Dominion dates back from 1986, but I don’t mean “dates” in the sense that it’s “dated.” In fact, it’s probably one of the better things Masamune Shirow has done: it’s relatively easy to follow, funny, spirited, and doesn’t confuse story with mere ideas.
The problem I’ve long had with Shirow is that while he’s a fantastic visualizer and has thrown away more ideas than most people ever have, he’s been a pretty scattershot storyteller. Or, maybe better to say that over time he’s subordinated storytelling to simply throwing big uncooked lumps of ideas at the reader, and most of his best work is not really his but rather the work derived from his core concepts. Case in point: Ghost in the Shell. The original comic is actually only okay, and its follow-ups are virtually (pun intended) incoherent. It’s what other people have done with the idea that have really shone. Mamoru Oshii’s two films were dreamtime meditations on the ideas and characters brought up in the book, but it was Kenji Kamiyama’s TV series and subsequent movie that really kicked the whole thing up to the level where it deserved to be.
Dominion, on the other hand, is good-to-great as it is. People will probably recognize Dominion as the inspiration for the OVA Dominion: Tank Police (available domestically thanks to U.S. Manga Corps), and indeed it has just about the same story. It’s set in a dystopian future where the air has become unbreathably bad, the buildings are grown instead of being constructed, the cops drive tanks (hence the “Tank Police”) and do about as much damage to the city as the criminals do. What stands out most about this story is the tone: the whole thing is essentially played as industrial-strength slapstick that doesn’t take itself terribly seriously, with only the occasional bit of trademark Shirow idea-tripping at the end of chapters.
The closest thing we get to a protagonist among the Tank Police (since they’re all such dippy loons) is Leon Ozaki—one of many headstrong women in Shirow’s catalog—who is more attached to her beloved tank “Bonaparte” than most anything else in her world, including many of her fellow cops. The lot of them were deputized to go after Buaku, Public Enemy Number One (and possibly Two through Five as well), but have engendered so much collateral damage in their quest for justice that people fear them more than the likes of Buaku.
One day the Tank Police take down one of Buaku’s hideouts, and find someone … some thing … that they weren’t expecting: a fairy-like creature with wings and green skin. They dub her “Greenpeace,” and it’s a pretty appropriate name: she’s a kind of walking bio-filter that ingests pollution and excretes fresh air. Small wonder Buaku would be interested in having her in this polluted future, and it isn’t long before Buaku and the Tank Police get into a violent tug-of-war over who gets to keep her and why.
Like most of Shirow’s books, the plot is not really the point—it’s just a clothesline onto which he pins an assortment of action sequences, visual gags, situational humor, and character tropes. And most of this stuff is, indeed, pretty funny: Leon’s running gag is that she’s more in love with her tank than she could be with any other person—no, not even Al Cu Ad Solte, her handsome and hapless partner who only has eyes for her and despairs if she would ever think of him as anything other than something cluttering up space inside her precious armored vehicle. Buaku and his gang also unleash their own brand of broad comic relief—especially the eye-candy cat-girl sisters Annapuma and Unipuma, who sport punk rock fashions and tear around on muscle bikes and blow stuff up in fine style.
Shirow is about as fascinated with over-the-top comedic buildup as he is machines and technology, and there’s no doubt he’s fascinated with the latter as he gives us a whole afterword in which he talks about the benefits and drawbacks of tanks as combat weapons. But most of the fun comes from watching Shirow meld the highbrow, high-tech, and lowbrow stuff all on the same page. At one point the Puma sisters are being chased through their own ship by Leon in her tank, and they wail “We’re trapped like rats in a Klein bottle!” If that gives you a giggle, you’re probably the default audience for this book.
Dominion’s something of a staple for a variety of reasons—its creator is legend; the storyline itself is a riot; and if you’re a newcomer to the whole anime/manga thing from other comics or from SF generally, it’s a fine way to get introduced to it. Something I recommend regardless of where you’re coming from.