Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr What is the good life? And how do we get there? These questions have been the subject of countless debates throughout history, with a million contradictory views raised and defended. However, many of these arguments were not conducted through the Socratic method. Nor were they detailed in a treatise or a properly-cited essay. Many of these arguments have been posed through creative works, including comics and manga, like Felipe Smith’s vulgar coming-of-age/self-realization tale PEEPO CHOO.While Smith weaves a gory, high-octane tale of underworld betrayal and revenge, his emphasis on the importance of individuality comes out strongest in the tale of a strange encounter between four misfits. Through Milton, Miki, Reiko, and Jody, Smith questions conformity and lauds the embrace of individuality, through thick and thin.PEEPO CHOO: A Unique SeriesPEEPO CHOO, a three-volume work created by Argentinian mangaka Felipe Smith, is a one-of-a-kind manga. Published by Kodansha Comics for a Japanese audience, Smith weaves a tale largely concerning American characters. Drawing upon his art and writing skills, Smith’s work accentuates the beautiful and the ugly. The result is a visually striking and emotionally engaging story of culture shock and self-realization.The series follows two storylines. The first thread of the story is a classic coming-of-age tale with a unique setting. Milton, weeb-extraordinaire, finds himself in Tokyo with his supposed lady-killer coworker, Jody, after winning a rigged raffle for his favorite anime, Peepo Choo. Here, he meets Peepo Choo fangirl Miki and her gravure model friend Reiko. Their story is largely one of false assumptions, miscommunication, and self-discovery.The second thread of the story is the seedy underworld crime drama. Gil, Milton and Jody’s large and terrifying boss, travels with the boys as a chaperone for the raffle trip. However, he’s really out to assassinate Takeshi “Rockstar” Moritomo, the hottest name in the Tokyo underworld. While the crime drama focuses more on action and betrayal, it too deals with Smith’s theme of identity and acceptance through the underworld players.South Side Story: A Weeb in the HoodMilton’s cosplay | Image: Felipe Smith’s DeviantartMilton doesn’t fit in at all with the tough guys strutting around Chicago’s South Side, though he tries. Worse yet, he doesn’t even fit in with the comic book nerds. His one escape is the anime Peepo Choo. Peepo Choo, a yellow mouse-looking thing, dances the dance of harmony and friendship, a dance that knows no language or culture. This is the power by which he befriends the entire world. Milton is smitten with Peepo Choo, and with the idea of Peepo Choo. It is the light of his life.He is so smitten with the cartoon that he memorizes the dance of friendship and dresses in homemade Peepo Choo cosplay every day. It is beyond an interest. This can be seen by his outward dedication to the show, Peepo Choo is a part of Milton’s identity.Thankfully, Milton is not alone. There are other dreamers, other believers in the beautiful dance of friendship and universal love. Unfortunately, the Peepo Choo fans he knows from the comic shop care more about their nerd cred than the meaning of friendship.K: SEVEN STORIES Site Releases Cast for Two New FilmsDreary Days in TokyoUnfortunately, things are no better on Miki’s end. Tormented by her school’s mean girls, Miki seeks in Peepo Choo the same dream as Milton: a universal dance of friendship and love. Miki lives episode to episode, eyes glued to the screen. That’s not to say Miki is all by herself. Much like Milton has his cruel coworker Jody, Miki has Reiko. Reiko, like Miki, is an outcast. She is the butt of countless jokes and a constant target of the cliques’ scorn. However, Miki and Reiko are very different people.Miki and Reiko hang | Image: PEEPO CHOO Volume OneWhile Miki is a nerd and Reiko an A-student/gravure model, their classmates despise them both equally. In both cases, they are not “normal,” nor can they fully admit to their abnormalities. Similarly miserable, they deal with their crappy hands in different ways. Miki tries to hide her love of Peepo Choo, while Reiko goes so far as to suppress her emotions and personality. While Reiko, larger and meaner, avoids the lion’s share of the bullying, she is not any happier than Miki. Notably, early in the story we mainly see them in uniforms, whether their school blazers or Reiko’s modeling costumes. The audience sees very little of the authentic Miki and Reiko early on.Underworld BluesWhile the civilian part of the story is perhaps the most obviously related to individuality, the underworld arc reflects Smith’s theme as well. Four characters comprise this arc: Gil, the Commander, Aniki, and “Rockstar” Moritomo. While these men come in a variety of shapes and sizes, they have several things in common. They are tough, they are vicious, and they are repressed. Indeed, they are all subsumed by their own self-designed identities.The Commander is caught up in his tough-guy war-beast act, Aniki in his honorable yakuza act, Moritomo in the “Rockstar” and Gil in “Fate.” These alter-egos are the source of their struggles, and also the indirect source of an entire underworld war that rattles Tokyo. While the underworld arc is grimy and bleak, it also a gripping storyline. It serves as much as a classic crime drama as a warning tale of confused identity and directly connects with Smith’s guiding theme of fulfilled individuality necessary for happiness.Fate | PEEPO CHOO Volume OneFate and the Rockstar are prime examples of this. Moritomo and Gil are the same in that they both have been subsumed by their savage alter-egos. This is apparent in both the story and the art. Gil exists only to serve Fate; Moritomo, the Rockstar. Moritomo was a regular-looking guy, but Rockstar has countless, clashing gang tattoos, rings, and chains. Gil is reserved and clean, but Fate wears grungy black leather and cruel, bloody masks. Not only are they externally scarred by their alter-egos, as their tattoos and piercings symbolize, but they are internally disfigured as well. Their regular personas almost seem to disappear entirely, leaving behind only their worst traits.Of course, perhaps Fate and Rockstar are their true identities. However, Smith deters the reader from this conclusion in the final volume. Rude AwakeningsThe climax of PEEPO CHOO begins after a bad lunch date leads to some unpleasant truths being exchanged. Everyone, who had been firmly within their type, now finds themselves faced with some rude awakenings. Milton and Miki have found that the dance of friendship is not enough for actual friendship. Jody realizes he’s not as tough as he thought himself to be. Reiko remains headstrong, though she becomes increasingly doubtful of her own life choices.Milton forsakes his old clothes and passions, this time learning proper Japanese and destroying his Peepo Choo merch. Milton’s transformation here is stark and consequential, and quite conflicting. In an attempt to reinvent himself, he leaves his old self, the Fanboy, behind. But old Milton wasn’t bad, per se, just misguided and incomplete. New Milton is no more complete. While he had overly identified with Peepo Choo before, he did sincerely like the series. Pretending he doesn’t isn’t actually getting to the root of the problem: he is not yet comfortable expressing himself. This made visibly apparent in his listless smiles and tired expressions, nowhere near his ear-to-ear grin and off-the-wall enthusiasm from the Peepo Choo days.Miki, for her part, stops trying to hide who she is. Before, she spent most of her time hiding herself and her identity, rarely leaving her room. However, this is not the case at the end of the series. Now, she cosplays publicly, she hangs out with the other nerdy kids and generally accepts herself. Notably, the bullies disappear from the story at this time, hinting that her self-realization inspired changes elsewhere. “Ugly Tanaka”, as even Reiko had accidentally called her in the beginning, is now just Miki, no reservations.Anime Watchlist: BAKUMANNew Look, New Reiko?Reiko, meanwhile, starts to question herself. As it turns out, she loves Peepo Choo and its message of universal love and harmony. This reevaluation begins in clothing shops. Reiko, a model with a deep closet, does not need clothes. Moreover, she is tagging along with her friend Miki, browsing shelves in dusty shops. Loud and stylish, Reiko is decidedly mainstream and aggressively stylish in her choices throughout the series. Smith uses her appearance to illustrate that Reiko is unwilling to color outside the lines. While she is fine with showing her body, as her gravure shoots and racy clothes indicate, she is not actually comfortable with expressing herself.Reiko strikes a pose | Image: Felipe Smith’s DeviantartReiko is tough. In her mission to steel herself, she locked the stranger parts of her personality away. This changes one day after she buys some fabric at an Akihabara shop and makes herself a bizarre outfit. What’s more, she cuts and dyes her hair. This external change is not the most important; it’s only its most visible aspect. Reiko is now comfortable, or at least willing to, express herself and to act on her own wishes. She doesn’t bust her hump studying anymore, nor does she spend hours posing under the studio lights. Formerly firmly within conventional society, she does away with her trendy outfits and model lifestyle in favor of “weird” friends and days at the arcade.Smith, as a manga artist, knows the importance of appearance in portraying a character. Therefore, Reiko’s total reinvention is not to be dismissed lightly. Moreover, while her appearance is the most obvious cue, alongside story details, that something changed, there are smaller signs as well. While Reiko is almost constantly scowling throughout the series, here she is beaming. How freeing it is to be yourself!The Butterfly EffectReiko’s dramatic transformation is perhaps the most important moment in the series. Smith uses it to symbolize the joy of accepting oneself. Her growth here, in turn, inspires Milton as well and even indirectly resolves the underworld crime saga undergirding the gang’s personal adventures. After talking with Milton, Gil, too, learns to embrace his own identity and becomes a woman. Moritomo learns that he is not the Rockstar, nor does he want to be. Both Gil and Moritomo had been so absorbed in their alter-egos that they failed to be their authentic selves. Unfulfilled, they tried to fill their emptiness with material success and violent indulgence of their darker selves.However, as a result of a simple conversation between Gil and Milton, Gil realizes that he’s been going about things the wrong way. So absorbed by Fate, he didn’t even notice his true desires or heed the authentic self. Moritomo is the same. He bought into American gang culture out of respect and awe. His attraction to gang culture had little to do with his own identity, as he simply associated gang culture with strength. After finding out the dangers and infidelity of real gang culture, Moritomo feels lost. He uses this opportunity to learn more about himself, not the Rockstar. In this way, Milton’s self-realization indirectly brings the gang war to a close and sets Gil and Moritomo on new paths.MOB PSYCHO 100 Season 2 AnnouncedThe problems of this manga arise largely from repressed identity. Moreover, it is only when the characters embrace themselves, in their entirety, that they are free. This has radiating benefits, with Reiko’s acceptance of her weird side, in turn, inspiring dramatic changes throughout the cast in both storylines. Not only are they happier people, but accepting themselves and expressing their true identities directly improve their world.One of a KindPEEPO CHOO is a wild ride. Violent, sexy, disgusting, and inspirational, Smith draws upon his drawing and storytelling skills to weave a tale of self-discovery and mayhem. Using a classic format with unique characters and playing on themes of cultural gaps and individualism, Smith’s manga is a strong defense of being yourself, for better or worse. Of course, in Smith’s eyes, self-realization is always for the better, even if it comes with challenges.Smith draws upon the strengths of the medium and his own skills to create a powerful manga. The art is alive, the characters memorable, and the setting one-of-a-kind. The strength of the story and the presentation serves to make Smith’s moral all the more persuasive. While the story of PEEPO CHOO touches on everything from comics versus manga, true crime, and awkward lunch dates, the real point of the story is the importance of self-realization and acceptance. He illustrates this point with mopey Milton, the repressed killers, beaming Reiko, and brooding Moritomo. While everyone is different, we all need to be true to ourselves and accept others for who they are, Smith argues. It’s a beautiful moral from a manga that exaggerates the ugly and crude. Much like people, a good story is full of contrast!Featured image courtesy of Felipe Smith’s PEEPO CHOO, Volume One.