Prophecy Volume 1
The figure on the cover of Prophecy is “Paperboy”, a vigilante who covers his head in newspaper when he goes online to promise revenge through underground video postings from internet cafes. All his victims were previously brought to public attention online, whether a company that caused a number of food poisoning cases or a guy who stupidly blamed a rape victim for being “easy”. Although the internet punished them with boycotts or personal attacks, Paperboy takes payback into the real world. Some of his revenge schemes are clever or ironic; others simply violent.
He’s being chased by a Tokyo police unit formed to specialize in internet crime. As the book opens, they’re arresting a junior high kid who’s been accused of uploading pirated video games. He thinks of himself as some kind of fighter for freedoms, but he’s quickly shown how misguided his self-justification is, as those who took advantage of his offerings quickly turn on him once he gets in trouble, laughing at his rationalizations. The attention and affection of an online group are fickle things.
The leader of this cyber investigation unit is a young, pretty detective who’s most noted for being hard as nails and remarkably outspoken. I’m not sure she’s going to be able to achieve her aim, that of preventing Paperboy’s online fans from continuing to grow. She’s concerned they’re going to get out of control — and unspokenly, challenge the social order by supporting individual violence outside the established structure to bring justice, no matter how damaging.
Author Tetsuya Tsutsui tackles remarkably modern themes within this structure, including social network information sharing, online mobs, mass peer pressure, how online anonymity affects behavior, the desire to have one’s non-mainstream voice heard, and the underemployment of a technologically educated age group. For a story based on computers, he also makes it visually interesting. Similar to a procedural TV show, there are lots of close-ups of emotional people making dramatic statements. Everyone’s attitude is exaggerated, although they’re all also based in authentic beliefs and motivations.
I found it particularly affecting how one character’s background, as a temp programmer who was made promises about permanent employment his boss never intends to keep, reflects so many of the problems in today’s economy. Although one wouldn’t go to Paperboy’s extremes, the motivation is understandable.