Manga Preview: MPD Psycho Volume 1 Written by Eiji Otsuka?Art by Sho-U Tajima To be released by Dark Horse Manga 6/6/07
Cleverly capitalizes on all the allure serial killer fiction, MPD Psycho has the makings of weapons grade modern pulp . It plays to the primal fascination of the super-predator and at the prospect of seeing the bloody aftermath of a tragedy; and it plays to the cerebral fascination of piecing together mysteries and the nature of identity. It then inflates the glamor of the violent danger, using a smart gimmick to produce intelligent shock manga. The manga's protagonists travel the complete orbit around murder, seeing the crime from all angles. Insisting that he suffers from dissociative identity disorder, or as the title suggests, multiple personality disorder, this character is an in-over-his-head cop, and a genius profiler and an eager killer. With these personalities sharing the same body, rather than being forced into a morally tenuous position, this person or collection of people seeks the bad situation. It's no exaggeration to say that this psychologically broken individual turns out to be a magnet for gruesome crimes, the likes of which might be thought up by Thomas Harris if the writer was in a particularly malicious mood. The manga was originally serialized in Monthly Shounen Ace, the anthology that ran CLAMP's answer to Pokemon style fighting proxy series Angelic Layer, lesbian mecha piloting priestess series Kannazuki no Miko, Sgt. Frog and the manga version of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Despite originally skewing towards an audience that wouldn't be admitted into an R rated movie, MPD Psycho demonstrates a level of graphic violence that shames Hollywood sensationalism. It is hard to imagine anything that Captivity has to offer approaching the manga's crimes. In fact, MPD Psycho was adapted into a live action TV series by the maestro of the disturbing, Takashi Miike. North American horror manga readers may have encountered a sample of the kind of unrestrained depictions of profound bodily harm in writer Eiji Ohtsuka's supernatural mortuary procedural Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service or, to a lesser extend the fantasy Madara, where he first collaborated with illustrator Shou Tajima. MPD Psycho opens with what would either be the climax or the distant past in a conventional murder mystery: the protagonist investigator reacting to a crime in such a way as to be complicit in destroying his own life. The Brad Pitt at the end of Se7en happens in the prologue. Though maybe it isn't that simple. Due to its complexity, this is manga that benefits from a few scribbled notes or diagram. Yosuke Kobayashi is about to receive a sentence of jail time for professional negligence resulting in death. However, the cold, cat-eyed man on trial insists he isn't Kobayashi, he's Kazuhiko Amamiya. Detective Yosuke Kobayashi was a soft looking sleepy eyed guy with a cute girlfriend. Leading up to his crisis, he was plagued by disturbing dreams and having a hard time keeping things together since joining the major crimes unit, particularly involving the work in regards to what was being referred to as the "decaying bodies cases." Finding a woman buried up to her neck, with her mouth gagged, her eyes stitched open and "no. 3" carved into her forehead, he can't help but vomit. After losing track of his personal life in the deluge of work, a freezer case is delivered to him at the police station. He opens this to find the naked head and torso of his girlfriend. Her limbs are amputated and she's kept living with the aid of a crude life support system. Amamiya would later insist that Kobayashi was lost at this point. After chasing down the perpetrator, Amamiya/Kobayashi shoots his target in the knee, adopts a sadistic grin, proclaims himself Shinji Nishizono and then executes the man. A significant part of what drives the manga is not knowing what motivates the character and what he might do. The manga tradition has been close enough to boundary-free since its inception, which negates the label "revolutionary" for works like MPD Psycho, but there is still something daring in seeing a hero who is not just fallible or unreliable, but given to contributing to the chaos that, as a crime solver, he is supposed to be containing . At first, it seems like serial killer fiction is such popular and well trodden ground that the MPD Psycho killer/hunter should have been thought of before. It's only a side step away from something like Dexter. In practice, MPD Psycho feels heady because it rejects any point of balance. If there's a principle guiding this character, it isn't apparent. As the personalities act against the interests of each other, it takes out the rules of the procedural. The consequence of the amorality of the lead and his work is that the manga is cold. At this stage, the manga seems to exist in its own closed system of those who kill, those who track down the killers and the muddy territory in between. The victims themselves haven't seemed particularly significant in that circuit. When Kobayashi's girlfriend is brutalized, the manga concerns itself with the effects on Kobayashi, not with her life. This dynamics of this amoral struggle are something to think about, but so far, it hasn't let on to any more charged implications. Through this first volume, MPD Psycho is as much driven by the crime scene as it is the mystery of the protagonist's actions. As often as the momentum builds to a revelation of some new facet of the lead's mindscape, it builds to the discovery of some heinous act. A kinky sexuality is incorporated into the manga's lingering gaze at its murder victims. There is one killer whose public, quick and bloody exit looms larger than their crimes. Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that that particular killer was the one whose crimes were not sexually charged, and who didn't leave a trail of naked women, displayed in bondage gear. If the goal was to make the crimes more shocking and off-putting by getting under the skin, being titillating and disgusting at the same time, it doesn't entirely work. The manga actively works to blur the line. A succession of chapter title illustrations feature sexy or glam shots of the female support characters, then the next one features a bound woman, with her brain exposed, head covered in a gas mask, and one eye plucked out and sewn into a breast. These gory curiosities are employed as an attraction. The sights are captivating, in the sense that other manga (at least in the North American market) don't do this to this degree, but the crime scenes don't emotionally resonate. These victims are uniformly pretty and nameless. Even Kobayashi's girlfriend wasn't much of a character. As opposed to some of the jarring account of victims in serial murderer media, like James Ellroy's descriptions of the Black Dahlia killing, MPD Psycho doesn't foster the reaction to turn away at the human body painfully being ripped apart. Here' the results are intricate, not entirely credible and a spectacle to check out. As jarring as these crimes are, it is difficult to see yourself or one you know in the place of these victims, and difficult to get frightened by the possibility. The first volume does raise the concern of "what next?" There is little, if any, room for escalating the violence. Where do you go after showing naked woman, tied up, with plants growing out of their exposed brains. The protagonist is both intriguing and difficult. He doesn't appear to be a hero, an anti-hero or a villain. In that he isn't softened or made into an avenging angel, he's distinctive and dangerous but by the same token, he is not sympathetic or understandable. To this point, the manga hasn't demonstrated whether it can or can't handle a lead whose thoughts are essentially unpredictable and largely unknowable. In terms of a running plot, so far the killers have been easy to track down, leading to some question as to the degree to which this will really be a procedural. At the same time, there does seem to be an over-arching plot building, relating to barcodes imprinted on the killer's eyes. That does seem dangerously sci-fi-ish and possibly divorced from reality, but it remains to be seen where the manga takes that thread.
Hanami: International Love Story Volume 1 Story by PLUS Art by Sung-Jae Park Released by Dark Horse Manhwa
Hanami is the Korean manwha equivalent of male audience relationship manga, such as the hit Love Hina. It has the same sort of goofy exaggeration, mixing a bit of heart with a large cast and plenty of love entanglements. In addition to being a slightly different take on the material, Hanami avoids some of the pitfalls of the genre. It is smart about when to add gravity, and by the end of the volume, it tries to correct the issue that it put together a character who is only defined by romanic concerns. Hanami might not transcend the genre the way a work like Love Roma might, but it is heavy on what makes the genre compelling and like on what makes it irksome. It's likable without being pandering; light without being inconsequential. Despite their tangled webs involving what each character feels about each other and particular what they might feel about the lead, many of these relationship stories are briskly paced. Hanami might not drag, but it is a dense read, with lots of small events quickly stacking. The reading experience aside, Hanami's conceit is easily condensed. It stars the kind of unexceptional, put-upon guy a reader is supposed to be able to relate to, and cynicism aside, there is no reason that wouldn't work for Joonho Suk. After finally mustering the courage to admit that he's attracted to Sae-un, his father abruptly moves the family to Seoul. Arriving in Seoul, it's not just that Joonho is heart broken, it's that the city's citizens are baffling. He sees a perturbed looking girl lift a fallen concrete slab to save a kitten. She then speaks Japanese at Joonho, not that he can discern whether its Japanese, Chinese, or Arabian. When she asks him if he will take care of the kitten, he assumes she is talking English and says "hi" ("yes" in Japanese). Then a cute, little Japanese girl walks by, because Joonha just grins, she assumes he's mentally handicapped. Then, the cat darts off, into the way of a girl Joonho's own age, causing her to steer her bike into an embankment. He takes her to the hospital, and when this girl, Hanami of the title, comes to, he finds that she is Japanese too, with a Korean grandmother. Joonho walks her home. Unfortunately, her grandfather is more or less Tekken's Heihachi Mishima and seeing his bruised daughter with a boy, precedes to smack around Joonha. That's about a chapter's worth of Hanami, and it's the tip of the iceberg in terms of half-credible characters and scenarios. The standard fare is present, but largely good natured and good for a smile. It takes about 90 pages to get to it, but it does fall back on the joke where the male lead accidentally gropes a girl's breasts and is punished by being knocked into the next room. The love affair is a bit obvious, the title does point in the key direction, but with Sae-un remote though still involved, and as well as the feels of other newly met girls, there is room for the drama to heat up. The manhwa keeps itself going by setting up situations comedy through a large, colorful cast. Types are handled exceptionally well. Recognizable roles from the genre are mixed with personalities that resemble ones that familiar from reality. At the same time, the manhwa seems to like all the character. Even the twits, like Joonho's pretty boy British neighbor who chases after Hanami and claims to be David Beckham's cousin is endearing in his pathetic way. There's enough chemistry between these characters and enough variation in combining who interacts with who and how , that the manhwa appears to have legs as a likable comedy. Hanami handles consequential issues well, raising the obvious important issues, treating them lightly while maintaining their significance. For example, Joonho's father brings up the historical antagonism between Japan and Korea, but his mother amusingly derails the rant. Joonha attends a meeting of his school's "Japanese Language Group", where students, with Hanami's help try to learn the language. This is something of an excuse to introduce more offbeat characters, and it shows to Joonho that he's a complete light weight. His empty "college, job, wife" timeline isn't much a goal next to visions that the Japanese Language Group members have of their futures. This revelation that there is more to life than the girl, or the idea of a girl, often turns up late or as an afterthought, if at all, in relationship manga. For it to be introduced in the first volume of Hanami is promising. The Hanami character comes into this story with some emotional baggage that lends weight to how the light hearted character is dealt with. However, it remains to be seen whether that history causes problems for the balancing act of adding weight to the characters without encumbering the experience. Characters are already tip-toeing around Hanami's feelings, and that could develop into a tedious trend. Language and translation issues become a concern in the adapting of this manwha. This story could not have been adapted without language becoming an issue to some degree. Hanami and her family are obviously native Japanese speakers. There is plenty of dialog spelled out in phonetic Japanese with the translated meaning following in brackets. Not only are there plenty of language barrier jokes, when Hanami speaks to Joonho, it is in pigeon. Manga translations from Ranma 1/2 to Negima have had trouble translating the broken speech of non-native speakers. Here, it is never possible not to be aware of the speech pattern, but it isn't grating and sometimes it is a bit cute. The more debatable decisions comes in the localized cultural references. It seems like the characters try to be relatively modern, and it is in character for some of them to flub their references and come across as trying too hard. Still given that the Korean setting is essential to the manwha, overtly American references comes across as jarring halts. When Joonho's father says "settle down Bevis!" it becomes an issue.