Dogs: Prelude is exactly that — a teaser for the main attraction to come, which explains why it’s numbered “0” and is entertaining without actually adding up to much. I suspect that’s not entirely the book’s fault, though: if you walk in knowing this is going to be all setup and introduction, it’s pretty enjoyable. That said, it’s still only a stage-setter: the real opening act comes in August, when volume 1 proper of Dogs hits the shelves. I have to be fair, though, and review what I’ve read and not what I hope to read.
Set in some unnamed European city, Dogs 0 compiles four stories about the intersecting lives of a whole slew of low- and no-lifes: gun- and knife-toting assassins, camera-snapping “information dealers”, doe-eyed mutant maidens in distress, and a couple of warring Cosa Nostra gangs for good measure. It’s got a fair dose of the absurdly over-the-top action spectacle of Black Lagoon (another fine Viz presentation), plus some of the noir grit and tough-guy moralism of Frank Miller’s Sin City. I wouldn’t yet put it up there with the former, let alone the latter, but my curiosity’s been piqued.Read more
Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie … the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them. [Such films] engage me so immediately and powerfully that I lose my detachment, my analytical reserve. The movie’s happening, and it’s happening to me. — Roger Ebert, in his 1977 review of Star Wars
Four times in a row I sat down and tried to put into words how I felt about 20th Century Boys. And in the end I’ve resorted to quoting Ebert, because, damn it all, he said it best. The best manga make you forget you’re reading a manga. You are simply having an experience, one that stands off the page the way the best 3-D movies couldn’t ever stand off the screen.
The first volume of Boys dropped you right into both the story and Urasawa’s way of telling the story. Like his monster Monster before it, this one spans decades, continents, and whole families of characters, so just parking us at one end of the timeline and pushing us headfirst through the whole thing in chronological order wasn’t going to cut it. It’s told in timestreams as fragmented and cross-weaved as the plotlines for movies like Traffic or Syriana. After those so-called Hyperlink Films, where a word in one scene leads us to a major discovery in another, here’s Hyperlink Manga. In Boys, a single half-seen image can cut loose avalanches of memory and plotlines worthy of whole books unto themselves.Read more
What we have here is a transitional volume of the Guin Saga manga, designed to get us out of one plot arc and into another. It spirits our heroes away from Stafolos Keep, out from the clutches of Count Vanon (if that is Count Vanon, but that’s another story), and ends the raid of the Sem on the fortress — leaving behind plenty of tools for survival that our heroes will need as they cross the River Kes and head for … well, more adventure. As Indiana Jones rather testily said the first time around when someone asked him for details on his plan to wrest the Ark of the Covenant away from its Nazi thieves: “I don’t know; I’m making this up as I go.”
It does sometimes feel like they’re making it up as they go. Even though I know for a fact this whole arc of the story was completed more than thirty years back, and over a hundred other books have been written for the original series since. One odd little advantage of coming back to the very first books and revisiting them as manga is how both the audience and the creators themselves know what’s going to happen. To that end I’m noticing a great many changes, albeit minor ones, that seem to be along those lines — although I’m at a disadvantage since I haven’t read that far ahead. I think the total number of people who speak English and read Japanese who have read that far ahead (that I know, anyway) could be counted on one hand with plenty of fingers left over … and I have better taste than to bug Yanni about what happens. God knows he’s busy enough with his publishing company. Read more
There is no one best thing about Vertical, Inc.’s ongoing reissues of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. It’s a panopoly of good and best things. Not only are we getting a pivotal manga title in English, it’s one from a man without whose work we probably wouldn’t have manga as we know it. It also serves as a crash course in old-school / roots manga reading — if you like this, there’s lots more to like in the same vein, and not just from this author — and, before I get too swamped in what sounds like an academic discussion, it’s fun. If the story of a black-market surgeon who gets paid in suitcases full of banknotes and heals the parts others doctors do not reach doesn’t turn your head, then go get yourself checked out; you’ve probably stopped breathing.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Black Jack by now, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly — even if some of those fools come in the form of his paying patients. Or, as is the case at least as often, patients who don’t pay, but whom he treats out of his burgeoning sense of duty. It’s easier for him to say that seeing someone in pain offends his sensibilities than to admit he’s an idealist. Consider “Lost and Found”, the episode where Black Jack uses a little under-the-table emotional manipulation to ensure one of his patients pays up — although it’s more for the sake of convincing the other man about what’s really most important in his life. Or “From Afar”, where Black Jack uses competition between surgeons as a ruse to save an innocent boy’s life. Read more
Samurai 7 isn’t a bad manga, just as the anime of the same name isn’t a bad anime. But I had the same problem with both of them: Why remake Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai — arguably one of the greatest films ever made in any language or era — and add little or nothing to the original story but length and convolution? I’m not against remakes in principle — I’m against them when they don’t add anything.
When Kurosawa’s estate licensed Yojimbo — another great movie of his — to Bandai for an anime remake, that wasn’t as problematic since Yojimbo was itself a remake, albeit a distant and uncredited one, of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. Bandai went back to the original novel and used that as the most direct inspiration for the final product, and ended up with one of the more underrated shows they’ve ever put out. It’s a textbook example of how to do this sort of thing right.
But Seven Samurai was an original — a template-setter rather than a template-follower, like John Ford’s Stagecoach or Hitchcock’s Psycho, or (oh, irony!) Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, also slated for a live-action remake. Why remake something that’s peerless? Because there’s money to be made from a name brand, be it Kurosawa or Seven Samurai, and after a long enough time all the sacred cows eventually get ground up into hamburger.
And so now we have Samurai 7, a franchise that included a TV series, a video game, and now this manga adaptation to round out the product line. What’s curious about Samurai 7 is how it manages to be faithful to the original story without ever quite recapturing the original’s electricity or spirit. It has the words, and even some of the notes, but somehow not the music. By itself it’s perfectly okay, but in the shadow of its older brother it bulks terribly tiny — and I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that there is literally no way for me to review one without talking about the other. If you’re like me, you’re going to have a hard time getting used to the idea that this new Samurai story is more or less about guys cutting spaceships in half. Read more