothers fall in love with Minako: the older teenage brother, a handsome street tough, and the younger brother, a sickly genius child with an IQ of 193. The little brother plays chess with Deimos (the kid wins) and makes a deal with him, asking for a grownup body so that he can attempt to win Minako's love. In a moment of anger, the little brother, now in a grownup body, kills the older brother and takes his place. Then Deimos shows up for a rematch with the transformed little brother, this time a game of chicken with motorcycles on a cliff over the sea. But Deimos (who wants Minako for his own, after all!) tricks the kid by sabotaging his motorcycle, causing him to fall into the sea and die. The end.

* "Vampire Lady": Minako is hanging out with her friend Ritsuko when Ritsuko is hit by a truck and terribly disfigured. Ritsuko blames Minako for the accident, and Minako feels guilty. Deimos shows up and offers to fix Ritsuko's face if Minako becomes his bride ("You're trying to take advantage of me when I'm in need! You're the devil!" "Heh…'the unfair devil'…yes, that is indeed me!") Minako refuses, so Deimos goes directly to Ritsuko and makes a deal with her instead, fixing her face…but to keep her face from rotting, once a month, Ritsuko must drink the blood of young girls! Not only that, it must be RH Negative AB blood, an incredibly rare blood type. Minako feels guilty and tries to save her friend from being condemned to life as a rotting corpse-vampire.

* "The Woman Who Cuts Her Ear": Mayumi is engaged to a zoologist, Keiichi. At Keiichi's birthday party, Mayumi loses her earrings and accuses Tobiko, the sinister-looking maid, of stealing them. Tobiko is so offended at being accused that she cuts her own ear off in front of everyone and throws the ear at Mayumi ("Even if I stole those earrings, I don't have the ears to wear them!") For some reason, the partygoers blame Mayumi for this, and Mayumi cuts off her own ear in penance ("I'll do as Tobiko did…Please…forgive me…") It turns out that Tobiko had always loved Keiichi and did the whole thing to get his sympathy, and they run off together. Mayumi goes insane and, at the end of the story, is gathering a collection of severed ears, babbling "I'll collect as many ears as there are in the world! Every woman shall end up like Tobiko! That way she won't feel so bad about only having one ear!"

* "The Star That Fell in The Desert": Minako doesn't appear in this story. Against the warnings of an old fortune teller, Deimos wanders into the desert (accompanied by a probably-supposed-to-be-atmospheric but terribly mistranslated quote from Isaiah 13:10) and falls through a sinkhole into a buried city. Although the city looks Ancient Egyptian, it has "Atlantis" written in English on the walls, and Deimos realizes that he has found the legendary lost kingdom. The queen of the kingdom, served by her drone-like female soldiers, tries to make Deimos her husband, but he resists because he only loves Minako. Then Deimos discovers that the queen is actually, literally, an ant queen, who seduces men to use them as food for her ant children! Deimos escapes with the help of Tina, another prisoner, only to discover as he leaves that Tina is also an insect—she's a spider, preyed on by the ants. The whole thing was an illusion created by the ants, or the spirits of the ants—who knows? As Deimos walks over the shifting sands, he thinks "Insects live by instincts. They've never felt fear or horror. I can only live in the hearts of humans. When humans go extinct, I shall cease to exist as well."

* "Love in the Fire": On the eve of marriage to his fiancée Saeko, racecar champion Inukai Hiroshi crashes in a flaming wreck and is terribly scarred. Minako goes to visit her friend Saeko after the accident and finds that she is living in a cabin in the woods with the horribly injured (but still hot) Hiroshi; in fact, she's even blinded herself, stabbing herself in the eyes with needles so that Hiroshi will know that her love for him isn't based on mere looks. ("Is this alright? Now I'm crippled just like you. The darkness of your life is like the darkness of my world…") "What a happy couple," Minako thinks. Then Saeko and Minako discover that Hiroshi's favorite pendant contains the picture of a mysterious girl. Rather than asking Hiroshi who the girl is, Saeko burns the house down while Hiroshi is asleep, killing him in revenge for his perceived betrayal ("Hiroshi, who is that girl in your heart? I kept trusting you and you tread on my love…") As Saeko is led away to prison, Minako discovers that the pendant with the other girl's picture…IS A FAKE! IT WAS ALL A PLOT BY DEIMOS JUST TO FUCK WITH PEOPLE! The end.

* "Myth of the Red Nails": In the days of mythological Greece, the goddess Juno finds her husband Jupiter trying to seduce Valsamina, a maid with red-painted nails. Juno angrily accuses Valsamina of being the seducer ("You allured him with those painted nails!"), and frames her for theft, even turning her boyfriend Asios against her. In despair that even Asios has betrayed her, Valsamina kills herself, and the blood splashes on Asios' cheek. Flashing forward to the present, we see Minako (who watched the whole thing in the persona of Venus) looking at flowers as she realizes that Valsamina has been reincarnated as the bright red balsam flower. But apparently this wasn't an exciting enough ending, or there were a few pages left, because a little boy with a red birthmark on his cheek—Asios' reincarnation!!—shows up in the modern day and cheerfully tells Minako that he killed his little sister and buried her under the flowers! Minako sees a little girl's hand with red nails sticking out of the dirt! BA-BA-BAMMM! The end!

ComicsOne translated seven out of 17 volumes of Bride of Deimos, but since the stories can basically be read in any order, it doesn't feel like an incomplete series. It's absurd but imaginative, and its variety sets it apart from a more predictable shojo horror manga like Hell Girl, whose horror springs from more mundane concerns. Why write horror stories about anorexia, bullying and schoolgirl prostitution when you can have Satan, Death, a Satanic Black Mass, and demonic spirits inhabiting pomegranate trees?  Actually, they're both worthy directions for horror to go in, but Bride of Deimos has a special 1970s bizarreness: a swinging fusion of Mario Bava horror with flowery shojo manga, with Minako's bell bottoms as an added bonus.   

On a totally different note, a bit of a digression.... overseas in Japan right now, manga artists and anti-censorship activists are still fighting against Tokyo's proposed "Nonexistent Youth Bill," which would criminalize depictions of sexuality and nudity involving "underage-looking characters" in manga aimed at teenagers or younger readers. Since this "protect the children" bill would criminalize vast amounts of teen-oriented romance and love-comedy manga (while, ironically, leaving lolicon porn for adults intact), anyone with the slightest appreciation for manga culture and freedom of speech should be opposed to it. Dojin artist, translator and anti-censorship activist Dan Kanemitsu has written extensively about the bill on his blog (most recently: http://dankanemitsu.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/nonexistent-youth-bill-going-nonexistent/  ) and has contributed to two books about the bill: the "Nonexistent Youth Restriction Protester's Reader," a 128-page book about the bill itself, and the "Nonexistent Youth Reader", a 116 page book containing interviews about the bill with over 100 mangaka and other industry professionals.
If you're opposed to the bill, Dan invites overseas fans to pass on their feedback to him at his blog (here's the best page: http://dankanemitsu.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/overseas-support-for-japanese-artists-and-industry-people-is-important/ ). So if you want to find out more about the Nonexistent Youth Bill, or you'd just like to show your support for the right of mangaka to draw fanservice in shonen and shojo manga, send Dan an email. Manga are censored when manga readers are silent.

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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