bITS 'N CHUNKS
I love reading yuri or girls' love (I don’t really make the distinction between yuri & "softcore" shoujo-ai) manga, but I think it's fair to say a lot of it is very same-y. Yuri still trails behind yaoi/boys' love in popularity and profitability, so a lot of mangaka understandably keep whipping out the same tropes over and over to increase their profile and of course make money. The more experimental manga tend to be one-shots and often reserved for anthologies. And the experimental ones are free to get as…weird as weird can.
That's how I stumbled onto Mare a few years ago by one of my favorite yuri mangaka Morinaga Milk. Morinaga-san is really cool because her art is so feminine and delicate and she's largely unfettered by stereotypical yuri tropes, but she's not afraid of a little hentai. Even her works that kind of push that direction -- school girl lesbians for example -- usually have some subversive element to keep it from being the same ol' same ol'.
Morinaga-san is probably best known for Girl Friends, which is one of the best damn school girl romance dramas out there in the English speaking world, dare I say ever because I'm going there. Mare is an earlier work that looks to have been published in a highly specialized hentai magazine because it's pretty hardcore and there's demons.
Wait, what? Demons in my lesbian manga?
Well, yeah. And I say highly specialized because Morinaga-san incorporates some of the more obscure demons from Pseudomonarchia Daemonum and The Lesser Key of Solomon. The main character, Mea, is a powerful and amoral witch who hides out in a girls' school while feeding her pet beasties and summoning demons. While she's there, Mea inadvertently exposes some of the dark secrets of the school like co-ed affairs, abortions, even murder. Later on, there's a plot where another witch at the school challenges Mea but it ends too abruptly to even be satisfying.
So, Mare barely counts as a yuri manga because it really just involves Mea being rather loose with her sexuality and her attachment to her roommate/classmate, but it's definitely one of my favorite occult-themed manga. Themes of the occult in manga usually skew more towards the shounen or seinen demographic and, yeah, there's Judeo-Christian demons and long three volume fights but it never feels like substance. The works of Go Nagai (Devilman & Devilman Lady) keep my interest as well. And then there's the truly esoteric and nigh incomprehensible side, which would be something like Neon Genesis Evangelion. But despite the second half being a let-down, Mare just felt so substantive in the way that it accurately incorporated witchcraft, minor demons, sigils and invocations, and a smidge of social commentary. Then it, you know, goes to hell. But if you have the time, like ambiguous lesbian relationships, and cute evil little girls, check it out.
I don't really remember what my first encounter with body horror was. I know it was a movie. It was more than likely Alien or probably Nightmare on Elm St II. Yeah, I think it was that. Anyways, other than being thoroughly grossed out and creeped right the hell out, I right away appreciated the transformative nature of body horror. Of becoming something greater and bigger than yourself and of course terrible and scary.
Do I think body horror is the scariest subgenre? Nah, it's just my preferred one. It couples well with so many things, most notably psychological horror. The feeling of wrongness out of your control to fix it. Being helpless in your own body and in your own head is something I can relate to as someone that frequently goes through suicidal periods thanks to depression. I also frequently draw on my own bodily pain because I'm way too familiar with that.
The Fly ('50s with all due respect to Cronenberg) made me want to write sci-fi but Clive Barker made me want to write horror. Weird shit, unpublishable "what the hell?" type material. It wouldn't be fair to say Clive is my favorite author -- I can admit he has his short comings. Sometimes he's a little too out there when he drifts away from the splatterpunk and into dark fantasy. I don't dislike dark fantasy, mind you! I quite enjoy it. Sometimes, though, Clive is trippin'. I remember how emotionally exhausted I was after reading Imajica. The mark of a good author that has gone too damn far.
But yeah, my first exposure to Clive was of course Hellraiser. Pinhead was so damn blasphemous and so over the line it wasn't even funny. I wore the first two movies out and I actually like the third and fourth movies too. The creature design and most importantly the storytelling have stayed with me forever. When I found out that it was based off a book, I used the online library search tool to find it and immediately rent it. From there, I read quite a bit more of his work but my favorites are the Books of Blood series and Cabal. Nightbreed!!
When I decide to get flippin' weird there's a lot of elements of grotesque body horror in my work to the point where I am kind of scared that I'm a sociopath. I love bodies splitting in half to reveal something that shouldn't be there. I love tears of blood. I love painful horns growing out of the forehead. I love the revelation. Like I said, it's the transformative aspect. Body horror is also often dystopic and sleazy, kind of a left over from my B-movie days. Think Cronenberg. There are forces beyond your control using your body to commit unspeakable acts and when they're done with you they will discard you in the most ugly ways. Look what they've done to you!
The history of body horror is neat, too. Arguably it's been around since folklore in the form of shapeshifters like vampires and werewolves. Stories of people dying unclean or the devil using your corpse to spread evil. Even worse if you voluntarily gave up your soul. Body horror exists in nature as well in the form of parasites and fungus and invasive plant species. It's something we've seen and we're familiar with, so when it happens large scale it makes us a little uneasy.
I'm reminded of an interview with Dario Argento in which he explains his philosophy towards murder scenes -- he goes for things that the audience is familiar with, like scalding hot water. They say write what you know, right? I can definitely relate to you the experience of someone or something hijacking you consciousness & putting you through some shit. Not too many people know what it feels like to be shot with a bullet but just about all of us have been burned by something. Similarly, not too many of us have borne host to a parasitic alien but a lot of us have been sick, had a mysterious virus, or maybe even experienced a troubled pregnancy.
Content warning: this post will include description/discussion of topics surrounding mental health such as anxiety, triggers, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide. There will also be a few depictions of gory/horror material although not excessively graphic in my opinion. Pictures will be limited and purely for demonstration.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...