Nejishiki: Avant-Garde Manga

nejishiki20131215_002426As I pointed out before in my post about manga in Dutch, manga isn’t exclusively for little kids. Grown-ups can enjoy illustrated stories too (and not just porn). Representative for the avant-garde manga style are Tsuge Yoshiharu‘s works. He has written and drawn some extraordinary manga for people who like to think while reading. You better think about Tsuge’s short stories for example, in order to grasp the meaning hidden behind seemingly non-related drawings, absurd dialogues and symbolic backgrounds. Tsuge’s most famous work is “Nejishiki” ねじ式, or “Screw-Style” in English (sometimes translated as “Screwed”). Because there has been at least 9 movie and television adaptations, a computer game and several parodies, “Nejishiki” is pretty famous among the Japanese people. Even young people know Tsuge’s name.

The original drawing, a movie adaption (1988) and a parody drawing found on Tumblr.

What is “Nejishiki” about? The protagonist, a young man, is bitten by a jellyfish in the arm and an artery is cut in half.  When he enters the village to search for help, he is told that there is no doctor. He meets a whole range of strange characters on his journey. Finally, during a quite sexual operation, a female gynecologist installs a screw in his arm that connects the two loose ends of the artery. He leaves the village on a motorboat. [Scanlation with English translation]


nejishiki20131215_002410The inspiration for “Nejishiki” Tsuge found in a dream he had on the rooftop of his temporary accommodation, a ramen shop. The dream comic, as a sub genre of the I-comic (watakushi manga), was born.

“Nejishiki” is an absurd, nonsensical story. It is dark, chaotic and reflects a war-time Japan. There are many allusions to the war, like battleships and destroyed buildings. It has however, a strong composition. Revolving around the hallucinating quest of finding a doctor, the main character experiences an odyssey through the obscure landscape of a small fishing-village. Allusions to other art works, like the photograph of an ainu man, and references to realistic places can be observed.


The drawing of Tsuge is identical to the man in the photo of Kimura Ihei.

Remarkable as well about this manga is the fast development of the story. Every panel is different. The facial expression of the main character quickly changes, going from despair to resignation on the same page. The same goes for Tsuge’s drawing and inking style. Moreover, the accurate and realistic drawing of the female body was without precedent until then, and evoked a lot of criticism.

Of  course, there is no unambiguous interpretation of “Nejishiki”. Symbolic images hint of rural poverty, alienation of the Japanese youth, WWII and the Pacific War and the industrialization. Since its appearance in the famous magazine Garo, “Nejishiki” has fascinated and still fascinates many people, just because of the multiple interpretations.


nejishiki20121107002841On the Japanese Yahoo, someone posted the question: “I don’t understand why Tsuge Yoshiharu’s “Nejishiki” is valued like that. If it because my life experience is superficial?” (つげ義春のねじ式がなぜ評価されるのかわかりません。 僕の人生経験が浅いためか、…) One of the answers explained it this way. 1968, the year “Nejishiki” was published, was a revolutionary year: the first moon landing, student rebellion, the growing belief in Nostradamus’ apocalypse prediction, the Vietnam War… There was the fear for a third world war, in which the world would be destroyed by nuclear weapons. The moon landing and student revolutions stimulated the belief in “a new era”. In the midst of this growing agitation, the Japanese youth sipped coffee in jazz cafes while discussing philosophical works or politics. When “Nejishiki” was published, it was so different from the manga before, that is was promoted as a product of this “new era”, and enthusiastically welcomed by student movements.

The absurdity of “Nejishiki” was seen as a way to evade reality. It was in the first place, more than ideological, artistic or literary, an expression of the psychology, and therefore strongly valued among the Japanese youth. The story of “Nejishiki” is in fact empty. Readers have to fill it with their own interpretations. These led to controversies and discussions, held in the same jazz cafes where eager college students gathered. In this way, “Nejishiki” was spread quickly in the manga circuit. It became a part of youth culture, was supported by student movements and was ultimately used as a cult symbol in the struggle of the established society.

Facts for Fun

– Since the 1980s, the Belgian avant-garde comics scene especially revolved around Franco-Belgian comic artists and was even representative for the genre in Europe. Bart Beaty compares the French and Belgian market to Hollywood, as most publishers are located there (Glénat, Dupuis, Dargaud, Casterman, Delcourt, Soleil and Humanoïds Associés), turn out commercial successes and win awards.



The Walrus Blog

–  Tsuge Yoshiharu reviews

–  Beaty, Bart. Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s. University of Toronto Press, 2007. [link Google Books]

– photos taken from つげ義春. ねじ式, 1995.


5 thoughts on “Nejishiki: Avant-Garde Manga

    • Thanks! I don’t really know a lot about the Belgian comics scene, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover we are representative for avant-garde comics in Europe.

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