by Naoki Urasawa; adapted by Akemi Wegmuller
published by Viz; $12.99 US
I so admire Naoki Urasawa’s skill. Just when my interest in this series was starting to wane a bit — I loved the original idea of contrasting kid friends with adults trying to save the world, but I was less involved with the Buffy-like tough future girl and the self-indulgent manga artist in prison storylines — he reels me back in, both with flashbacks to the characters I missed and by ramping up the action on the jail plot.
When I stop and think about the Shogun character in this series, I giggle, because he’s almost a superhero. He’s ridiculously tough and can do anything due to his determination. He’s basically Wolverine. I’d say he doesn’t really fit in the story, but given that we have killer viruses, giant robots, and secret worldwide conspiracies, I’d be wrong. And I do get a kick out of seeing his now-old-man face with his grumpy frown and his long grey hair when he’s performing outrageous tough guy feats.
Urasawa’s use of standard action manga elements demonstrates that it’s not the raw material, it’s what you do with it. He draws so well and he’s so clearly thought through what he’s doing with these elements that cliched scenes, such as a prison escape chase, become interesting all over again.
I still find the manga artist character, talking about how he gets lost in possible material for his stories or wanting to share his art with the world, drippy. When they start comparing his work to rock’n'roll, my eyes rolled, because I can’t help thinking that it’s the artist praising his chosen art form for being risky and edgy and having the potential to change the world. I’m not particularly fond of comics about making comics, so I concentrated on the excitement and extreme survival nature of the life-risking escape instead.
I also enjoyed the flashback to the kids dreaming of visiting Expo 70, a worldwide exposition held in Osaka and symbolized by the Tower of the Sun. But the artist character does serve one very important role — his desire to capture Shogun on paper leads to the hero telling him, and the reader, more about what happened to Kenji’s crew on that world-changing New Year’s Eve and the sacrifices that were made. Enjoying this series requires patience with the time jumps and waiting to find out more as the artist chooses to reveal his story to you.
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