Issei Sagawa: “This Is A Manga Written By A Cannibalistic Murderer”

 “I just open the page, and the first thing I see is – a half-eaten head.”

If you’re not familiar with the term, “anime” is animation, which can be hand drawn or computer generated. It usually refers to Japanese creations, but in Japan it can apply to any animated work. Usually, anime is used to refer to TV shows or movies, while “manga” usually means graphic novels (comics). There is children’s anime and a whole range of adult material, which regularly wanders into the world of sex and violence.

The manga reviewed in this short YouTube clip (above) embraces both sex and violence, as well as combining those in the form of necrophilia and cannibalism, and does so in graphic detail. It is the autobiographical record of Issei Sagawa, a Japanese man who murdered and cannibalised a young Dutch student named Renée Hartevelt, whom he had befriended at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1981. Sagawa never served time for the act.

Sagawa’s story has been told in many formats, including several documentaries, including The Cannibal Who Walked Free in 2007 and CANIBA in 2017.

Sagawa died in 2022, but he left behind a record of his activities in the form of manga, a comic book, although it was far from comical. In fact, this review on YouTube is on the site “Anime Dork”, described as “a team of passionate anime otakus” (obsessive fans), formed in August 2022, whose reviews are usually fairly light-hearted and humorous.

Not this one. The reviewer, Sydney Poniewaz, who writes under the name sydsnap, is an actress and YouTube star (pushing toward a million subscribers, so very successful), and a True Crime aficionado, particularly fascinated by the often very weird crimes committed in Japan, where she sometimes resides. But she is clearly horrified by the content of the booklet she is holding which, she tells us, is drawn by “an awful human being”, and extracts of which she eventually begins showing us.

She gives a brief synopsis of the case, such as:

“He began to sexually assault her corpse, and then partake in cannibalisation of her body.”

In the manga, she tells us,

“He talked about everything he did to her body: every scent he smelled, every texture he felt, every disgusting brief or prolonged thought throughout any sort of disgusting act he did, which – he does a lot!”

She seems most shocked by the fact that he escaped justice and led the rest of his life a free man, making films including porn, writing books, and even doing restaurant reviews.

“I’m trying to show one image where he’s not being disgusting, but honestly, he always is… he’s talking about how good it felt to murder her, how he wants to do it again.”

So, Sydney did not like the book, which she bought for (no doubt) a lot of money, and then she had to pay lots more to have the Japanese text translated, which she truly seems to regret.

“I do not recommend it. I really, really, really do not recommend it for the faint of heart. I am a pretty hard person to shake in terms of content, but this is probably the most disgusting thing I have ever read.”

There are a lot of comments on the YouTube site, mostly shocked and horrified, and a few are below. I particularly like the one that emphasises that these stories almost always focus on the killer, this one being told by him from his point of view, and rarely the victim. Renée Hartevelt, like Charlene Downes whom we discussed last week, deserves to be remembered for more than just being eaten by another member of her species.

There are more extracts of the manga, if you are interested, in the Caniba documentary, and I captured a few for my review of it. Or if you really want to get into the whole story (and I suppose some readers will), the manga itself is available on eBay, for a hefty price tag.

Why did he do it? The manga makes that pretty clear. He ate Renée for the same reason any of us eat anything – because he wanted to. The outrage that followed is based on the deeply held but mostly unexamined idea, largely based in religion, that humans are somehow separate and above other animals, kind of demi-gods. Issei Sagawa, obviously, did not believe that.


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