Manga Friday: Swords and Psychics
This week was going to be Samurai Week, but I threw in a book about psychics for spice – just to keep it interesting.
Dororo, Vol. 3
By Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, August 2008, $13.95
This is the third and final book in a samurai saga from Tezuka, the “godfather of manga.” (I’ve previously reviewed volume 1 and volume 2 for ComicMix.) I’ve seen references that say this series was truncated rather than continuing to its expected end, and that’s plausible from the book itself.
It does have something like an ending; the swordsman Hyakkimaru confronts and defeats his evil father, and parts from the young thief Dororo (whose secret he’s recently learned). But the stories of these main characters aren’t actually done – Hyakkimaru is not finished with his quest to become human again, and Dororo needs to grow up (and probably to battle some evil feudal lords on behalf of downtrodden farmers).
So this isn’t really the ending one would hope for – it doesn’t cut off, uncompleted, but there clearly were more stories to be told. (On the other hand, Tezuka left off work on Dororo in 1971, and lived for nearly twenty years afterward, which probably means something.) But the individual stories are still exceptionally well-told, in Tezuka’s characteristic clean lines, and the thematic undertones remain under, and deepen rather than threatening to sink the narrative.
Afro Samurai, Vol. 1
By Takashi Okazaki
Tor/Seven Seas, September 2008, $10.99
I’ll admit, up front, that I haven’t seen the TV show based on this series – though I bet several of my readers have. I also suspect Afro Samurai is expected to draw an audience outside of the usual manga readers, particularly since this book has been flopped to read left-to-right. (Which hardly any manga publishers do, anymore – even Vertical, long one of the holdouts, is publishing Dororo in the original Japanese orientation.) Perhaps Seven Seas thinks that Spike TV’s usual audience of drunken frat boys would be unable to figure out a book that reads the “wrong” direction? (Or maybe it’s only me that thinks so little of them.)
Anyway, Afro Samurai is a moody, dark series with a silly premise: the world is run by samurai, who have a very distinct pecking order. The No. 1 samurai – and you will know him by his headband! – can only be challenged by the No. 2 samurai, but, oddly enough, absolutely anyone in the world can fight the No. 2 guy. No. 1 has immense power, by virtue of the mojo in the headband, or something.
The book opens with our title character as a young boy, watching his unnamed father, then the No. 1, lose a duel with a character the back cover calls “a power-hungry gunman called Justice.” (The book itself never names him; it never names most of its characters.) Afro Samurai vows vengeance, yadda yadda yadda, and grows up to become No. 2, at which point the plot begins in earnest.
Afro is the expected laconic killing machine, deadly to nearly everyone around him and without notable emotion. His foes are a weird and twisted lot, but they’ll all fall, eventually – after all, it’s not their names on the cover.
Afro Samurai has a distinctively energetic style, full of washes and fast-moving action. It’s not particularly original, nor does it make a whole lot of sense, but it’s definitely stylish and exciting, which is what the US audience for a samurai story mostly wants.
E’S, Vol. 1
By Satol Yuiga
Broccoli, December 2006, $9.99
E’S is yet another one of the illegitimate spawn of X-Men – though, being Japanese, it also has a fair bit of Akira in its genes, as well. It’s the near future. After national governments have all fallen and been replaced by the rule of cities and corporations, the shadowy Ashurum organization uses psychics for secretive purposes.
Kai Kudou is a young, sheltered psychic – with the requisite massive powers that he doesn’t quite suspect yet – who thinks Ashurum can do no wrong and only works to protect humans and psychics alike (despite the evidence of some of his teammates, such as the psychopathic Shen-Long, who gleefully slaughters humans and wouldn’t mind knocking off Kai, too).
In the city of Gald – supposedly completely destroyed and evacuated, though still in actuality home to many people – a group of guerillas, led by an old man named Erimiya, battle against someone for some purpose. (This is not at all clear. Come to think of it, Ashurum’s goals are also very, very murky at this point.) Erimiya has hired the young hothead gun-for-hire Yuuki to find something called the Sacrament of Calvarias, which is somewhere in Gald.
And then there’s a lot of fighting and running around, plus a large dose of angst as Kai is smacked repeatedly with the cluestick and learns a bit more about how this world actually works.
E’S looks like it will be a lot of violent fun, once it settles its backstory and starts explaining what’s actually going on. At this point – after two hundred pages – we know there are two sides who want something, but we don’t know much about either side, and haven’t even caught a glimpse of the “something.” But the scenes of things blowing up (and people attacking each other with guns and psychic powers) are worth it, for now.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.