Dogs: Bullets & Carnage. Truth in advertising. Or, at least, a declaration of attitude. Manga noir, we could call it: a dark, stylish world where the outfits are vintage Harajuku, the guns are wartime surplus, and the swords are classic Muramasa. Like Sin City before it, everything is shades of gray as expressed in the starkest of blacks and whites — but with a tot more Spooky Cute on top.
You J-Culture fans should know what I mean by Spooky Cute. It’s that mix of endearing and blood-curdling that you see in everything from Tim Burton movies to Junko Mizuno’s artwork. It manifested back in “volume zero” of this series, Dogs: Prelude, and it shows up here as well in the form of the Hardcore Twins, Luki and Noki. They’re a pair of death merchants that only look like cute little girls dolled up in pink-and-black outfits; the inside cover spread and the chapter titles hint at the colors, even if the interior art doesn’t. And from their sleeves, they produce guns and knives that are about the size of small schoolbuses. They arrive, they giggle, they devastate, and then link arms and skip off into the sunset. Kids these days.
What’s their story? They’re from “below” — the massive factory under this strange city where people like Luki and Noki were stamped out like biscuits. War machines, that’s what they are — made to kill, and made for who knows what kind of war or what sort of warring faction. Many others like them exist “up here” as well — like Heine, the Mauser-wielding “Stray Dog” who can be stabbed and shot and still comes back for more. Prelude gave us our first glimpse of him along with his sometime sidekick, the eyepatch-sporting, chain-smoking, trigger-happy Badou. The latter gets deadly aggressive whenever he runs out of smokes — but the former is just deadly aggressive, period, and that whole not-dying thing only adds to the intimidation factor. When they’re not shooting others, they’re getting shot at: in one hilarious extended sequence, Mauser and Badou crouch behind a support pillar that’s being shredded by gunfire and throw barbed one-liners back and forth at each other. It’s like Bob & Ray as scripted by Frank Miller.
So how did these two end up getting shot at, apart from that being their karma in a book like this? A crossing of paths with another character we learned about in the Prelude: Naoto, the girl with the X-shaped scar across her chest like a failed heart surgery and a sword that looks like it was dipped in lacquer. She’s come to the same information broker as Mauser and Badou — “Granny” Liza — seeking information about her past, about the man who trained her without mercy or pity to become a killer. Liza knows of this man; word has it he left a trail of other people like her. Not killers, exactly, but staunch survivors — people ready to face the coming maelstrom.
They don’t have long to wait for one, either. First these two pig-faced dolts come in and start shooting — “pig-faced” not being an euphemism here; many people in this town sport animal faces and angel’s wings. Then Luki and Noki arrive and really start tearing things up, and soon it’s every man for himself and God against all and the devil take the hindmost. It takes Badou running out of smokes for the tide to turn (one wonders what mayhem that guy would unleash if he ever tried to quit), but the end result isn’t so much a pile of bodies stacked like cordwood as it is a revelation. “Who am I supposed to hate?” Naoto asks herself. The people who made these creatures; the man who trained her to kill; those lurking even further back in the shadows?
Back when I looked at Dogs 0, my take was “It’s good but not great, but let’s see how the main event shapes up.” The main event is now well under way, in much the same tone as the lead-in. It’s a little sketchier and ethereal than, say, Black Lagoon — that is, if one could use the word ethereal to refer to any story where things get shot up real good. But fans of the Lagoon ought to look into this for a different take on the whole heroic-bloodshed mythos. One that features cute girls with wings, if that doesn’t spoil the fun for you.