In my journey for a good horror manga for today, I came across a trend of others labeling manga with any horror elements as a horror manga. I love vampires and monsters as much as the next person, but spooky monsters do not a horror manga make. Shifting through the miscategorized, I finally came across a manga that, fair enough, I also wouldn’t call horror, but was much too interesting to pass up.
In the same way that a Salvador Dalí painting causes the viewer to contemplate its meaning, so too does Usamaru Furuya force the reader to look beyond the surface with Plastic Girl. Much like art, though, I don’t believe there’s one correct interpretation of the piece. On the surface, Plastic Girl feels like an exposé of a young girl’s madness. Each couple of pages is a different topic which only adds to the disjointed feeling despite the main topic largely remaining the same—the topic being herself. This is complemented beautifully by the changing art styles with each turn of the page. Furuya moves from dark pen scratches, to bright pop images, to even woodprint design. The story, in this case, is not only about what is written; the story and the message depend more on the art and design choices than any other manga I’ve read.
But, hey, let’s talk about the story a little bit. As I said, Plastic Girl could just be interpreted as a crazy girl regretting the monster she’s become, but keeping the analysis to such a simple level would be doing Furuya a disservice. Underneath the surface and the repeated mention of entrails is a not-so-simple story about a girl going through puberty. Truly, this is the most nuanced horror manga of our time, no joke. Okay, maybe a little joke. I don’t think it’s a mystery to anyone that puberty sucks. However, what makes this so nuanced is that it’s more than talking about bleeding every month and the capacity to have babies: Plastic Girl is about the inevitable loss of innocence from childhood to teen and all the emotions that come with it. The girl, who remains without a name, tries desperately to hold onto her childhood, which is symbolized by many different objects depending on the chapter. Each time, she’s forced to get rid of said object, or she destroys it herself. With her maturing, she feels like a cicada, shedding her previous skin. However, it’s not beautiful; it’s something gross and unwanted. Her parents long for her childlike self—how many times have you heard “oh, you were so cute when you were a baby”?—and the girl feels the weight of the new worries she has to deal with.
Plastic Girl is a story without an end. Rather, it’s a story without a typical end. It’s fitting, really; the audience knows there’s no way to stop growing up and even if we ourselves wish to retain a piece of our childishness, we know that it’s ultimately impossible. It’s a futile battle on the part of the girl, and the audience can’t help but feel for her. Plastic Girl is also one of the most realistic depictions of puberty I’ve come across and I appreciate that it went beyond the typical topics (in fact, I don’t think menstruation was talked about at all). Although it wasn’t a proper horror, I would highly recommend taking a look at this work. Even if the topic doesn’t interest you, the presentation is fantastic and you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you didn’t take a look at it. Others have labeled Furuya a genius for his work. Having not read any of his other manga, I can’t necessarily agree with them, but in a sea of needless gore and shounen protagonists he’s definitely a breath of fresh air.