Yasushi Suzuki frustrates me. He’s a brilliant artist trying to expand his horizons by branching out from character designs and book covers into manga. Great. Except that twice now he’s tried to do this and gone face-first into the ground. With those odds, I’m not sure I want to hang around for attempt #3.
His first botch was Purgatory Kabuki, which sported a phenomenal concept and some remarkable design concepts, but was so muddy and incoherent I couldn’t recommend it. I’m not using “muddy” metaphorically, either: the pages looked like they’d fallen face-down into a puddle. And now comes Goths Cage, which isn’t quite as incoherent but only because it has proportionally less story. It consists of three short (very short) stories woven together by no particular theme other than that Suzuki wrote them and they are uniformly morbid and semi-pointless.
With Kabuki, Suzuki’s art didn’t even serve the story properly. I hated having to look at the same two panels over and over again to figure out what we were supposed to be looking at or what was going on. A manga is not an artbook, and his sense of layout and framing for the action didn’t seem at all suited to storytelling as such. Goths Cage is not nearly as bad, if only because there’s that much less happening in each story. But it’s still irritating to look at the page and wonder where your eyes are supposed to go next, and so your eyes end up going in circles for minutes on end.
And then there are the stories themselves, which are essentially throwaway mood pieces. None of them develop in more than the most perfunctory ways, and they all end without having accomplished much of anything except being gloomy. The most promising story of the bunch — the last one, about a barber who steals body parts to reanimate his dead wife — could easily be the core of a much larger story, but here it’s given the same cursory attention as everything else. In fact, “cursory” is a good word for the whole book: with a scant 32 pages between its covers, Goths Cage has the dubious distinction of having the least value for money ($13) of any book I’ve seen this year.
Art: As much as I want to lavish praise on Suzuki’s artwork, it’s a mixed bag here for all the same reasons as in Kabuki. When he works in full color he’s unparalleled, but when he drops back to line art his work disintegrates into a haze of indistinct shapes. There’s just enough color art here to give you an idea of how gorgeous his work can be at its best — and entirely too much murk to justify the good parts.
Translation: The minimal text that makes up each story has been translated without any noticeable problems: no obvious signs of retouching, and no major textual mistakes. The odd sound effect here and there has also been redone directly on the page.
The Bottom Line: I keep waiting for Suzuki to come out with something that shows his obvious talents at work — something other than an artbook, that is — and I keep being let down. It’s nothing short of a shame that there are other manga out now that cost half as much, sport ten times the page count, and contain infinitely more creativity. That ain’t right.