I’m fresh out of snappy intros, so I’ll cut to the chase: this week’s column looks at Inuyashiki, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition, and Tokyo Ghoul.
Inuyashiki, Vol. 1
By Hiroya Oku
Rated OT, for older teens (16+)
Kodansha Comics, $12.99
Bette Davis famously declared that “Old age is no place for sissies,” a statement borne out by the first chapters of Hiroya Oku’s grimly compelling Inuyashiki. Its hero, a 58-year-old salaryman, is a picture of despair: his family loathes him, his co-workers ignore him, and his health is failing. In a blinding flash of light, however, his life changes. He wakes up to discover that his memories are intact but his body has changed; his once-frail limbs and failing eyes are now military-grade weapons, capable of withstanding lethal force. What to do with this gift? That question animates the final pages of volume one, as Ichiro tests his new body’s limits for the first time.
The scene is a neat illustration of what’s good — and not so good — about Inuyashiki. Oku stages a suspenseful confrontation between Ichiro and a gang of teenage thugs; though we sense that Ichiro will prevail, how he gains the upper hand is a nifty surprise made more effective by Oku’s meticulously detailed illustrations. The incident that precipitates the showdown, however, is saddled with a heavy-handed script; Oku stokes the reader’s sense of righteous indignation by revealing that the thugs’ intended victim is a good but vulnerable man. By overemphasizing the victim’s inherent decency, Oku reduces him to a saintly caricature, a problem that also mars Ichiro’s early interactions with his family.
Even if Ichiro’s catharsis is less earned than contrived, watching him transform from terminal sad-sack to indestructible bad-ass is a deeply satisfying experience — he’s raging against the light, and might just take out a few whippersnappers in the process. Now that’s a fantasy I can get behind.
The verdict: Pour yourself a scotch before reading; you’ll need the emotional fortification to navigate the early chapters.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition, Book One
By Eiji Ōtsuka and Housui Yamazaki
Rated OT, for older teens (16+)
Dark Horse, $19.99
Scooby Doo for grown-ups — that’s how I’d describe The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, a macabre comedy about five cash-strapped college students who drive around in a van solving supernatural mysteries. The Kurosagi gang’s bread-and-butter are mysterious deaths. By discovering what really happened, they enable the victims’ spirits to cross over to the other side. Unlike Shaggy and Scooby, however, the Kurosagi kids are believers, not skeptics; they employ dowsing and channeling in their quest for answers.
Now fourteen volumes and nine years into its North American run, Dark Horse has begun reissuing KCDS in omnibus format. The first volume includes two of the series’ best stories: “Lonely People,” in which the gang stumbles across a portable altar with a mummy inside, and “Crossing Over,” in which the gang searches for the victim of an organ harvesting ring. Though the denounement of both “deliveries” include a few gruesome panels, the deadpan dialogue, expressive character designs, and snappy pacing prevent KCDS from sinking to the level of torture porn; the horrific imagery functions as a rim shot or an exclamation mark, not the main attraction. The self-contained nature of the stories is another plus: you can begin your KCDS odyssey almost anywhere in the series and still grasp what’s happening, though the crew’s origin story (“Less Than Happy,” the very first chapter) offers an interesting window into Buddhist university culture in Japan.
The verdict: If you haven’t tagged along on one of the Kurosagi crew’s “deliveries,” the omnibus edition gives you an economical way to do so.
Tokyo Ghoul, Vol. 2
By Sui Ishida
Rated OT, for older teens (16+)
VIZ Media, $12.99
The first volume of Tokyo Ghoul reads like an urban legend: Ken Kaneki, earnest college student, goes out for dinner with a pretty girl, but wakes up in the hospital with a brand-new set of organs… that used to belong to his date. Within a few days of his release, Kaneki begins turning into a ghoul, a side effect of the transplant surgery. Volume two follows Kaneki deep into the ghoul underground, showing us how ghouls pass for human, and revealing the deep divide between the ghouls who embrace their predator status and those who feel some kinship with humanity.
Although volume two introduces several new and potentially interesting characters, Kaneki’s wet-blanket personality continues to put a damper on the story. Kaneki is too bland, too whiny, and too tentative to be a good vehicle for exploring the boundaries between human and ghoulish behavior. Furthermore, we never see Kaneki revel in his new-found powers or try a leg of man, two developments that might compromise Kaneki’s likability, but would make him a more complex, compelling hero a la Death Note‘s Light Yagami.
The verdict: Tokyo Ghoul isn’t bad, just a little too obvious to sustain my interest.
Reviews: Joe McCulloch looks at the new English-language version of Comics Zenon, Michelle Smith and Anna N. post a fresh set of Bookshelf Briefs, and Vernieda Vergara asks if Bleach has overstayed its welcome.
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