Y’all know I’m not much of a manga dude. I’d rather see my cave paintings move on a flickering electronic screen than see them as still images on compressed wood pulp. To get my attention, a manga really has to do something different– different in the way I like shit to be different
Nickelodeon sure is that sort of different.
The thing is a collection of short stories, with each story usually being eight pages long or so. They all seem to take place in the same universe, since characters will pop up in multiple unrelated stories, but there’s no unifying narrative beyond “weird fucking stuff is going down.”
You have a story about a girl who tries to commit suicide by tossing herself into a wolf pen at a zoo but ends up falling in love with a talking tiger who talks her out of it. Then there’s another where conjoined twins bicker about how one of them is growing taller than the other, forcing the less girly of the two to wear high heels to keep their heights equal. One of the better ones involves a village of puppet animals who end up becoming sacrifices to Shub Niggurath, one of the Great Old Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos. Another deals with a track and field team determining who will run for help while a creature from beyond space and time is lurking outside their club room.
All of those, and many of the others, are pretty damn cute in a sociopathic way. The story that really sold me on the series is the latest.
Three dudes summon a demon to make wishes. They assume they’ll get three wishes– one each. That isn’t the case. They receive “up to 100 wishes.”
See, Hell has changed its business practices. In order to better accommodate their customers, Hell has altered its deals. You get 100 wish points, and each wish costs X number of points. The cost is based upon the plausibility of the demand and how much of an effect it’ll have on reality as a whole. Kill someone? 3 points. Cure an incurable disease? 25 points. Predict the future? 100 points ain’t gonna cover something that implausible.
And the best kicker of the deal? The demon won’t ask for their souls in return. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
So the dudes divide their points equally: 33 points each, with a point left to be used later. One dude wishes for 33 points worth of precious gems and stones. He gets about 4 and a half million bucks. One dude makes that incurable disease wish, with the remainder in gems as well. The final dude wishes for 11 people to be murdered, all of whom happen to be members of a 13-man secret society apparently ruling the country. It’s like the dude wished for the majority of the Bilderberg Group to be offed in one fell swoop.
The dudes are wondering what they should do with their last point. They’re thinking about asking for a bottle of champagne to top everything off, but the demon warns them to make their choice quick.
Here’s the twist to the whole thing: The dudes are in the highest floors of the World Trade Center right before the first plane hit. They only have one wish point left. They don’t have enough to teleport out. That costs 6 points. They can’t move the plane out-of-the-way. That costs 2 points. They can’t return some of their stuff to get points back. That’d constitute breaking their contract and the contract is binding. They don’t have time to get out of the building on their own. The plane will crash in less than a minute.
One of the dudes has a revelation: He asks for the terrorist flying the plane to lose his faith.
The demon beams with delight. The wish is granted. The plane flies away, saving the day.
These two panels say everything:
There’s all sorts of implications here.
The demon wanted souls, but he wasn’t after these guys souls. These guys are already damned. If you’re the sort to summon a demon to make a wish, your soul is already lost. No going back. No chance in the future for salvation. Guaranteed damnation. This demon doesn’t need to collect on these guys souls as payment for these wishes. They’ve already booked their trip to Hell, and all the demon’s doing is giving them first class accommodations. Hell needs souls, so it may as well make the willing all the more happy in their choice.
The demon wanted the soul of the terrorist piloting the plane into the building. But wouldn’t the terrorist already be damned if he’s murdering thousands of innocents? Apparently not, since the demon was looking for a way to rob the man of his faith in God. Despite his actions, this man was a man of faith, and this tells me that his actions were the will of God– or at least his God. This man was destined to flock to the afterlife of another God through his actions, and this demon wanted to rob that faith of a soul. Hence the set-up. These guys were placed in a situation where the only way to save themselves from the death of their mortal bodies was to unwittingly help damn another soul.
Hell wasn’t guaranteed three souls this day, it was guaranteed four. They were already making a profit with the inevitable damnation of the three main dudes, but by adding a fourth to the transaction they helped maximize their earnings. This demon probably got a nice bonus on his next paycheck for making this bargain.
That’s what I love about this manga. The rules of this world aren’t what you expect. It isn’t just a matter of their being demons and facehuggers and other weirdness. The series takes those outlandish things and refuses to carry them out to the expected conclusion. It’s almost terrifying in its alienness. The world isn’t just different, it’s wrong. Delightfully, beautifully wrong.