Dementia 21 by Shintaro Kagō

by Kristopher Cook
Dementia 21 by Shintaro Kago - Manga Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Imagine if Clive Barker and Junji Ito teamed up to form a nightmarish trip through the progression of Dementia? That’s exactly how this collection of episodic stories feels.

Using his brilliant awareness of modern-day Japanese social issues, Shintaro Kagō takes aim at the elderly and raises questions about their treatment within a thriving society.

However, he also flips the script around to show the dangers that these people can place on their loved ones, notably the devoting daughter-in-law.

Shintaro Kagō

Kago is known in Japan for creating his own style of manga, known as fashionable paranoia. This includes mixing elements of traditional hyper-realistic illustrations with an experimental surrealist approach.

Dementia 21 by Shintaro Kago Book - Chapter Covers
Incredible detailing for each chapter’s cover page.

This breathes new life into the J-horror genre, giving his work a distinct feel, similar to that you would find in Junji Ito’s work.

Unlike Ito, Kago uses fewer creatures and ghouls and instead adopts a more outrageously sexual and sporadic approach.

Dementia 21 is a great place to start with Kagō because the content isn’t graphic, especially when compared to some of his other work.

And this should be my first warning. When researching some of his more unusual illustrations, there is an element of scat that comes into play. I assume to add an element of shock to the designs.

For me, I found them too much to take and not pleasing to look at, which I guess is the point. Either way, don’t search his name from a work computer.

Sharing is Caring

Dementia 21 follows Yukie through her home help care work and all her elderly clients’ challenges.

Dementia 21 - Artwork
Dementia 21 Artwork.

However, given how conscientious she is towards her job, she keeps winning employee of the month. This leads one of her co-workers to fix it so that young Yukie now only attends the most dangerous and challenging clients.

It’s at this point that Kagō’s surrealist nature comes into its own.

A Dali-esque Mind Warp

Yukie is an excellent character who only wants the best for her clients. She’s responsive to their needs and sensitive to the issues they’re dealing with due to increasing age. She’s also naïve in her actions, making her perfect for driving the story forward into dangerous zones.

Unfortunately, it’s this caring nature that often leads her to go above and beyond, causing her more trouble in the long run.

I’m sure we’ve all met that one person who’s often too nice for their own good? I don’t mean a goody two shoes, but because they don’t want to disappoint anyone they’ll usually agree with anything, even if they don’t believe it.

The problem though; you never know where you truly stand with them.

Equally, this person is the one that extra work is dumped on because other more work-shy people will know they won’t say no. This is the same case with Yukie.

Some of the stories here are much more enjoyable than others, focusing very much on comedic visual effect over the narrative. This does help with the surrealist nature of Dementia 21, leaving each story open to a mind-bending twist somewhere along the way.

Closing Thoughts

Dementia 21 is a weird and wonderful collection of short episodes that offer entirely different concepts while still focusing on young Yukie’s support aide services.

Whilst I was expecting a more gruesome style, given Kagō’s reputation, the illustrations are incredibly detailed with fantastic linework. The linework on show throughout is second-to-none.

If you’re looking for something a little different from the mainstream norm that deals with psychological horror rather than a visual fright, then this is for you. However, this series is difficult to find currently in English format, with used copies going for silly prices on eBay.

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