For most self-proclaimed otaku, Japan is a mysterious land of wonder and perfection. And for most self-proclaimed otaku, whenever they finally get a chance to visit Japan, their reality is instantly shattered. And for Milton, the main character of Felipe Smith’s breakout manga series Peepo Choo, things are no different.
Milton is from the southside of Chicago, born and bred. Growing up in a chaotic household of eight siblings and parents who are always working to make ends meet, Milton feels like no one understands him. And it doesn’t help that he’s extremely obsessed with an obscure anime series called Peepo Choo, that even Japanese people don’t watch. Despite the amount of time spent at the comic book store, nothing will change the fact that Milton is constantly surrounded by gangsters, drug dealers, prostitutes, poverty, and violence in his every day life.
In order to survive the scrappy streets of Chicago, Milton forces himself to “fit in” by dressing in baggy clothes and baseball caps (I know, I know, the only thing missing is a grill) whenever he is in public. His only safe space is the comic book store because when he’s there, he can comfortably cosplay and speak in Peepo Talk with his peers.
Milton imagines that living in Japan is like being at the comic book store 24/7. To him, it’s a fantasy land without problems where everyone cosplays, watches anime, and reads manga. He knows that if he can go to Japan, he can finally be the real him (which is truly ironic when you consider the fact that the classic proverb “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down” comes from Japan). And no one can convince Milton otherwise. That is until he “wins” (with some help from Jody, the lazy cashier) a trip to Japan with the owner of the comic book store, Gill, from an in-store raffle…
Now this is where the manga gets extremely weird, borderline illegal, depending on what country you’re in. And that weirdness pretty much builds until the final chapter of volume 3. So if you’re under the age of 18, I highly suggest that you do NOT read this series. And I sincerely mean that!
And if you’re still here after reading that disclaimer, I’ll continue on with the review. You’re a brave soul. Very brave, indeed.
From the minute that he leaves Narita Airport, Milton goes from believing that he should’ve been born in Japan to once again feeling like no one in the world understands him. He comes to find that things in Japan aren’t too different from America. No one is walking around in cosplay. Nobody understands Peepo Talk. People overwork themselves and try to drink it away after hours. And honestly, he wonders why he even left Chicago in the first place.
Now, while Milton is having an identity crisis, Jody (the lazy and licentious comic book store cashier) is enjoying himself, while also acting as a babysitter for Milton while his boss, Gill, goes off to handle his shady business of lustfully assassinating members of the yakuza as a hired hit man.
Milton’s story is paralleled with a 17-year old Japanese girl, Reiko Koumori, who works as a gravure model after school for money. Growing up in such a shady industry, Reiko definitely knows how to hold her own against men. Sadly she has grown use to the abuse, both physical and sexual, and uses it to fuel her hatred towards men. After being hurt by men one time too many and constantly being sexualized for her body (when all she wanted was an English-speaking partner), Reiko decides that no man is to be trusted, no matter where they hail from: Japan or America.
When Milton and Jody meet Reiko and her friend Miki things take a turn for the worst. Reiko categorizes all Americans as having daily diets that consist of T-bone steaks, hamburgers, French fries, and pizza. She also categorizes the men as womanizers and pedophiles with yellow fever, who come to Japan to escape their mediocre existence in America and mess around with Japanese women. (And I don’t think she’s completely wrong on that one…) But Reiko’s message doesn’t resonate with Miki, as she wants to believe the best about Milton. I mean they did bond over Peepo Choo, after all. So, after deciding to stick it out with Milton, Miki finds that he is not anything like Reiko described. And Reiko eventually comes around to him as well.
Now Jody is a different story because he pretty much checks all of the boxes that Reiko mentioned. His sole reason for coming to Japan is to lose his virginity. Like, really dude? But instead of being a magnet for women for the reason that he thinks, he actually attracts their attention for a quite different reason. His resemblance to the gay foreign Japanese celebrity, Beauty Judy, makes all the women want to take pictures with him, as they find him to be quite hilarious. And this does not go over well with Jody at all, since he also came to Japan with distorted views on Japanese society.
But Jody is a grown man, so I have less sympathy for him. Plus, this review isn’t really about him. Milton, on the other hand, was told (and quite literally sold) a lie, alongside many other impressionable kids at a comic book convention in Chicago. After Peepo Choo flopped in Japan, its marketing team decided to push it on American kids by telling them lies about how if they go to Japan, they will finally be understood and their days of being bullied and beat up will finally come to an end. But being in Japan, Milton is finally able to see that this is a lie, much like everything else that he believed about Japan.
Reiko explains to him that everyone in Japan doesn’t listen to anime OSTs and collect model kits, and that in reality, otaku are a very small minority in Japan. She also tells him that while a lot of Japanese people do read manga, it’s not the action-packed adventure stories Milton may be used to; they instead read slice-of-life stories to identify with the characters’ struggles, unlike a lot of Americans who read comics as an escape.
Milton falls into a deep state of depression over this revelation, and it’s not until he realizes that Peepo Talk isn’t even a real language, that he decides to make some changes, so that he can finally enjoy his time in Japan. After a trip to Akihabara with Reiko and Miki, everyone learns the importance of being themselves and not forgetting who they are. Milton realizes that the life he was looking for does not exist within one country or culture, but in friendships built with like-minded individuals. Happiness and acceptance are states of mind, and it all comes from how you live and who you surround yourself with. Other people do not determine whether or not you can be happy. That is choice that Milton has to make, and he decides to make it right then and there.
Peepo Choo is a wild ride, but it definitely gets better as it progresses. I had to question why I was even reading it a few times, but I’m glad that I stuck it out. It’s very weird, very vulgar, and quite explicit. And as I mentioned before, it is NOT for kids, despite its wholesome message of love and acceptance.
For anyone out there who may have felt like the odd one out for liking manga and anime growing up, this story will hit all of the right places for you. Nowadays, people are no longer afraid to openly express their love for series like Naruto and Sailor Moon. They actually wear it as a badge of honor.
Peepo Choo came out in 2009, and we have come so far with embracing this former subculture into the mainstream. While I don’t think that Peepo Choo is for everyone, I definitely think there are some 80s and 90s babies out there that will find a familiar face and friend in Milton. I say give Peepo Choo a try if you’re looking to shake things up because it’s a wild one!