Lunch at Columbine.
Aside from talking about Helck, one of the other big reasons I decided to review manga was since I wanted to talk about Dowman Sayman (道満晴明, lit. Douman Seiman, it seems to be some sort of chant or prayer). Dowman Sayman is someone of fair renown in the less savory circles of the Internet, and that specific respect is rightfully deserved. He is a man with an amount of experience on his belt that might surprise you, and a series of tastes that covers quite a bit. I mean, it’s a lot. In his incredible body of work you can find sex, straight romance, cross dressing, gender identity disorder, homosexual romance of both varieties, sluts, whoring, rape, cannibalism, romance with corpses, vore, romance between teacher and student, romance between older individuals and children, romance between human and animal, a fascination with urine, scatological fascination, kemono (also known as “furry”), monstergirls, and even bisexuals. The man does not care. He’s also a person who’s very interested in murderers and serial killers, Lovecraft, the West in general (culture, comic books, movies, whatever), Japan (of course), history, esoteric facts probably nobody else would care to know, video games, love, sadness, and laughter. His mind seems to work strangely; something is off about his logic but he clearly has one. To summarize him, I’d call Dowman Sayman a weirdo. He can be normal, but that’s unusual. I find his works fascinating: often hilarious, often depressing.
The art style he’s had for the last several years is strongly inspired by the art of Mike Mignola, artist of Hellboy (which Dowman is a big fan of). It hasn’t always been like this, and I suppose for the longest time while it was still simple it didn’t look so sharp. For example the first work I (and quite a few others) read from him, called Togetoge (NSFW), didn’t really look like Mister Mignola’s work, though you could say he was simply more unrefined then. Togetoge is a short work that technically counts as pornography but I’d be really surprised if it aroused you at all. What sex in it is short-lived, most of the pages dedicated only to the story. In what turns out to be very typical Dowman fashion the manga is a one-shot (short story, basically) that is over in about 8-12 pages but still manages to be effective in what it’s trying to do. It’s a good way to start off with Dowman Sayman because of its strangeness (it’s about a sewer creature with large, scary hands but otherwise the form of a cute girl), but I hesitate to recommend it because of the sex. Dowman has many, many short manga in his portfolio and quite a few of them feature sex, but they’re generally not what I’d actually call porn. Of course, don’t think that means everything is good to go.
I’m going to be focusing on three of his manga this week to celebrate the fact that I’ve actually kept this writing thing up for a whole month, and one of them is a series that is much easier to get into for just about everyone. These are all “long” series from him, and therefore unusual for Dowman, but all of them display aspects of his style. The one I’m recommending today, and the one that’s easiest to get into, is Nickelodeon. I’ll be going from most to least recommended for starting with Dowman Sayman until Friday.
Nickelodeon (ニッケルオデオン) is a manga by Dowman Sayman that is a collection of (mostly) interconnected one-shots. The idea, most clearly understood by opening any one of the tankoubon, is that you, the reader, are going to a nickelodeon and will now witness several short films (each chapter is even called a “scene”). A nickelodeon is the thing simply depicted in the first pages of any of Nickelodeon‘s bound volumes: a little movie theater. Nickelodeons were some of the first movie theaters in the West, and you could enter one for just the cost of a nickel. The films within, like the chapters of Nickelodeon, were many and varied. Nickelodeon is a fairly exemplary manga of Dowman Sayman’s as it features a great number of works that are short and can be read individually, yet some chapters also carry story threads throughout them like his few other long works. Furthermore, like with lots of his short works, Nickelodeon has something like a central theme that runs throughout most of it. In this case, it’s love — something Dowman explores often. You can get a good impression of him through this work, and its non-explicit nature makes it technically fine for any reader. It still contains some stranger themes, though, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
At this point, it gets tough to talk about the series. Given its nature of finishing an entire storyline within eight pages, giving away even a single page of one of those chapters is giving away a huge chunk. I’ll try not to spoil things while I summarize.
Chapters in Nickelodeon tend to have a matter-of-fact quality to them. Weird things happen and people don’t tend to be all that shocked by them. Sometimes they react, other times they seem to find what should be strange ordinary.
Thus a surreal sort of atmosphere is built. It’s kind of like Chimoguri Ringo to Kingyobachi Otoko, really, and come to think of it Abe Youichi’s style of doing things is a lot like Dowman Sayman’s. The idea, generally, is about taking the real world and putting down very unusual things into it. The result is off-putting, but also rather amusing. While reading Nickelodeon you’ll begin to “understand” how things work. Like, oh, that’s no surprise: why wouldn’t these fairy tale heroines go off to eat other fairy tale beings? It makes perfect sense. Rules get established and followed, it’s just that they’re all very strange rules, leading to things like villages in stomachs and all that might entail. Meanwhile, you’re grounded in bizarre facts and references to actual things from reality.
So that’s the general feeling. Also, as I’ve said, not all of these chapters are self-contained; in fact, very few of them are. Characters focused on in one chapter might appear as side characters in later chapters, and vice versa. Sometimes main characters are simply brought in again for another chapter entirely. Slowly but surely you get a pretty long story about someone, that someone sometimes getting character development as well. In the tankoubon, each chapter also ends with a very small, one-image epilogue that is often a joke but sometimes a little extra that expands the story just a little bit. Stories are typically very simple, yet you could have a field day exploring them. The chapter that the first page of this article comes from, for instance, is my favorite one in Nickelodeon and I’m sure I could write an essay just about it. Stories are often pretty funny, but they typically utilize black humor by playing with tragedy or screwed up concepts. Sometimes, stories are very sad. Sometimes, they’re heartwarming and uplifting. I’d actually say in terms of style, tone, and comedic preference Dowman Sayman reminds me of my favorite author, Franz Kafka. It should be said, however, that Dowman can regularly be much more immature, but I think that’s fine too.
For all these reasons and at least one more Nickelodeon is an ideal work to get a taste of Dowman Sayman. Before I get into the “one more”, how about you read one chapter of Nickelodeon for yourself? It’s safe for work and self-contained, spoiling none of the other stories, but giving you a taste of the style.
A good one, I daresay.
So the last thing I want to talk about is something that isn’t really portrayed in this chapter although you could make an argument for it, and that is how Nickelodeon likes to wonder about love.
Love isn’t explored in an exclusively romantic context throughout Nickelodeon, but it’s definitely something I noticed. I could just be looking too deeply into things because I was an English major in school, but I noticed it! It’s there!
Love of your siblings, love for your parents, love for a friend, love between lovers — man and woman, woman and woman, man and man — sexual love, unhealthy love, and so on. I found it quite interesting, both seeing loves form and seeing how love made people act. A love formed over weeks of simple visits is interesting, and so is a love that went unspoken until it was too late. Anything from self inflicting wounds due to unrequited love, to seeking revenge due the loss of a loved one; it’s all very interesting to me. I should say it must have been for Dowman too. He really takes it to the limits with the idea, not only here in Nickelodeon but in many of his other works. Taking this, and all I previously said into account, I really can safely say that Nickelodeon is a fine snapshot of Dowman Sayman as a mangaka
It is sad, however, that it is only a snapshot.
I really loved Nickelodeon. It was something like the perfect work for Dowman Sayman. The man is a fickle bastard and very rarely sticks to one thing — even if he does, his releases of that one thing are inconsistent. He much prefers making one-shots, drawing doujinshi of other Intellectual Property he likes, or drawing fanart. Nickelodeon was a standout: it was something he released pretty consistently and reliably in a pretty normal magazine that was bound up into volumes and sold in stores. It had his weird style without being too out there, was charming, was funny, was cute, was scary, was messed up and everything. While it was mainly a compilation of one-shots, it had stories throughout those one-shots that were developing into grander tales. It was incredibly interesting. There was a lot I wanted to see, and I’m pretty sure a lot Dowman wanted to tell. Sadly, the series was canceled before all those stories could be told, and many compelling plot threads were severed just like that.
There is no other work in Dowman Sayman’s portfolio like Nickelodeon. For him, it’s one of a kind. I can hope that one day he’ll get another series like it, or even a continuation, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Dowman Sayman is undoubtedly a niche artist. If you become a fan of his, you’ll probably be a pretty big fan and like him a great deal, but you will be one among relatively few. It’s not that he’s bad — far from it — it’s just that his outright bizarre ways and his less respectable interests make him a hard sell. Even Nickelodeon, tame as it is, deals with stuff like pedophilia. He’s just that kind of guy, and the works I’ll be discussing later this week display just how much of that kind of guy he is incredibly well.
Practically all of the works of Dowman Sayman you can find translated into English are done over at thetsuuyaku (site NSFW). Seems to be a big fan.