Dandadan Vol. 1
Written and illustrated by Yukinobu Tatsu.
Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian.
Adapted by Jennifer Leblanc.
Lettered by Sara Linsley.
Published by Viz Media.
He doesn’t believe in spirits, but she does. She doesn’t believe in aliens, though, and he sure is obsessed. They hardly know each other, and here they are on opposite sides of town putting themselves in danger over a stupid dare. He goes somewhere cursed and she goes somewhere UFOs frequent. As it turns out… She gets abducted. And he gets possessed. And then things start getting weird. Sound like a rom-com? What’s a girl to do? Where’s a guy to poop? Yukinobu Tatsu asks the big questions and rubs his sweaty palms together. Dandadan is his answer: funny, horny, and unpredictably creative.
The monsters of Dandadan absolutely rule. Or uh aliens, it’s complicated. Tatsu’s art style fits comfortably with the kind of contemporary long series manga that draws me in, like Ryoko Kui’s Delicious in Dungeon. Clean and traditional, what I think of as a serious-leaning mainstream shonen equivalent to the direct market publisher “house style.” It’s just that Dandandan is so high energy, super silly with machine gun frequency. Tatsu is constantly messing with the art style, familiar as it is. And the monsters, holy shit.
Turbo Granny mostly manifests herself as Rudimentary Peni album artwork. Imagine a troll who was made of liquid smiling at you as their face swirls down a drain. Ladies do not have that many teeth. No one does. Goddamn Ultraseven nightmare fuel in the spaceship. One Turbo manifestation looks like if Clive Barker was doing 90s X-comic villain designs. Then comes a goliath sumo monster that looks like it came from a lithograph, the history museum. To say nothing of the crab. Monster is the easy way for me to categorize them, as most of the demons are actually aliens, though some of them are definitely spirits.
Momo is easy to identify, she’s the one who is always yelling. Ken- call him Okarun, please- he’s got glasses and typically the look of someone who just fell down the stairs. Momo’s grandmother Seiko is the bombshell slice of cheesecake with a cigarette dangling from her lips. And all of them, a constant argument. Tatsu has a solution to the endless cascade of words that I thought was amazing, and I could also see really pissing people off. The characters are reduced to an icon- a cartoon version of their own head, that appears inside their speech bubbles. I’ve seen the person in the balloon plenty, a fun manga practice where you get to add a little comedic emotion into characters’ back and forth. But the frequency in this book was a surprise.
Soon it is just that, icon-in-bubbles laid over a David Fincher establishing shot of the building everyone is in, or some abstract insert shot of a meaningful object, some significant space. Sometimes the icon bubbles are over a square of screentone. I kind of love it? I can see people going either way, but I love it. I ripped through this book in a single sitting and part of why was that. It enables the dialog to whip without the visual aspect going to waste. Things start off kind of calm when Momo and Okarun meet, but as soon as the double dare goes sour, the comic flies. Sparks between the lead characters in the form of constant arguing. Actual screaming. Probably while running from something.
Also similar to Kui’s Delicious in Dungeon, I can feel while reading the book that this is a take bringing specific, unique ideas to an established/expected style and format. Is it satire or just the thing itself? Dandadan intellectually engages with clichés by indulging in them. Conflicted girl and annoying boy. Constant ultra-reactions. The overreaction to every little thing is delightful, actually, very manga but also very Cartoon Network. Bugs Bunny screaming. Being able to turn it on and off with hard cut editing of frames, cartoons and comic panels can use the same humor. The way PuppyCat acts in the new Bee and PuppyCat cartoon or Scout in the Scout is Not a Band Kid graphic novel, both of them are doing the same thing as the kids in Dandadan. Earnestly absurd.
The blend of humor and revulsion reaches a place the aimlessly transgressive branch of the alternative comix scene is ever striving for (or alleging is now impossible). Yet Dandadan has scenes of abuse that are genuinely disturbing and surprisingly funny at the same time, like Turbo Granny interrupting the creepy alien in a man-suit-thing from using his unnecessarily traumatizing robo-banana on the story’s heroine by chomping it off. There’s a Lloyd Kaufman or Sam Raimi kind of equally matched competition going on between funny and filthy.
Props to the localization team. Kumar Sivasubramanian and Jennifer Leblanc’s English adaptation, lettered by Sara Linsley. There’s a “welp” instead of a “well” to let you know how hard what just came to pass truly sucked. It’s a book of schlongs and teats! The goofiness of the dialog compliments the severity of the threats: there’s no footing when a sumo dude the size of a courtyard is coming for your organs. Dandadan started off with both kids as skeptics! Losing your thingy to a curse is hard enough without the aliens all referring to it as a banana. You’re really supposed to chug this series and everything the team did works wonders for both enabling that and preserving the flavor.
Dandadan is randy! Horny and bizarre. Momo’s shockingly fit grandmother whose taste in immodest outfits, it’s funny, the joke, but also, phew. A low cut cardigan and a baseball bat doesn’t work for everybody but it does on me. Reminds me of Dai Dark’s indulgence and defiance of the sexual gaze, the pairing unexpected near nudity with absurdity. Q Hayashida’s work subverts sexy girl tropes, here with Yukinobu Tatsu it isn’t quite that. Grandma flopping around the living room in blatantly lascivious poses is funny because the sexualization is a non sequitur, mocking something else (the team confab scene, maybe). So the sexy girl trope is funny, but not for subverting the sexy girl trope, which it kind of perpetuates.
Dandadan is drinking the milk after you’ve finished all the cereal. It’s not going to challenge your preconceptions, it will tickle them. Yeah that should make you a little uncomfortable. When it rules it rules. A fun premise off to a solid start, peppered with little highs that are truly spectacular- it’s all very promising. A sum greater than its parts. Mostly I read standalone stuff, but yeah this is what I like about an ongoing series. Low stakes, high returns, lots of wows, good comics.
The first volume of Dandadan is available now from Viz Media or wherever finer comics, manga, and books are sold.