Greetings everyone! After a brief hiatus due to all kinds of unforeseen problems here at Manga Island home base, we're back in full summer manga swing. I've got a huge backlog of great books, but this week I wanted to review two that have stuck with me recently. They are tried and true genre pieces with enough unique and enjoyable elements that I had to spread the word about them from across the Island.
In Japan, there is no shortage of cyborg, samurai, and supernatural revenge manga. However, Kei Toume's "Kurogane" finds a way to take these well used elements, throws in a dose of Pinocchio, and an element of Vampire Hunter D's traveling companion, and comes out with an interesting (though not completely groundbreaking) and really fun book. It's sure to please casual fans of "Kenshin" and "Samurai Champloo", who might be looking for a little samurai steampunk with a dose of "Robocop" or "Frankenstein" (depending on how you look at it thrown in for good measure.
The tragic story of the clockwork samurai Jintetsu begins oddly enough, with his ignoble death after being attacked of a pack of dogs. Hunted and feared for his skill as an assassin, Jintetsu didn't expect that a pack of dogs and unskilled samurai would be his undoing, nor did he expect to wake up in a genius inventor's workshop reborn as a mute, gear-driven tool of revenge. The inventor Genikichi decides to furnish a new steel body for Jintetsu, in order to get help in extracting vengeance against a corrupt samurai clan. Unfortunately for Jintetsu when it is all over, he is stuck in an unfeeling cyborg body, minus vocal abilities, and only one of his eyes. In order to speak, he must carry with him a sentient sword (also of Genkichi's invention) with an attitude. Free to be a wandering assassin again, Jintetsu returns to his former village, which has tried to cover up his past. The fact that he has a new steel face may hide his identity from most prying eyes (and call attention to himself as well), but it is hard to hide his love for his former girlfriend and the fact he would still like revenge for his slain father (the event that started him on the path to becoming an assassin). Tragedy seems to fallow Jintetsu wherever he goes, as a human or cyborg, and even though he lacks a beating heart, it is still hard for him to deal with all of the past he left behind.
While many of these tragic elements may seem familiar to samurai manga readers, there are nice touches here and there throughout the book. Kei Toume's style in "Kurogane" is a combination of typical manga realism (like "Blade of the Immortal"), juxtaposed by the cute doll-like Jintetsu, and his huge one eye with bangs over his non functional right eye. It is an interesting that when he becomes a steel and gears cyborg, Jintetsu becomes even more cutesy than before. His manga-cute look is an odd counterpoint to the carnage and bloodletting that is scattered throughout the book. Even his often blood-soaked sword has a large eye, used to show its emotion. While Jintetsu's design may suggest a sometimes comedic drama, "Kurogane" is a tragic tale through and through. Additional art touches, such as the demon filled splash pages influenced by traditional Japanese paintings, stylized sound effects that mix in steel and rivets for certain Jinsetsu-related sounds, a few pages of charcoal-look art, and even some cyborgs-eye view shots round out and add a unique feel to Kei Toume's classic manga style artwork. Of course, Del Rey continues their solid tradition of stellar extras and liner notes.
Meanwhile, from the Western side of Manga Island, Ross Campbell weighs in with a tried and true zombie tale, this time set in the deep south. After a hurricane sweeps through the small Georgia town of Buffalora, an unexplained phenomenon brings the dead to life and kills the adults swelling the ranks of the legions of the undead.
On the surface, "The Abandoned" is a fairly, by-the-book zombie horror story, however Campbell's slice-of-life characters and how they deal with the zombie attack are really what sets the book apart from other zombie films. Punk rock lesbians, a single mom, a recently separated gay couple, along with a trash talking overweight tough girl round out the survivors of the zombie holocaust. Campbell breathes life into this atypical cast of characters, down to the local Southern vernacular. It is always hard to write accents that sound believable; Campbell captures the flavor of Georgia well. Having lived in the South for my entire life, and also having known a couple of punk rock lesbians, I found the characters to be pretty believable. I've also seen more than a few derelict people in Savannah that would pass for zombies without much of a stretch (and the rickety houses in the area, wouldn't hold off zombie attacks either!). There is also some great zombie humor with "feature" zombies in wheelchairs, riding rascals, sporting cool band t-shirts and the like. I'm not sure why only B-movies seem to pick up on zombies in the south, the humidity, summer heat, forests, swamps and squalid city areas make for great zombie genre pieces, and "The Abandoned" relishes in this. Having seen last years post Katrina devastation at my parent's house, the hurricane induced calamity in the comic is co-incidentally even more real and scary. The main character, Rylie and her small group of survivors feel like real people, make realistic mistakes and unfortunately have to pay for every one of them as any zombie fan knows.
Tokyopop takes a few stylistic risks with the book, as the art style and execution is not nearly as Japanese influenced as other books in their Global Manga line. Campbell has a unique style that will probably be a make or break for fans who look for Tokyopop's lineup more traditional shojou and shonen style books. The characters are rendered realistically, thick or skinny, young and old, and none of them are idealized. Rylie, is the antithesis of slim sexpot comic book heroines, and is that much more believable because of it. I think it's interesting that the company is giving talented artists a chance to do books that don't necessarily fit that mold. The book is also published on slick paper in a mix of grays and reds that suits this tale of horror well. It's a great choice for gore hounds, since all the eye-stabbing, gut-tearing, flesh-ripping gore is rendered in bright red. The grayscale rendering is different from other books in the Global manga lineup, but it makes for some interesting tonal choices in the night scenes, and any of the scenes with the persistent rainstorms. A nice art gallery and preview of "East Coast Rising" round out the book nicely.
The book may not be for all manga fans, but if you are looking for a solid zombie story by a true fan of Romero and Fulci (as well as monster movies from Japan, as Campbell relays in his bio and on his website), you won't be disappointed. Between "Kurogane" and "The Abandoned", this week on Manga Island proves that being a genre piece doesn't necessarily mean the artist has to tread all the same territory. I'm looking forward to more books like these, and I hope that Tokyopop continues to foster original artists. Thanks for returning to Manga Island yet again, I've missed it and plan to stay on the island regularly from here out. Best wishes from the Island to everyone at Comic-Con as well, I hope to see you next year, but for now I'll be contented reading all the great books that wash up on the Eastern and Western shores!
Publisher: Del Rey
Volume 1 of 5
Rating: Mature (Bloody Violence, Nudity, Adult Themes)
Volumes 1 of ?
Rating: Older Teen (Extreme Gory Violence, Adult Situations)
Links of interest:
Ross Campbell's site (learn the trials and tribulations of a comic artist!)