• Title: ‘Her Frankenstein’
  • Author and Artist: Norikazu Kawashima
  • English Translator: Ryan Holberg
  • Additional Essays: Kawakatsu Tokushige and Midori no Gosunkugi
  • Publisher: Smudge
  • Year Released: 2024 (Original Japanese edition published in 1986 by Hibari Shobo)
  • ISBN: 978-1-661581-91-3
  • Page Count: 208
  • Format: Paperback – printed left to right style
  • Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.54 x 20.32 cm
  • Price: USD $19.95

Vintage horror and gekiga (aka adult orientated) manga is a niche genre. Even in Japan, it can’t compete with the flood of mainstream manga being released every day. But in recent years, there’s been a revival of interest both in Japan and internationally, leading to the rediscovery and republishing of many lost and forgotten manga treasures.
The international revival is driven by a handful of small, dedicated publishers who are bringing these gems to light for non-Japanese-speaking fans. Anytime a new publisher emerges, promising a lineup of unknown and untranslated manga from the 1950s to the 1980s in English, or other languages it’s a day of celebration for western gekiga otaku (aka nerd / geek)!

‘Her Frankenstein’ by writer and artist Norikazu Kawashima was originally a standalone one-shot horror manga published in 1986 by Hibari Shobo. With the original Japanese edition now an exceedingly rare collectors item, it is now available for the first time in English, thanks to new publisher Smudge. An imprint of Living the Line Publishing.

Translated and edited by Ryan Holmberg – a legend in the gekiga translation scene. Holmberg has brought more vintage manga titles to English shelves than anyone else on the planet. Rightly earning his place as series editor and translator at Smudge.
In a recent interview, he said of the book:
Historically speaking, ‘Her Frankenstein’ is important because it represents the end of classic horror manga in Japan in the mid and late 1980s – the end of book-based horror manga before magazines took over the genre. Kawashima is that world’s last great author.
‘Her Frankenstein’ was originally published in 1986, the year before Ito Junji debuted with Tomie in 1987. In that sense, we are starting at the end of the classic era Smudge aims to survey, highlighting the immediate prehistory of the present horror boom.

‘Her Frankenstein’ is a brisk 187 pages where we follow Utsugi Tetsuo, an ordinary salaryman in Tokyo whose life gets turned upside down by the appearance of a mysterious female ghost. With the help of a psychologist, Utsugi unlocks a buried childhood memory of a bizarre relationship he had with a wealthy and disabled girl, Kimikage Kiriko.
From this point the story unfolds in a flashback about the relationship between a vulnerable, bullied Utsugi and the disabled Kiriko. An ill-tempered girl with a love for horror movies, violence, and a serious sadistic streak.
After watching the movie Frankenstein, Utsugi makes his own Frankenstein mask. Kiriko becomes obsessed with Utsagi’s new form and adopts him as her very own Frankenstein, using him to get kicks scaring local kids and getting revenge on bullies.
The pair eventually grow apart as Kiriko gets bored with the game while Utsugi wants to take things further.
The third act has an unexpected twist and a grim, bittersweet conclusion that leaves the reader hanging in an unnerving and morally ambiguous place.

Visually, ‘Her Frankenstein’ is light on gore compared to similar works from the same period, but heavy on dark psychological themes. Abusive and coercive relationships, bullying, revenge, power, and innocence are explored through the childhood relationship of the main characters and the lifelong consequences for the protagonist.
As the game gets more violent, Utsugi, who is initially reluctant, finds a power in terrorizing others and receives the approval he craves by transforming into the monster Frankenstein. Norikazu’s choice to focus on deep thematic explorations rather than visceral horror is likely why this book is considered a lost classic of the genre.
Kawashima’s artwork is unusual. Unlike contemporary gekiga, which often uses a dark, sketchy line to convey seriousness and gravity, Kawashima opts for a softer, rounder; more cartoonish style. While somewhat dark and heavy on black lines in places, it’s reminiscent of Osamu Tezuka’s Saturday morning anime (‘Astro Boy‘, ‘Kimba the White Lion‘).
As a result, it’s no surprise to learn from one of the essays published with this edition that Kawashima once worked as an animator on Tezuka’s 1980 ‘Astro Boy’ series. With the art working to enhance the childhood focus of the story and highlight the contrast of innocence and violence it explores.

Two essays accompany this edition. The first, by Kawakatsu Tokishige, is an in-depth biography of Norikazu Kawashima that’s almost worth the cover price alone. What little is known about Kawashima’s life is meticulously uncovered and presented here.
Kawakatsu’s deep knowledge and appreciation of the genre are clear, and I hope to see similar essays in future Smudge publications.
The second essay, by Midori no Gosungi, an avid collector who provided the original edition of Her Frankenstein for this reprint, lists 11 previous Kawashima works with short synopses and full-colour cover reproductions. While fairly light on info it’s still a welcome addition that rounds out a wonderful book.

Overall, this is an excellent first publication for a promising new imprint.
While it might not be essential for a casual manga reader’s library, anyone with a passing interest in vintage horror, gekiga, and the like should snag a copy of this volume before it becomes a collector’s item in its own right!


A recent Japanese re-print of ‘Her Frankenstein.’

All images supplied by A.J or sourced online.