Venturing away from the influential manga of the past and back into the realm of recent manga, Akihito Yoshitomi's "Ray" brings high tension medical drama, tales of revenge, a little bit of sci-fi, and a smattering of the supernatural to Manga Island. I was never sold on Akihito Yoshitomi's "Eat-man," although I thought the design and setup for that series was very cool. "Ray's"' storytelling and visual style however, has made me a total convert to Yoshitomi's works.
The first thing that drew me to "Ray" was the iconic cover, a mixture of stark black and white, almost "Sin City" rendition of the title character, against a small anime-cell like vignette of other characters in the manga. Ray has my favorite look for anime and manga heroines; long dark hair, blue eyes, cool clothes, and an air of toughness. Putting the fanboy in me aside, after turning over to the back and reading the synopsis, I knew there was a reason that I had to have this one on Manga Island. I do recommend that the first time reader skip the second paragraph of the synopsis (if you read it at all) and wait for the awesome two page spread reveal in chapter three. Although there are hints that there is something superhuman about Ray, the visual reveal of this ability is one of the coolest manga moments I've read lately.
The idea of being a doctor for hire has been done before in one of my other manga favorites, Osamu Tezuka's "Blackjack" (which is also worth checking out in classic manga form, and newer subtitled DVD format [I can't say that I dig any of the various dubs of "Blackjack"anime]) and I was wondering how close "Ray" would be to that seminal classic. "Ray" brings new concepts to the premise, and is even more suspenseful in some areas where I sometimes find "Blackjack" lacking. Tezuka fans should pay close attention to the opening pages and the end of chapter one for a couple of nice cameo bits.
Though the "Ray" manga is primarily a medical drama, it differs from "Blackjack" and others in the genre by introducing the revenge element to the story. The organ harvesting organization is still out there, and Ray means to track them down and make them pay. As the story unravels, Ray encounters more henchmen of the evil organization and their mysterious "H" crest rings, as well as more unfortunate orphans of the organ farm. When Ray realizes that the organ farm kids are used like lab rats for unknown biological tests, she is galvanized to take the evil organization down, not only for herself, but for the sake of all the disposable children still in its clutches.
"Ray" begins with Ray herself being hired by a group of bank robbing criminals to operate on one of their own. Ray's expertise is always available for the right price, no matter what side of the law the patient is on. Ray brings her own set of specialized tools and bag of tricks on every mission, and her extraordinary power is a boon when plying her trade. Ray isn't typical hired gun; however, she truly cares for her patients and is willing to put herself in danger to make sure a client survives, even risking severe injury at times. Her past that scarred her so profoundly also forged her resolve and sense of right and wrong as sharp as her scalpel. Ray's expertise and willingness to operate illegally for the price is not just a service for criminals. As the manga progresses, she takes on cases involving prototype artificial hearts, mysterious immune diseases, tumors that seem to have a mind of their own, mind controlling parasites, and even more bizarre and supernatural medical emergencies. This diversity keeps the pace going and pages turning, I found myself wondering what new ailment would come up, and how Ray's expertise would come into play in each case.
Ray isn't alone in her quest for knowledge and revenge, as Akihito Yoshitomi includes a rich set of background characters to accompany Ray on her missions and her own personal quest. The supporting cast includes a mysterious inventor and tech junkie who provides Ray with her equipment (including bio-tech such as his self-made artificial heart and Ray's signature electronic scalpels), cute martial arts nurses with glasses, and the fellow organ farm children named by their defining features such as Blue Marble, and Red Ribbon. Rounding out the over-the-top cast is the head of the Sawa Clinic that Ray calls home, The Director. A huge, imposing man mountain that looks more at home in a fighting game (complete with sports a wild beard, eye patch and peg leg) and has no problems with dispatching martial arts justice to anyone who causes trouble for anyone under his care at Sawa Clinic. The Director allows Ray to use the clinic for her unlicensed medical procedures and seems to provide a home for the rest of the kung-fu nurses he employs. As a mentor and authority figure, he goes to great lengths to protect Ray and rest of his charges, bringing some of the more amazing (and sometimes comedic) fights to the story.
"Ray" is a manga that I wish was being adapted into anime immediately. It has great action sequences, intense "The clock is ticking!" medical drama, revenge subplots, a kung fu nursing staff, and plenty of twists and turns. That's everything I could want in a manga, topped of with some cool cameos and in jokes. Akihito Yoshitomi also really outdoes himself in the art department as well. His anatomical drawings are pretty fantastic (and necessary for the subject matter),and he also seems to be at home drawing vehicles, city environments, and fight scenes that would be a perfect fit in most martial arts manga. The facial features of certain characters are sometimes a little rushed, but the cool fashion design and over all presentation and feel of the world of "Ray" more than make up for this. I always liked the design of "Eat Man," and I was impressed that Yoshitomi is able to make the world of this manga so realistic and so far out at the same time.
I believe "Ray" is an excellent book for people just getting in to manga, as it combines realism with over- the-top elements in such a fluid manner. Although it may not appeal to those people who just want "House" or "ER," it might be just the thing for comic fans looking for a little "Buffy" with their "Medical Investigation" style drama. Manga fans should feel right at home with "Ray" and the elements that make manga so rewarding to read. Ray is a cool edgy anti-heroine for female audiences with a look sure to appeal to male fans as well. In addition, there are cute guy characters, tough gangsters, ribbon haired teens, tough car chases, love stories and shoot outs, all blended into a book that leans a little more to the shonen side of manga, but with potentially broad appeal to male and female readers alike. I'm eagerly anticipating how things turn out for Ray in the third volume. It definitely cannot come quick enough to the shores of Manga Island.
Volumes available: 1-2 (of 3)
Rating: Mature (16+)
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.