13 Days of Halloween with The Owl in the Rafters: Day 4

Posted on Oct 22 2011

At last, we really get into the swing of things with this Halloween theme! Number four in this line up is a modern cult favorite around anime fans on the internet, Franken Fran. Published in Akita Shoten’s monthly shounen magazine, Champion Red, since 2006, Franken Fran takes on the guise of a goofy occult/supernatural themed comedy series, but past that first glance you’ll find it plays with some dark humor and legitimately unnerving stories. This unique and well balanced mix of comedy and horror has developed the manga a strong cult following.

The basic set up of the manga is that the titular Fran, a Frankensteinian patchwork monster, is the sole caretaker of the lab of renowned medical and scientific genius, Madaraki Naomitsu. In the absence of her creator, Madaraki Fran tries to run the lab as best she can, taking on high paying jobs from customers looking for either the professor or Fran herself, do favors for friends, and in many cases working out of charity for random people she bumps into from day to day. Fran herself is, at her core, a kindhearted and optimistic young girl with unwavering dedication to her medical practice. This all is of course off set by her quirky sense of romance, own blissful ignorance, and strangely tuned moral compass that often dictates she save every life, even if it means the patient will live on in misery.

To give a better idea of how these stories pan out, I’ll just outline the plot to the pilot chapter here: A man comes to Fran looking for the professor; he wants to bring his son back from the dead. The man gives a reasonable sounding story about how much he loves his son and wants him back. Fran is moved by the story and offers to take the job herself. The dilemma is that Fran wants to preserve the son’s personality, not just reanimate a corpse, and she can’t exactly jump start a human brain postmortem.

Meanwhile we learn that the father was lying, and he only wants his son alive to take the boy’s inheritance money left by his grandfather(the father’s father), and was in fact the one who killed his son in the first place. He makes a passing comment about how the boy could be any empty husk for all he cares, so long as he gets the money. Then Fran bursts in with her assistants.

Fran puts the man under with an anesthetic and promises his son will be alive by the time he wakes up. Fran’s solution? If she can’t get the boy’s brain running again, she’ll attach it to the father’s and have them share information. The dastardly father awakens to find that he can hear a voice in his head. Indeed, Fran’s surgery not only attached the son’s head to the back of the father’s but essentially turned them into split personalities sharing a single brain.

That is the grotesque part, but the horror of course is that the father will have to live with the son he hated and murdered living inside of his brain and sharing his body, while the now reanimated son knows everything his father does, including that his father murdered him. Where is the comedy, you ask? For one, there is a distinct cuteness to Fran’s idealistic and blissfully ignorant personal interpretation of the whole operation as a stunning success, but more than that the dark humor of the sour irony, seeing the father’s plan backfire in the most gruesome way is where the real punch line is.

That’s just a little taste of what Franken Fran has to offer, but it covers many of the trends the series runs with as it continues. The episodic stories run like any classic medical series -or any sort of mystery series in which a question must ultimately be answered or a puzzle solved- with Fran being presented with all kinds of bizarre situations to which she comes up with gruesomely creative solutions. Of course the punch-line is always the beautiful irony of the age old “be careful what you wish for” moral put into a both humorous serving of just deserts, and yet a truly unsettling and bone chilling fate for at least one of the people involved. The author and artist, Kigitsu Katsuhisa has a good grasp of his art style, with comfortably generic looking human character designs, off set by the wonderfully fiendish monsters, hideous mutants, and disturbing mutilated experiments that crop up with each new story.

Apart from Fran there are a handful of other notable reappearing characters to cover: Most important is Okita, the head of an attractive young man, surgically attached to the body of a cat. I can only assume he is a play on the classic Japanese “Jinmenken” or “Man Faced Dog”, which I cannot actually classify as a “mystical” creature, but certainly has its roots in folk lore and has persisted in urban legend. In any case, Okita often serves as the necessary layman for Fran’s more complicated procedures, there to ask the questions the reader is thinking and prompt Fran to explain what’s going on: A kind of Watson to Fran’s Holmes.

Less prominent in the cast is Howl, Fran’s butler and head of staff in the Madaraki mansion, a man with the face of a dog, yet again dancing around but not quite hitting the man-faced-dog on the head. Other than Howl there are also a large host of mostly nameless monster assistants working under Fran around the lab. Of all Fran’s assistants I think Adorea is the most frequently seen. She is a tall woman with long black hair and her face and body covered in bandages: her body is Fran’s mobile organ storage unit, and the zippers sewn into her body allow Fran to take out necessary organs quickly as needed. Adorea also has the ability to devour human bodies in order to replenish her supply of organs.

Shortly after the first volume Fran’s younger “sister”, Veronica, another patchwork creation of the good Dr. Madaraki is also introduced as a regular character. Unlike Fran’s medical expertise, Veronica’s specialty is in assassination and combat; originally made to protect the doctor himself, she was sent back to protect the lab from jealous and violent competing researchers and government spies. There is also an older sister, named Gavrill, who appears as an antagonist on some rare occasion, but she does not play a large role on any regular basis.

Other returning characters, although not deeply involved with Fran or the Madaraki labs, include Kuhou Rumiko, a female police officer from a local branch and technically a former patient of Fran’s; a young female reporter who occasionally bumps into Fran while abroad, and generally fulfills the same kind of role in the plot as Okita and Rumiko; Shelly, a nun specializing in exorcism under the employ of the Vatican, another of Fran’s occasional sidekicks while traveling the globe, typically with the questionably occult cases; and finally, (my personal favorites) a series of tokusatsu spoof characters under the shard name, Sentinel.

Each of the four Sentinels start with their own chapter detailing their origin stories involving surgery under Fran, and eventually they all get wrapped up in the same battle to “save” the world. The Sentinels are hilarious blatant Kamen Rider parodies, the first two Sentinels being based upon the original Kamen Rider and Kamen Rider 2, the third Sentinel named Vengence based on Kamen Rider V3, and the final Sentinel, Sentinal Man, based on Rider Man. Although often pitted against one another, ultimately they all end up contributing to the fight against the evil Black Lotus organization in their own way. The twist of course blurs the line between just what real evil is, with just the kind of delicious irony you’d expect from Franken Fran, but I’ll leave the specifics for you to read about on your own.

Once again, I have to point out that there is some need for caution over violence, excessive blood, and graphic gore, all which tend to come with the territory when we’re talking horror, but worth pointing out none the less. Also in need of consideration however are somewhat frequent scenes of nudity, mild sexual themes, and a small handful of instances of attempted rape. While still technically a “comedy” it is very distinctly a dark comedy and most definitely not suitable for younger audiences. Not to dampen this disclaimer but I feel like I have to point out that there are significantly more graphic gore titles out there, and while that relativity in no way makes any of it any more acceptable for certain audiences, I have to say that Franken Fran tackles the theme in a surprisingly tasteful manner. While the gore and monsters are obviously still the centerpiece of each story, the story facilitates each new atrocity remarkably well, without seemingly hopelessly contrived or convoluted, and the grotesqueness feels meaningful and significant to the jokes, and not just arbitrary blood and guts for the sake of nothing but blood and guts. They actually do forward the humor, and unlike a lot of cheap horror films where you could easily edit out most of the gore and leave the film’s impact unchanged, if you tried to remove the gore from Franken Fran, the punchlines really would lose their poignancy.

So, with this grim comedy title as our first real spine-tingler of the month, things will only be getting darker from here on out. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself so far, and I hope you’re ready for more, because we’re barely a third of the way through things and there’s plenty more to come between now and Halloween!

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  • nerdwerld October 22, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    I randomly stumbled upon the wikipedia article of this a few years ago. I don’t remember why, or how, but it defiantly looked interesting. I have liked these articles so far…

  • Tyto October 22, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    The volume covers there at the bottom are a bit deceptive, but the sense of humor is unique and genuinely funny. I’m glad this halloween special has piqued your interest.

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