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Apocalypse Meow Volume 2
posted October 25, 2004
ADV Manga, $9.99, 134 pages, 2004
This suite of pretty straight-ahead war comics set during the Vietnam conflict leads with its twist: various animals stand in for various humans. I have no idea what effect this has on most readers, but the technique frequently drop-kicks me out of the story with a perplexed and semi-bemused look on my face. It's like trying to sit through every movement of symphony as played by an all-robot orchestra. Facile nationalist divisions drive the differentiation between breeds, and what's perhaps most strange, Kobayashi's animals are generally pretty close to anatomically correct. This means confusion may develop not just from the bizarro concept but from an idle visual interest in comparative anatomy: "Wait, how did Sgt Bunny strip that rifle so quickly with his little bunny paws?" or "Shouldn't the monkeys be bigger than the kitties?" These are things that never came up during Platoon
Unlike Art Spiegelman's Holocaust tale Maus
, there seems to be little in the way of a second layer of meaning regarding the nature of storytelling through such devices, or any real, even understated criticism of the approach. It is what it is. War is hell, even when it's critters doing the fighting.
What makes this better than those television shows where chimps play all the roles in a parody of Murphy Brown
is that the war stories told make for reasonably solid comics shorts, far and above the expectations one might bring to the series' awful title and strange concept. The action scenes are clearly and logically presented, and the stakes are always communicated to the reader in a way that makes story sense as the saga progresses and never feels artificially achieved. This is no small accomplishment for any work of serial entertainment. Each short story works around what feel like genuine historical circumstances, if only approximately so, and Kobayashi makes fine use of the timeworn war-story technique of making each combat situation a referendum on the personal qualities of its soldier-protagonists. The people-as-animals trick may even help in reminding readers, particularly those in the history-phobic United States, of the multiple national interests crisscrossing the peninsula before, during and just after the extended police action.
It's nearly impossible to recommend any story that sends its audience giggling right out of the reading experience about once a page, even if it contains some surprisingly solid genre work. Put this one in the interesting curiosity pile.