Remember how the movie Trainspotting begins as a wild, yet fun ride through the streets and alleys of Edinburgh, but when the baby shows up, things go horribly sideways and you realize the movie is going to get much, much darker? Velveteeen and Mandala is like that…except with Japanese school girls.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the souls of the departed are forwarded to a location outside of a city where they await processing to move on to the afterlife. However, due to a “bug” in the system, the souls as well as their possessions (i.e their bodies) are being forwarded, and now the are is over-run with zombies. Velveteeen and Mandala are two school girls who live in an abandoned tank outside the city and spend their days hunting the “deadziens” and their nights holed up inside the tank trying not to be attacked.
While this could be a run-of-the-mill horror story, Matsumoto takes an entirely different tack and treats the opening chapters a a bit of a peek-a-boo school girl farce with plenty of upskirt shots and random behavior. I have to admit that I found it all a bit off-putting since that is not my usual cup of tea. However, the story kept taking stranger and stranger twists. Before I knew it, the farce was revealed to be a much darker and complex story than I initially thought.
To speak any more of the plot would be to give away too much. In the same way that you cannot speak about Fight Club in too much detail without giving away the surprise, one cannot speak about Velveteen & Mandala without ruining part of the experience. Suffice it to say that once a first read through has been completed, a second will be necessary to go back and discover all the clues. And, even then, there still may be questions lingering.
The storytelling and pacing is brisk. It is a welcome change from the drawn out pacing of manga where often little happens over the course of a 200 page volume. However, in 350 pages, Matsumoto tells a complex and satisfying story that never feels padded. Scenes are tight and each chapter moves the story along at a faster and faster pace. Early in the story, when things are light and happy, it feels like a lazy summer afternoon. By the end of the story, there is hardly time to catch your breath before there is another shock.
The art in the book is gorgeous. It is also graphic. Jiro Matsumoto depicts everything from the most beautiful to the most disgusting with attention to detail. It is clear that he wants this to be an immersive experience for the reader. From panel to panel you will feel elation, arousal, revulsion, and fear. Nothing is too small or too taboo for him to tackle.
Because of that, this book will not be for everyone. As I said at the top, the first few chapters of this were not for me. Even later, there were scenes that made me uncomfortable, but for entirely different reasons. Read Velveteeen & Mandala, but be prepared to be challenged.
Velveteen & Mandala hits stores August 30th, from Vertical.