Dementia 21 by Shintaro Kago review – a surreal look at Japan’s ageing population


This month sees the latest English language release from guro manga master Shintaro Kago in another entry in his “fashionable paranoia” genre – Dementia 21. Yukie Sakai is a sprightly young home health aide eager to help her elderly clients. But what seems like a simple, straightforward job quickly turns into a series of increasingly surreal and bizarre adventures that put Yukie’s wits to the test!

Having already established a reputation as having a taste for the bizarre, fans should have a good idea of what to expect. Having spent most of his career working in a genre that focuses on the more decadent side of society, Kago can be ranked amongst greats such as Junji Ito in his ability to shock and elicit primal responses through his artwork. For the most part, we are treated to surreal imagery that you won’t find in your average manga, and parodies of both Japanese manga archtypes like Sailor Moon and films such as Full Metal Jacket.

One of the highlights is a rather insane chapter where Yukie reluctantly takes it upon herself to look after three elderly women all by herself who without warning start multiplying at an increasingly fast rate, to the point that they combine together into a creature similar to one found in Akira in a demonstration of senior power whilst demanding their pension. Equally crazy (and hilarious) is a chapter focusing on a superhero reminiscent of Ultraman known as Redman finding himself dependant of carers, and both he and his oversized enemies no longer have the desire or energy to have giant monster battles anymore.

Whilst there is plenty more surreal imagery and parody, Kago also manages to blend his usual bizarre storytelling with some social commentary on Japan – in particular Japan’s declining population, longer life expectancy and the subsequent fear of old age which has spread around the younger generation.  Most of the elderly presented in Demenia 21 are stereotypes, but some are more twisted and exaggerated than others. We have old ladies willing to cut skin off their face with scissors to get rid of wrinkles (which leads to a zombie parody in a manner of speaking) and one paranoid to the point of mania about cleanliness. But the standout has to be the chapter focusing on a woman in despair about the healthiness and exuberance of her mother-in-law who pressures Yukie into wrecking her health so she can get the top free medical care and tax exemption that comes with it. Despite this, Kago never lets the weight of the themes drag down the mood and the ending of this chapter is one of the standout comedic moments in the book.

Any fans of alternative/horror manga and dark humour definitely need to have this on their shelf. Beyond that, anyone looking for something radically different in their manga should look no further than this perfect showcase of Kago’s work.

Dementia 21 is out now from Fantagraphics

9781683961062 – P/B – £20.99

Leave a Reply