story by Eiji Otsuka; art by Housui Yamazaki; adapted by Carl Gustav Horn
published by Dark Horse; $10.95 US
Book 8 is a better starting point, if you’re picking up the series in the middle, but I thought this volume had some interesting things to say about fame and the movies.
The first story is a one-shot, about a robot powered by a zombie with a video game for a brain chip. It’s full of fan humor, making fun of gamers and other obsessive types. I found myself wishing for a refresher about the names of the core characters — it’s been too long since I’ve read any books from this series — but the personalities shone through in this adventure, and the black humor was a nice, light diversion from the more disturbing material to follow.
The rest of the book contains two multi-chapter stories touching on different aspects of the desire for and damages from fame. The first involves the investigation of a bizarre plastic surgery clinic, promising to give its customers the ears of Saori Kurotani. Saori is a reclusive, retired actress with an elfin appearance, much like a Japanese Audrey Hepburn, and the clinic claims to be licensing her face, in bits and pieces. Of course, the explanation is much more disturbing — after a digression into current science, growing ears on mice with stem cells, the story takes a turn into revenge and morbid fantasy. Carriers of the surgical changes grow jinmenso, a type of haunting where someone else’s face appears on their body. Did the girls bring this on themselves by trying to acquire famous beauty by payment? There’s also some talk about how far the desire to follow fashion trends might go in future, enabled by technology. It’s a fascinating blend of science fiction and poetic justice ghost story.
The art is distinctive and attractive, with expressive characters who seem like real people, in spite of their weird death abilities or fascinations. The images of some of the vengeance-seeking spirits are shocking, sure to stick with you in their potency, and well-chosen for their message.
The second story takes the team to a movie set. An older, respected director may be past his prime, being prompted by his assistant. Makino, normally known for her embalming, is hired to do special effects makeup, but more is going on than just a murder mystery on film. The tale winds up being about how some might be seduced into going too far for their craft, especially when they feel overlooked and “due” for more credit. It’s a cautionary tale, with an odd evocation of a Scooby-Doo episode (although with the opposite message — there really are ghosts in this world) and a nice layer of humor. I found myself thinking that while great art is important and inspiring, nothing’s worth going this far.