One of my most anticipated releases from Viz this summer is easily Oto Toda’s To Strip the Flesh. I’ve wanted to read it ever since I saw preview art of two of the protagonist, seemingly pre- and post-transition respectively, sitting side by side in front of a giant hanging slab of meat. Now the manga is here, but does it live up to the hype?
The first thing to know is that this volume is a short story collection rather than one continuous narrative. The titular manga is by far the longest and it stars Chiaki Ogawa, a trans man who puts off transitioning for years due to concerns about disappointing his father. Chiaki always wanted to go hunting with his father, who refused in an effort to make Chiaki stuck within feminine norms. After deciding to stop letting others’ wishes hold him back from transitioning, Chiaki’s life and relationships change drastically.
It’s the hunting and butchering aspect of the story that stands out most. Images of dead meat take on added meaning both in terms of Chiaki’s dysphoria and in terms of his desire for access to masculinity and the freedom (i.e. to hunt) that comes with it. Chiaki and his father’s time spent, or rather not spent, hunting together also symbolizes many of the deep-rooted pains in their relationship. Perhaps most memorable is a scene in which Chiaki imagines cleaving off his breasts the way he would chop up pieces of hunted game.
The collection’s other stories, meanwhile, veer into more fantastical territory. “I Just Love My Fave” is about a grandmother’s love for a young idol, defined by a pivotal twist I won’t spoil. “David in Love,” meanwhile, is about a souvenir-sized replica of the statue David which falls in love with its owner. “Hot Watermelon” makes use of a superstition to rework the relationship between a mother and her son. The various two-page manga toward the back, meanwhile, vary considerably in content and quality.
All in all, this latter half of the book is enjoyable but it lacks the polish present in the titular story. The shorter page count leaves less time for Toda to flesh out the characters, and it’s a hurdle they don’t quite overcome. Some of the pacing is a bit off, not horrendously but to the point that these read like solid drafts moreso than finished manga that have been crafted to their utmost potential. With that said, the unique ideas and silly antics throughout are still fun and there’s an endearing earnestness throughout.
Art-wise this collection is strong. The character rendering varies considerably in level of detail, largely to tailor the visuals to either more humorous or emotionally impactful moments. The facial expressions are very nice throughout, and those of the mother in “Hot Watermelon” are especially nuanced. There’s little in the way of outright action in the volume, but what is here flows well and underlies the violence with comedic exaggeration.
Any short manga collection is the sum of its parts, and the parts here are largely good but not great. None of the stories are terrible by any means, but the latter half if much less polished and gripping than the titular story. Depending on one’s tastes and interests this collection may still be worth buying just for said story, but many of the other manga read like early works from a creator who has even better things to come in their career.
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