This week on Manga Island, we visit the area of the Island populated by tough girls and B movie escapism. Horror and Crime Noir are the order of the day and "Reiko Zombie Shop" and "Hard Boiled Angel" bring these elements on in spades.
Rei Mikamoto's "Reiko the Zombie Shop" is an enjoyable gore fest that combines the most fun elements of stories in the vein of "Creepshow," "Tales from the Crypt" and EC comics, of course with an Asian horror slant. When I picked it up, I didn't know quite what to expect, after reading the first volume, I can say I'm totally hooked on this pulpy horror gem. It's not deep, but the copious amounts of action, gore, and dark comedy make for an enjoyable horror romp.
Reiko is a Necromancer for hire (the "Zombie Shop" of the title), bringing back the dead for extra pocket money, and the chance to find out why the dead have met their demise. She will take almost any mission if the client pays the bill. Her power to raise the dead is a dangerous one, as the murdered dead always want revenge. Of course, constantly calling for help from Satan certainly can't be a good thing. Reiko seems unconcerned with her reliance her demonic powers, and instead plunges head first into resurrecting the dead for anyone who has the money or to help the dead extract bloody revenge on their killers. The stories are for the most part episodic and range from simple cases of discovering why person died by resurrecting them, helping to solve murder cases, to one of my favorites; fulfilling a dying rock stars final wish by being there for his last concert, just in case he expires and must become a zombie to continue his swan song show. The danger always being that any dead around when Reiko casts her zombifying spell are brought back immediately. Resurrecting someone in a graveyard, for example, is ill advised.
The tone of the book is very dark and somewhat blasphemous (one of the chapter breaks even has Reiko using a crucifixion statuette as a slingshot), so this one is definitely not for the young or easily offended. As is the case with some supernatural manga, for the most part Western Christian beliefs are often used for effect, they just don't hold the same weight as they do here in the West. Therefore this cavalier attitude towards the darks arts and religion is another example that makes certain manga stories so different culturally. It's not meant to be offensive for offense sake, as is often seen in many "edgy" post modern books from the bigger western comics publishers. Instead, Rei Mikamoto uses elements that he thought was interesting to tell his horror story. Dark Horse seems willing to take chances on releasing adult books uncensored, necromancy and exploding viscera intact.
The art for "Reiko the Zombie Shop" is an interesting mix of realistic gore and shojo-like characters. Reiko herself is usually in a very traditionally clich schoolgirl sailor outfit, and is a typical buxom pony tailed manga girl. Her saucer like eyes and features that are usually reserved for emotional girls manga stand in sharp contrast to detailed background and over abundance of gruesomely rendered gore. Young characters normally reserved for younger, lighter hearted manga are rendered next to creepy looking people and scenes of violence that every bit as brutal as R rated slasher films and even more detailed than some Vertigo horror titles. Rei Mikamoto actually makes this work through his clever uses of ink and tone, along with his own dynamic action sensibilities. I wouldn't think that combining these shojo and bloody horror art qualities would work as well as they do in "Reiko the Zombie Shop," but the elements play of each other well.
Fain of Asian horror and B movies should definitely pick up this book. If you are at all offended by the necromancy and Satanic parts of the story, or the copious amounts of blood, severed and blown apart heads and the like, you should pass this one up. For fans of episodic horror shows, movies such as "Reanimator," and magazines like Fangoria, this is a manga that you won't be let down by. There's no deep theme here, just lots of butt kicking zombie resurrection and destruction. If you always wanted to know what Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Peter Jackson's manga love child might look like, here it is.
In an equally pulpy and just as enjoyable story, Hyun Se Lee brings us the crime novel from Korea with "Hard Boiled Angel." Hyun Se Lee's own foreword on how the color blue has changed from hope to a metallic blue reminder of the dark side of life and shadows that lurk around the corner for all of us sets the tone for this aptly titled hard boiled tale.
"Hard Boiled Angel" is very much the comic equivalent of late night Cinemax action movies and Hong Kong movies such as "Naked Killer" and "Black Cat." Jiran Ha is the super tough female cop who heads up the Hard Crimes Unit. As a member of the unit that's responsible for dealing with homicidal maniacs, stalkers and perverse criminals, officer Jiran has had to prove that she is as tough or tougher than her male counterparts on a daily basis. It's up to Jiran to find ways to be the tough cop she needs to be and still retain her femininty and some shred of the innocence she once had before joining the force. She wears her mirrored shades like a shield and both cops and criminals alike are uneasy when they see themselves in those silver lenses.
Hyun Se Lee's art style is a mix of hardcore action, full of hot "babes" and disgusting criminals. However, it is not uncommon for him to juxtapose cartoony expressions and caricature seen in comical manga, as super deformed features share the same page as extremely detailed vehicles and settings. Hyun Se Lee appears to be a big fan of '80s influenced fashion and he renders all the clothing with an eye for detail as well. All of these elements of Lee's art come together in a very cinematic way. While reading "Hard Boiled Angel," you can almost hear the sirens and see the dirty haze that is the staple of gritty crime dramas.
Central Park Media has done an excellent job in bringing a huge volume of crime drama to fans of this genre. For those of us who dig a good late night cop story, four stories and two hundred and fifty plus pages is a pretty good deal. The story has all the hallmarks that fans have come to expect, despicable villains, tough cops, and gratuitous violence and sex. That doesn't make it any less gripping or take away from Hyun Se Lee's ability to give his readers what they want. Fans of "Sin City" and the like who might have skirted manga and manwha before could do worse than to check this book out. It's pulpy and cool in all the ways that it should be, and quite a steal for the price versus page count.
Reading these two books reminded me of how enjoyable B movie style books can be. These stories are there for shear entertainment and are easy to pick up and put down, in a good way. I'm glad that companies like Dark Horse and Central Park Media see the value of releasing entertaining adult stories. Although I believe that the market of manga for very young children is still woefully underserved and should be bolstered, recent press releases from several companies have shown that there is a lot of support coming for the opposite end of the manga reading public with more and more horror and action titles coming for older teen and adults. I'm very interested in seeing how this changes the face of Manga Island, it's good to know that companies are going for stories that appeal to readers who have already grown up on manga and comics and are ready to pick up these titles. If it means more tough girls and escapist stories, I'll be back to this area of Manga Island a lot more in the future.
Reiko The Zombie Shop
Publisher: Dark Horse
Rating: M (Mature) for gory violence and coarse language
Hard Boiled Angel
Rating: 16+ for violence, nudity and adult situations
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 Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. 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.