Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Dead Dead Demon's Dededede Destruction
The aliens have invaded! Well, sort of invaded - their mothership landed over Tokyo, and the United States had to drop a huge bomb to stop them, but things have settled down somewhat lately. The mothership is still there, still darkening our afternoons, but a strange sort of peace has returned to society. That's nothing new for Kadode and her friend Ontan, though - they've known humanity is doomed for a long time, and they're just here to see the fireworks. Whether it's the perils of adolescence or the sudden incineration of humanity by a faceless oppressor, life throws a lot at you, and you learn to roll with the punches.
Three quarters of the way through Inio Asano's latest work, there's a two page spread capturing one intimate moment. Having just sent her best friend Kadode off on a misguided quest to hook up with her crush, co-heroine Ontan finds herself weeping when Kadode returns. “Are you angry?” Kadode asks, to which Ontan responds “yes, I am… because you returned too soon!” Ontan isn't ready for her friend to grow up, but she loves her too much to do anything but support her. Fortunately, Kadode probably isn't ready to grow up either; and as she reaches her friend, the two embrace, each comforted by how much they need each other. That embrace only fills the bottom left of the spread, though - in the distance, floating over city lights and shuttered windows, hangs an impossibly large alien mothership.
That mothership is DeDeDe's big hook, a menacing specter floating over all its personal stories. Three years ago, the ship appeared above Tokyo, and saucers began spewing out. The invasion had begun! Thousands died, but after the Americans dropped a new sort of weapon on the ship, things quieted down. These days, protesters demand the removal of the ship and mourners hold vigils for the dead, but life has still returned to a strange sort of normal - or as normal as life can be, when a vast, existential threat is hanging over your head.
Granted, Inio Asano has always dealt in vast, existential threats. His prior works are fairly light on alien invaders, but they're full of broken people attempting to deal with the casual cruelty of life on earth. Asano has always concerned himself with the banality of human trauma, whether realized through a painful childhood or a sudden death, and his ability to capture the lived experience of both mundane and crushing moments is beyond compare. His dialogue is brimming with personality, and his panels lush with expressive characters and copious background detail. As a formal craftsman, Asano is already an unimpeachable master - his understanding of panel economy, knack for casual banter, and sheer artistic ability are all truly astounding, all elevating his melancholy human tales.
Though Asano has always prioritized the unhappier side of life, DeDeDe feels uniquely current and searingly relevant to surviving in the 21st century. The story centers on those two girls, Kadode and Ontan, who spend most of their time idling through high school and looking for something to do. Inane banter and snipes at their other friends mingle with reflections on how the alien invasion will (probably) kill us all, all of these topics cushioned by an equal buffer of adolescent apathy. DeDeDe perfectly understands how the youth of today filter information; constant cutaways to phones and monitors reveal twitter feeds and forum threads where “what were you doing when the aliens attacked” shares space with “discovered a revolutionary new way to masturbate wwwwwww,” or teens post images of saucers they shot down for likes and shares. Everything is everywhere all the time, from tragedy to triviality, leading to an endless malaise of equal meaninglessness.
The brief flashback to the moment of the attack might best capture DeDeDe's uniquely devastating worldview. As Kadode busies herself with online games, her dad enters her room, blankly announcing “it's war.” Another dazzling spread contrasts the mothership against city skyscrapers as news briefs call for an evacuation, and then, impossibly, Kadode's dad says he has to get to the office. Comforted only by scrawling 2chan comments like “this sooooo bites!” and “earth go bye-bye! \(^o^)/”, Kadode is left alone, until the danger passes and peace returns. In the end, her only response to earth's victory is “it's sorta boring...”, along with the far more devastating realization that her father truly left, and he is never coming home.
That sequence demonstrates DeDeDe's contrast of world-threatening danger and personal tragedy, but it also echoes a generational divide clear throughout the manga. While the adults of Kadode's society rush for answers or grasp at hope or generally lose themselves over the threat of the apocalypse, the kids are largely A-okay. In the 21st century, teens learn fatigued nihilism by the time they're nine years old - after all, what young person actually thinks the world will still exist in thirty years? Alien invasions are no threat to a generation raised on economic stagnation and societal collapse; it's the unexpectedly sharp, personal tragedies, like the loss of a father or betrayal of a friend, that can truly sting us.
And yet, even for all of DeDeDe's personal trauma and general fatigue, the experience of reading it is actually a very uplifting experience. Though the world around them might be a raging inferno, the absurd gags and friendly one-liners of Kadode and her friends keep things cheerful in the eye of the storm. Confidently claiming, “the real threat isn't the invaders, it's me!”, Ontan cheers up both her unhappy friend and the audience in turn. Ontan's incredibly terrible brother introduces himself by proudly crowing about how he harasses people on social media, and even the nihilism of DeDeDe's leads can come across as endearing, like when Kadode tells her mom “don't force your desire to live a long life on me!”
Beyond the funny one-liners and general flippant tone, DeDeDe's everyday drama ultimately demonstrates its heroines are far from the nihilists they'd like to seem. In spite of their protests to the contrary, it's clear Kadode and Ontan care very, very deeply - not about the aliens (they're basically just a diversion), and certainly not about their futures (who's got a future?), but about each other. Ontan makes a fool of herself to cheer up Kadode, Kadode reminisces on precious moments they shared in the past, and the two of them consistently find joy in each, in spite of everything else. In a world where nothing seems real and everything is ending, these two demonstrate through their incredibly close bond that there are still things worth saving in this world, still things we can believe in.
Which returns us to that striking two-page spread, as Kadode and Ontan share a quiet, tearful reunion in the foreground of the apocalypse. The apocalypse has arrived, and as Asano so studiously conveys, our generation has been living through it for years. But just like Kadode and Ontan, we can still cling to each other, and believe in something much smaller and more important than a future. The invasion has begun, but we still have each other. That might just be enough.
Overall : A+
Story : A+
Art : A+
+ Strong material from one of the greatest mangaka; gorgeous, funny, heartfelt, intelligent, and painfully relevant to the modern world
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