story by Youzaburou Kanari; art by Kuroko Yabuguchi; adapted by Lance Caselman
published by Viz; $9.99 US
I was finding this series about a genius special effects creator a little forgettable and fluffy — Kohei solves some outrageous problem through some makeup and explosions, repeat — when I hit this installment. The major story included in this volume surprised me with the concept it took on.
First, there’s a two-part challenge story — Kohei has a job making up an actor as a yakuza for a movie, but the actor keeps saying that the makeup isn’t good enough. Kohei has to use his brains, not just his skills, to figure out what the actor sees in the role and execute it. He demonstrates his dedication to his art by working himself to the point of exhaustion before solving the puzzle.
By revealing a previously unsuspected scar on Kohei’s hand, this short piece leads into the longer “Field of Dreams”, which combines
- an executive willing to sacrifice customers’ health to save his family business
- an aspiring actress, friend of Kohei’s, who is hired to advertise the product
- a conspiracy to mislead the public, using Kohei’s work
- the reason behind Kohei’s scar
- a flashback to more of Kohei’s history in Hollywood
- the origin of the sacred silver spatula Kohei uses to create his effects
What astounded me most, though, was the emotion behind Kohei’s passion to tell the audience the truth. When he was in Hollywood, he experienced anti-Japanese bias from a young man whose father was fired when his factory was bought out by a Japanese businessman. As the story continues, there’s an anti-bullying message, foes who become friends, reactions to 9/11, and most surprisingly, a government conspiracy to drive military enlistment.
The important part of all this is Kohei’s mentor warning him of “the danger of images”. People believe what they see, and these special effects geniuses who create realistic fantasy images have to be responsible in what they allow their work to be used for. By not paying attention to his client, Kohei allowed the government to create propaganda that resulted in his friend enlisting and dying in Iraq.
This is awfully heavy stuff for a previously escapist movie fantasy. Many threads are woven together in this story, several of which could have been awfully pathetic or cliched, but for me, they stayed on the right side of balance. The art’s got all the drama and expression needed to keep the story moving and the reader involved.
Most powerful for me was the discussion Kohei and his co-workers have about the way 90s Hollywood movies stereotyped the Japanese as villains because the U.S. was concerned about their economic power. It leads into the declaration that movies “want to tell us what to believe” and concern over the influence of U.S. movies around the world. This isn’t a perspective I’ve had a lot of exposure to, and it’s refreshing, if somewhat overstated. Kohei’s final message, “Images can lie! Think for yourself!” is the best legacy of the series.
The rest of the book consists of a one-chapter piece about using tricks to advertise an energy drink and the beginning of a story about a teen singer with attitude. Both feature nude girl fan service, just in case the main story felt too heavy. The one about the pop star who’s come to hate singing because of yet-unrevealed reasons has promise, and it’s good to see the downsides of working in entertainment presented to balance out Kohei’s love of his work.