Chimoguri Ringo to Kingyobachi Otoko (血潜り林檎と金魚鉢男, Blood Diver Ringo and the Fishbowl Man or Blood Diver Ringo and the Goldfish Bowl Man) is a very strange manga series from author Abe Youichi (阿部洋一), a man who has a habit of making very strange manga. It is one of my favorite manga series of all time.
Trying to describe this series and what it’s about leaves me with much to describe, all descriptions liable to make you think I’ve gone insane. It’s certainly, in a word, “surreal” above all else. It’s a surreal world with surreal concepts that many characters treat seriously. I think it’s usual for you to find a surreal story that is just entirely surreal–such that you might call it “dreamlike”, from setting to characters. I personally like it when the characters, at the least, have good heads on their shoulders. It almost makes the world seem even stranger.
Chimoguri Ringo takes place in a small, suburban, Japanese town without a name where it’s normal for there to be giants, but quite strange to see a girl walking around in a one piece school swimsuit. Recently, the town has started to be plagued by a being known as the Fishbowl Man. If you’re bleeding at all after a rain, and happen to be near a body of water, he may come for you. Dressed in a suit, with a fishbowl carrying a large goldfish for a head, he terrorizes the town’s inhabitants by sucking their blood and leaving them to turn into goldfish. Essentially, he’s a sort of weird vampire mixed with an asshole wizard. And I must hand it to him: he has style.
The only defenses against the Fishbowl Man are superhuman girls uniformed in school swimsuits who call themselves blood divers. Using an assortment of tools you’d find at a standard Japanese festival, they dive into victims of the Fishbowl Man by, well, “shooting” themselves through the open wound he leaves behind with a plastic gun hanging about their necks. From there they try to catch and contain the “goldfish toxin” within the victim that if left unchecked will suck up the victim’s blood-soul (their “hemospirit”), erupt, multiply, and turn them into a goldfish. Like I said, it’s very strange.
It’s really once someone dives into a person’s blood where things get particularly odd. The manga essentially has two settings. One is a calm and fairly weird town story with an undertone (and sometimes overtone) of horror and many quiet moments with shots of the environment. Another is possibly the most unique “action” series I’ve ever seen, set against the outlandish and occasionally chaotic environment of a person’s mind and soul while a blood diver dives. The tools a blood diver uses would be familiar to any Japanese reader and some knowledgeable others. Things like bottles of soda, water balloon yo-yos, fishing rods, and portable shooting stands are all within a blood diver’s arsenal and are all used in ways that make you think “oh, that makes sense”.
And most important to a blood diver is her “poi”. Used in real life to scoop up goldfish out of shallow pools at festivals, this little plastic and paper racket is used to extract the core from a goldfish toxin, after which the fish is deposited into a small clear bag like one deposits a caught new pet goldfish after catching them at a stand. From there, the victim is safe and can remain human. Like I mentioned earlier, these tools make for some incredibly unique action. Abe-sensei has a way of making what ought to look silly nail-biting levels of tense and just plain awe-inspiring to behold. It’s a visual spectacle every dive, and really never gets old: from just seeing the odd tools to the wild and imaginative ways they’re used. I also really like how a goldfish toxin looks after its core has been extracted. Look at that! It’s kind of beautiful.
Now, with all the basics out of the way, I think I can safely give a brief summary of the story without having to stop for explanations. The titular Ringo of Chimoguri Ringo is, as said in the first page of this post, a blood diver in training. While she can fairly skillfully use her poi to scoop up goldfish toxin she’s also an awful swimmer. This is bad, as swimming is an ability that is quite necessary to navigating a person’s blood once you’ve dived. Soon after the manga starts, she meets with the protagonist of the series, Kousuke. Kousuke’s sister has been turned into a goldfish by the Fishbowl Man, and he has some problems with that, but not enough to immediately thrust himself into the very bizarre world of blood diving. It isn’t until he is attacked by the Fishbowl Man that his opinions change. Ringo’s attempted rescue of him goes awry, and Kousuke’s hemospirit is released from the container holding his lifeblood. Kousuke awakens and, being an excellent swimmer himself, helps Ringo catch the toxin in his body by baiting it toward her. Wondering if there might be a way to change his sister back into a human, he agrees to officially help Ringo out in her future blood dives while she learns to swim better. And yes, the two do become closer.
What follows is a silly, sometimes serious, but always endlessly charming series that I really do love. Many of the stranger things I’ve read, watched, and played have a somber air that makes everything disturbing, but Chimoguri Ringo is one of those stories that knows it’s strange and delights in it. I’d call the whole thing “wonderful” in the truest sense of the word. Every character in its cast is entertaining and interesting, the story takes some surprising turns while never becoming too dour, and the whole way through the art is just gorgeous. Abe-sensei’s style is undoubtedly his and his alone, looking sort of sketchy but mostly blobby with cluttered backgrounds full of detail. It’s got loads of imagination and creativity to it, which is much of the reason I said at the start of this post that any single page of this series could sell it.
I believe anyone could enjoy this series. Its offbeat art style sets it apart from most other manga, and although all the concepts within it are very strange, everything is explained to the reader without the explanations feeling like info dumps. It’s just damn good. The series momentarily suffered a sad fate when the magazine it was running in, Dengeki Comic Japan, shut down. It was forced to end at a very early 21 chapters and a mere 3 volumes, but in 2015 it was blessed with life once more in Comic Earth Star Online as Shin Chimoguri Ringo to Kingyobachi Otoko (新・血潜り林檎と金魚鉢男, New Blood Diver Ringo and the Fishbowl Man). If you’re at all able to, check this series and its continuation out. It’s fantastic.