The manga artist Yukinobu Tatsu probably wondered if his new manga series should be about aliens or ghosts when he decided to have an open relationship with the weird. That is something anyone who picks up Dandadan will immediately notice as Tatsu introduces us to the three main archetypes as defined by Jung: those who believe in aliens, those who believe in ghosts, and those who bully the first two.
Momo Ayase is a high schooler who has just been dumped by her trashy boyfriend, with whom she got involved with simply because he looks like the famous (at least in Japan) brooding actor Takakura Ken. As she walks around her school with a broken heart, she bumps into a nerdy boy being bullied by his schoolmates and comes to his aid. A menacing stare from the girl is all it takes to shield the boy from an intense crumpled paper ball artillery. Although, no good deed goes unpunished. The lonely nerd assumes that not only does she want to interact with him, but also that the only logical reason why she would possibly approach him would be to know about the book he was reading. A book about UFOs and the occult.
Everybody knows that aliens are most definitely not real. Contrary to the occult boy’s assumptions, Momo is not interested in what he has to say about Obama visiting Mars on an alien spaceship. However, she does believe in ghosts and spirits. Thus, a simple bet to prove each other wrong is what sets the plot of Dandadan in motion. While exploring places where ghosts and aliens are said to exist, both characters find out that, yes, there are aliens and they are out there trying to impregnate people and steal their banana organs (as the aliens call them) to advance their weird alien research; and yes, there are ghosts and they are out there trying to gobble people’s schlongs to fill the void of eternal nothingness.
The occult boy ends up possessed by the spirit of Turbo Granny – a schlong loving evil spirit who can run really fast and begrudgingly lets him borrow her turbo powers. On the other side of the bet, exploring a rumored alien hotspot, Momo finds herself under psychic attack by a horde of asexually reproduced Serpoians (from the planet Serpo, obviously) who accidentally awaken her latent psychokinetic powers. From then on, Dandadan is pretty much a series of close encounters of the weird kind.
There are many interesting parallels in Tatsu’s manga. The occult boy might have much more in common with the stern actor Takakura Ken than Momo’s ex-boyfriend, in spite of looking nothing like him. Aliens can be cold and trying to perform experiments on humans or just trying to cure their child’s disease. And the ghosts, well, ghosts are just very very lonely all the time. Amidst a gallery of creatures carrying Freudian obsessions with human reproductive organs – whether it is for scientific alien research or to alleviate the post-life loneliness syndrome of disembodied souls – Momo and the Occult boy (whose real name I’m withholding to avoid spoilers as there is a cool surprise at the end of the first chapter) only want to connect to other people. Momo is made fun of as a kid by the boy she likes for performing weird rituals her psychic grandmother forced her to do in order to ward off evil spirits. The Occult boy looked for aliens in the hopes he could befriend them since he didn’t have any human friends. Additionally, every supporting character in Dandadan, friend or foe, seems to be some variation of this: Momo’s Grandma who works as a freelance exorcist and is overall an outcast weirdo; Shiratori Aira, another spirit possessed student who convinced herself she is the main character in the series; and Jiji, a friendly and kind boy cursed by the Evil Eye amongst others. Tragic misfits that for one reason or the other can’t fit in that well with the normies. However, they are in luck because in Dandadan there are plenty of weirdos to go around as they try to reunite school mannequins who are in love with each other; train their ghost powers fighting the ghosts of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and other classical musicians; or just trying to recover their sequestered golden balls (a Japanese euphemism for cojones).
Before Dandadan, Yukinobu Tatsu lent his talents to Tatsuki Fujimoto working as an assistant in the bizarre Fire Punch series and also in the equally bizarre and increasingly popular Chainsaw Man. While Dandadan is significantly less gruesome than those and much more lighthearted, Tatsu’s art is in pair with his former sensei. This is most noticeable when Tatsu wants to bring horror elements to his manga. In a scene in the first few chapters the two main characters are trapped in a tunnel by a ghost and he warps the perspective to show us both sides of the tunnel being blocked by their pursuer in a incredibly claustrophobic panel akin to the tension Chainsaw Man characters were under when facing the Infinity Devil.
Tatsu’s art, however, is much cleaner than Fujimoto’s and while in Chainsaw Man the gory and gruesome are favored, Dandadan always tries to find the more humorous elements in its own scenes. Rather than being horrified by the monsters they see in a more psychologically troubled way, the characters in Dandadan will have exaggerated facial expressions to break the tension and remind the reader it is, at its core, a comedy manga. The creature designs are also amazing, borrowing from different mythologies, urban legends, and even western horror comics, once again favoring the weird, ridiculous, and funny rather than the horrifying and disgusting. Tatsu’s masterful drawings can go from simple comedic panels to gigantic double page spreads (make sure to change the settings to display pages horizontally if you are reading it on the Shueisha’s official website) with all the impact, detail, and fierceness you can expect from a top notch shonen battle manga, whether it is to show us the gargantuan size of aliens and monsters they fight or to zoom into Momo’s revengeful kick after being released from her alien captors.
In Dandadan you’ll find action, ghosts, aliens, but for the romantic comedy enthusiasts, every character seems to fall in love with someone who is already in love with someone else. It’s as the old saying goes: if a boy isn’t ashamed of having a girl help him fight an evil spirit who stole his schlong while aliens are trying to steal his golden balls, that’s true love.
Danadan can be found at all good comic book shops, online retailers, eBay, and Amazon/Kindle. It is also being serialized on Shueisha’s official website and Viz Media’s Shonen Jump reading service (website only).