Franken Fran’s Wonderland (42 Chapters of Surgical Strikes, Vivid Vivisections and Copious Counterexamples to the Generally Prevailing Notion that Death is the Worse Thing that can Happen to You)
Back in March of 2009, I wrote on this blog the following:
“This manga has been going down hill real fast in the last 2 or 3 chapters. We’re up to 23. I feel like it’s time to switch from episodic to an actual plot. Either Prof. Madaraki returns soon, or Fran starts showing us some more skin (and stitches), or both, or this thing might just lose all of its glow.”
42 chapters in I can happily report that not only has the show returned to form, it’s better than ever and indeed, I am ready to call it an absolutely excellent work of art.
Professor Madaraki is still very much AWOL. The manga is still episodic, but mangaka Kigitsu has managed to keep churning out brilliant short story after story. The man is blessed with an incredible imagination, and he does bring up the person of Madaraki often enough to keep us in suspense. The professor will show up one day, and it will be something to see, but we can afford to wait. Moreover, there are certain minor plots across episodes (like the Sentinel situation, see below) to add spice to the mix.
While Fran hasn’t shown us more stitches [well, except for the crazy covers], Kigitsu has thrown out hints of something between Veronica and her that have those yuri-inclined all in a fever.
I realize I haven’t ever posted any actual comment/reactions on Franken Fran, so I’m going to take this chance to do that for a number of chapters. Here we go.
INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE MANGA (Chapter 5)
Kigitsu lays them out very frankly by way of his spokesperson Prof. Madaraki in chapter 5. The context is a flashback to World War II, with Madaraki and his colleague discussing the conflict. The colleague is focused on American, German and Japanese capabilities etc but Madaraki cuts him off: “It’s not about that” he says, “This war is a war to kill God”. The flashback is short and we’re left to figure out what he means. The statement is brilliant, one of those that will make lots of people go “oh yeah, that makes sense” when they hear them but which very few could actually come up with in the first place.
World War II was indeed the turning point of a process Nietzsche foresaw with the words “God is dead. We have killed him” . And while institutions like the United Nations and the World Council of Churches have sprung up since to repair the damage, Madaraki is hellbent on continuing the war, alone if necessary. Because a biotechnician like Madaraki is never truly alone, he can always raise his armies. Thus Fran and friends.
This manga is subversive to the core.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL (Chapters 13, 23, 28, 32, 42)
One of my favorite characters is Inspector Kuho, a hapless policewoman who always ends up working on cases related to Fran and, as a result, has become a walking nervous breakdown. In chapter 13 she is persuaded by Fran to kill a great number of clones (of one of her patients, a girl called Yoka) because otherwise they will continue to multiply and eventually threaten the welfare of the entire planet. Fran is nice enough to “enhance” Kuho’s body and make her into a perfect killer, then sets her on the loose.
Now, police kill people all the time, and it’s considered a good thing. But society only condones this when the victims have been doing bad things.
[Words conceal as often as they reveal. I could have written “crimes” instead of “bad things” and you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. As the sentence stands though, it screams of something deeply wrong, or strange, in our society. Honestly, just read the last paragraph again.]
Anyway, say you accept our social order. These Yoka clones are doing absolutely nothing wrong by most moral standards. Yet Kuho exterminates them. Human culling.
Chapter 23 shows a man begging for the “enhancements” that Kuho received so unwillingly. He begins to fight crime as a superhero and call himself Sentinel. Several Sentinel copycats, most if not all patients of Fran, show up and mayhem ensues when some fight crime and others commit them. Fran doesn’t get this whole business of “good and evil” but she reckons all of the heroes and villains must be having fun.
We see Kuho again in chapter 28, when the police call in Fran to figure out why a terrible serial murderer seems impervious to all methods of execution, and to try to find a way to permanently terminate the monster. Fran compares him to those reckless warriors with great luck who always manage to survive the bloodiest battles. In another age, she adds, he’d have become a King. Fran says he is just the sort to be loved by the gods. And what’s more, she decides that he is so special he must be kept alive and arranges to steal him away from the authorities. As luck would have it, the man is struck by lightning and dies.
If there is a north star to Fran’s actions, it must be in the concept of “biological diversity”. She is just as eager to preserve unusual lifeforms like the lucky murderer as she is to discover, create and recreate new beings. On the surface this attitude meshes well with the Discovery Channel / National Geographic ideologies in vogue today but in reality it’s bound to horrify the most hardcore environmentalist by virtue of her utter lack of “speciesism”: Fran will rather protect a rare and dangerous insect than a run of the mill human being. Better, she’ll mix their DNA to see what happens. It takes more than a “Homo sapiens” nametag to earn Miss Madaraki’s respect.
This attitude of Fran’s dives in with Nietzche’s and Madaraki’s talk of “killing God”. The gods tend to hide in the gaps of our experience. Think about how long God hid in the step between ape and man. Once Darwin came and shone light on this gap by filling it, many a thinking human being became an atheist. Fran’s experimentation is tantamount to driving the gods out of their hiding places and shooting them dead. It is not that the horror at the Madarakis’ operating table will make you lose your faith in the Good, not at all. It is about Good and Evil being exposed for their meaningless in the light of raw Nature’s operation.
By chapter 32 Sentinel has dropped out of the scene for some time and a young man approaches Fran with the intention of becoming Sentinel II. His motivation is the same as Sentinel’s, his powers similar though stronger, but the story takes a whole new path. Sentinel II grows tired of constantly battling an evil organization called Black Lotus, so he corners its Boss and asks him just what are they doing. The Boss confirms that they are evil and desire the destruction of the world, but the way they are going about shocks the new Sentinel: Black Lotus is a worldwide charity operation that fights disease, feeds the poor and tries to save as many human beings as possible. By aiding overpopulation, Black Lotus is convinced humanity will quickly destroy the Earth.
What should a superhero do in this situation? If he continues fighting Black Lotus he will be causing the deaths of countless people in need. But if he stops then overpopulation will set in and the world as a whole will be annihilated. He decides to fight Black Lotus and thus becomes in society’s eyes a doctor-killing super villain.
If both choices open to you are evil, and not acting is even more evil (because it means abandoning all sense of responsibility) then the whole concept of Evil breaks down and Good along with it. We’re beyond good and evil, whether Sentinel II may realize it or not.
Sentinel I was a non-questioning do-gooder; Sentinel clings to a sense of good in the midst of much doubt and questioning. The cycle continues in chapter 42 with the third “Sentinel”, who calls himself Vengeance. The man behind Vengeance lost his family to a Sentinel II attack, and a group of victims and relatives of victims is supporting him in his aim to stop Sentinel II (and the original Sentinel, whose befriended the second). Vengeance feels a rush as an avenger and begins to allow and even facilitate Sentinel massacres so that he can then try to avenge them. He is sick…he has a fetish…but more to the point, he is selfish. The Fran-created superhero has developed (progressed? degenerated?) into this…
That’s the Sentinel Saga so far. It’s sure to continue…and whatever its outcome, we can be sure Fran Madaraki will be watching and recording. As will behind her, somewhere in the shadows, her creator.