(If anybody noticed the silence, sorry for it: it's been the month from hell in Tanukiville. Illness, travel, work. Lots of life-weather, and I've been under all of it.)
I spent five hours on a plane today, and most of it I spent reading Jigoku no Saramichan 地獄のサラミちゃん ("Sarami, the Princess of Hell," in the official English title; I'd really rather translate the title as "Salami from Hell," but that would be unwarranted...) by Asakura Sekaiichi 朝倉世界一. A girls' comic from 1998 to 2002; collected, it comes to one thick bunkobon volume.
Basic setup: 17-year-old Sarami is the daughter of Ema, the King of Hell. But she runs away to the world of the living to realize her dream of becoming a supermodel. She settles in a town that seems like it's supposed to be Japan, but looks like Arizona in cowboy days, and gets a job as a waitress at a steakhouse called Jūjū ("sizzle") run by a bunny rabbit named Pyonko ("hopsy"). And hijinks ensue.
It's a light, cute comic, but much less cloying than the description above might make it sound. It's no great shakes narratively - most of the gags work in a pleasant enough way, but aren't funny enough to make you disturb your seatmate, let's say. But the aesthetics - the art, the character renderings, the world - are really hooky. Enough to make it worth a read. In twenty years this'll be a time capsule of a particular variety of turn-of-the-century cute.
What variety? Basically if you could imagine a world, and a story, and characters, based entirely on Ed Hardy clothing designs, this is what you'd come up with. A kind of biker-gang/cowpunk/rocker-chick/tattoo-slut/bling-toothed pirate/fur-Stetson nirvana - all of these varieties of transgressiveness filtered through the Harajuku merchandising machine and made safe for consumption by teenage girls.
And that also makes it sound like I'm condescending to it, but it does a magnificent job of realizing this aesthetic, and any work that can realize a new aesthetic has done something important, in my book.