Transistor Venus

The cool thing about manga is how easy it is to find weird niche stuff among the medium. It's not nearly as hidden away as the strange stuff found in other mediums, and it can be a really rewarding experience to look around outside your usual comfort zone. That's what lead me to Transistor Venus, a seven volume series from Takemoto Izumi made back at the start of the new millennium, and by far one of the hardest to categorize manga I've ever found. All I know for sure is that I had a blast reading it, and it may be one of my favorite manga ever.

The series takes place in the later half of the 23rd century, where a spy working for the neutral planet Lisbon is commonly known as a "goddess." Her name is April Enus, or more commonly known as "Venus," a goddess with the power to prevent anyone around her from dying. This does not stop being from being horribly hurt, mind you. Enus' adventures have a habit of leaving chaos in their wake, much to her dismay, though her job does come with perks. For example, the chance to make out with cute girls all across the galaxy. Thought that doesn't negate the stress of dealing with racist lizard aliens or patriarchal societies that rule a large chunk of the universe.

The best way I can describe this series is a mixture of espionage, deadpan humor, and a whole lot of authorial indulgence. The series starts out as an espionage comedy, but it soon starts to change once Enus goes on a mission with another agent in chapter three. Izumi decided to make a running joke about Enus wanting to kiss her new partner, and then chapters five and six end up being a two-parter that is almost entirely just Enus seducing every maid in a mansion. From that point on, a pattern starts to emerge in the series, and it never goes away. Which is a good thing, mind you.

The series never handles the spy stuff particularly well. The plots are either too simplistic or too complicated, though the new characters all get a good bit of personality and get you to care about their stories. It's just that the flow of these stories is off, as Izumi has a problem with properly pacing a narrative (which he admits in one of his many hilarious intermissions in the volume collections). What he does do well is creating a strange, oddly funny atmosphere between his characters. Enus becomes so strange as the series goes on, acting both childish and with surprising maturity over the littlest of things. She brings out some really great reactions from those around her, and a few other characters prove to be just as quirky and off as her as the series goes on. The setting being so lazy and simplistically cartoony only continues to add to the general absurdity in just a nice, subtle way.

Enus is definitely the star of the show, from her antics kissing every pretty girl in sight, to passive aggressively blowing cigar smoke around chain smokers, then kissing every cute girl in sight, following a rescue mission while in a catgirl costume, and then kissing every cute girl in sight ...well, you see where this is going. Enus is an open bisexual, and she is constantly thinking about finding someone to have fun adult times with. I mean constantly. There is never a single chapter after the maid chapters that doesn't have some mention of Enus and her sexual leanings. Bu the last volume, there are rumors circulating about how she'll try kissing every cute girl she can find, which nearly starts an international incident as a bodyguard keeps thinking Enus is going to try and steal a kiss from a princess (the one time she's not trying to steal a kiss).

This should be a tired joke with how often it's used, but it just keep getting funnier the more it went on. This is partly because every new mission changes Enus' target of affection, and it's also helped by how absurd the situations keep getting. There's a prequel volume that eventually has Enus going undercover as a nurse and seducing every other nurse in the hospital because she suddenly became a great kisser through psychic training, I'm dead serious. It also helps it never goes into that creepy, rapey territory so many ecchi fall into now, and the one time it sort of does when Enus steals a kiss from a girl who has said no multiple times in the last chapter, she gets bitten for it as an act of karma.

Enus being just so ridiculously bisexual to the point of being super human is only one element of the comedy. The politics that begin to form offer a lot of good running jokes, like the patriarchy military structure of the empire, or just how much the lizard race of aliens don't get how humans work (they honestly thought Enus was a cat at one point because she wore a fake tail and ears). There's even some great black comedy from Enus' powers to prevent death, as it just causes those who know about it to go all out and usually land a ton of people on both sides in the hospital. A reoccurring spy character even gets shot by a firing squad just to test Enus' powers, and the entire scene is played for comedy (he even responds to a question while near death with sarcasm because even he knows how the situation is going to play out).

Matched with the series simplistic art style, which channels this old school aesthetic and some really fun empty but colorful expressions, and the series gets this weird energy to it. I can't really compare it to anything else I've ever read. It has the energy and style of a four panel deadpan comedy, along with the adventure and complexity of a good thriller. It gets the balance just right most of the time, and saves itself in low moments with bits of self-awareness. It's hard to take it too seriously, even when it wants to be taken seriously, because part of it always wants you to laugh at something. It's sort of like the author accidentally created something amazing by complete accident (which is possible, since he admitted that he discovered a new side to himself when writing the first few chapters). You don't plan to make something like Transistor Venus, it simply happens because the creative muses decided to use you for an experiment.

It's all these strange qualities that make Transistor Venus something special and unlike anything else. It's a true original, even in its more flawed moments, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end, minus one weak volume. I seriously recommend this one if you have a strange sense of humor, or would just like to see a bisexual woman constantly seduce women through superhuman kissing. I mean, who wouldn't want to see that? Awful people, that's who.


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