They’re here. They’ve invaded. The aliens. They’ve crashed their way into Tokyo and war is surely coming. The government is at a loss as to how to go about preserving mankind, and Japan is thrust into a new and confusing era!
What will happen to the aliens and the people of Tokyo?
Who cares! Inio Asano’s Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction isn’t really a story about aliens. It’s a story about high school girls.
Kadode Koyama and Ouran “Otan” Nakagawa are bored, and aliens are the only things that can spice their lives up. …But wait, nothing is really happening. The aliens are just…there, weak and hanging around, and everyone in Tokyo is going about their normal lives. How will the girls live an interesting life if impending doom isn’t even exciting?
Asano’s Goodnight Punpun is a personal favorite of mine, so it’s a wonder that I didn’t pick Dead Dead Demon up sooner.
Actually, scratch that. I know exactly why I didn’t pick it up sooner – I didn’t feel like being overwhelmed by a story that could potentially be as soul-crushingly depressing as Goodnight Punpun. There’s not enough time in the day as it is, so carving out time to stare solemnly at the ceiling after reading a manga volume just isn’t feasible.
But, apparently, one fine Sunday morning I decided that I was ready to spiral down into a pit of despair, because I finally impulse bought the first two volumes of Dead Dead Demon. And, let me tell you, it was both Not-As-Depressing and Just-As-Depressing as I expected it to be. It was beautiful, it was crass, it was poignant, it was cynical…it left me with plenty to think about throughout my week as I buzzed through my own tired, boring life while the world burned around me.
Maybe that’s a bit on the nose. I’m not so bold as to say that we’re steadily approaching a doomsday that compares to the one in Dead Dead Demon, but there’s still a distinct feeling that things are at least a little bit irredeemably fucked. And so, the story Dead Dead Demon tells feels fitting – it perfectly encapsulates the feeling of growing up and realizing, “holy shit, the Earth is fucked.”
Without getting too specific or political, I’ll just say that my country isn’t doing…great lately. Well, what can I do about it? Vote, I guess, and then go about my business writing manga reviews, getting drunk with friends while we watch cartoons, and planning unmarketable novels about lesbians in space. I mean, what else can I do?
Dead Dead Demon is all about this “what else can I do?” mentality. There’s an ever-present danger literally hovering over Japanese citizens at all time. But, at the end of the day, impending doom doesn’t mean we stop grocery shopping, gaming, or preparing for college entrance exams. It’s that special brand of nihilism…everything is pointless and there’s nothing you can do about it, so why change your routine?
Which is why, even with the alien threat, there are still the everyday mundanities. The girls go to school, hang out with their friends, play first-person shooters and think about boinking their teachers. Otan’s brother stays in his room all day to troll the left and the right by sending them pictures/videos of cat testicles. Kadode’s mother wears a mask at all times and fears leaving her home due to A-Ray paranoia. You know, every day, regular average stuff.
Meanwhile, Kadode and Otan find themselves bored with this so-called “peace.” They’re skeptical of how the SDF and the Americans are “waging war with a smile.” Most of Japan is rejoicing over their victories over the (supposedly) weak invaders. They hope the wins will improve their global standing and increase technological advancements in weaponry. Kadode and Otan can’t relate to the national conversation, and actually empathize with the aliens – maybe they have their reasons to invade? Maybe we shouldn’t bully them if they’re so weak?
But, most importantly, they worry that if the invaders are exterminated, so will their chances for exciting distractions. They WANT things to be shaken up, because going through the everyday motions is no fun. Yes, they’re relying on the invaders to make their lives interesting for a change, even if it means total annihilation in the end.
Kadode and Otan are fascinating characters. Otan is a bit “out there,” and she’s great. She meshes well with Kadode – Otan will drool and rave about how she will one day rule the Earth once the aliens blast them all to dust, and Kadode will crack a joke in response, diffusing Otan’s crackpot misanthropic threats.
Most importantly, Otan is there for Kadode when she needs her. She’s there talking to her over gaming headset when the aliens first attack. She’s there to drive Kadode’s mentally ill mother to the doctor’s, and silently tolerates the mother-daughter screaming match that ensues. She quietly acknowledges Kadode’s quest to boink her teacher, and doesn’t need a full explanation as to how her quest does or does not succeed. The meat of their friendship is in the things they don’t have to say – they’re there for each other, and they don’t need to explicitly say as much.
The scene that really shows the tacit nature of their friendship is this bit where Kadode casually unloads some deep baggage, and then immediately changes the subject. What does Otan say in response? Well, nothing.
That hits the nail on the head with discussing mental illness/deep issues with your friends SO HARD. Friendship isn’t always a bunch of kumbaya hand-holding…especially if your friend’s self-loathing has a bit of truth to it. Sure, maybe the right thing to do is encourage and comfort, but sometimes we’re just not emotionally all there ourselves to offer those kinds of niceties. Sometimes, you just gotta FWEEE.
Structurally, the volume is book-ended by chapters of a manga that exists in-universe called Isobeyan, a cheeky Doraemon-esque comedy starring a phallic mushroom. That manga is a favorite of Kadode’s, and she is shown to have merch of the series throughout the story. The manga inspires her to ask herself the question, “what would you do if you could fly?” The answer that she finds is simple – she would fly right to Otan. Nothing fantastical. She just wants to be with her friend, because that’s all that matters in the end. It might be all that really matters during the apocalypse, too.
The art is gorgeous, as to be expected in an Asano work. Every single page is crafted with love. The spaceships are all incredibly detailed, and each background is filled with detail. In the above picture, you can even see the care that is taken to draw the mess of Ethernet cables and stuffed animals. It took me longer than usual to finish the first volume of this manga, just because I wanted to absorb every single drawing fully.
The pacing in Dead Dead Demon is really neat, too – I love the way that time passes in the manga. A close-up on day-dreaming eyes can be all that’s shown to establish that a school day has passed in-between panels. It’s almost dreamlike. It’s a flow that’s very similar to that of Goodnight Punpun – you follow the characters’ emotional peaks and thoughts, not necessarily the chronologies of the day.
There is so much contained in this one volume alone. It might not be a story that’s accessible to everyone, but if you’ve ever felt like a cog in a failing machine, this one will hit home for you. …and, even if you don’t feel that way, if conspiracy theories, misanthropic teenage girls, dark humor, and an ever-present sense of doom sounds interesting, then please check this one out. It’s filled with themes of doom and gloom without feeling too hopeless, and it’s down-to-earth even in its over-the-top-ness. It’s a unique experience every step of the way, and it should absolutely be on your To Read list.
Here’s a smattering of other pages & panels that I couldn’t organically squeeze into my review, if you need MORE proof that it is unique and well-worth your while: