First things first. This is definitely not a title for children or anyone who’s squeamish. It features graphic violence and many very adult situations and themes. As such, many of the topics I touch on here may focus on the same themes – you have been warned.
This is a little different in the fact that many have probably heard of this title (or the subsequent anime film) but have probably never read it. Some wouldn’t have read it on the basis that they can’t find a copy; others may be put off by the fairly adult nature of the subject matter. But it’s a lot deeper than you would expect.
The art is magnificent while also being horrifying and disturbing the majority of the time. Everything has this grim layer to it that really helps emphasise the grittiness of the subject matter. The detail in the characters and the world is incredible (even the more questionable things are still amazingly well rendered.) I will say though that at times there is so much going on in each panel that it can get confusing. Sometimes I found myself having to go back a few panels to grasp what was going on. It’s not the end of the world but it does take you out of the story. It’s also worth noting that Toshio Maeda also did the artwork for this book, which means that everything we see and read is his vision. There is no one else interoperating his ideas. It is just straight out of his fascinating mind and onto the paper.
Now…. Onto the copious amounts of sex and violence that fill the pages. Is it too graphic? Yes and no. The sex portrayed is never what one would call ‘erotic’. It is grim and most of the time, quite vile. It makes you feel on edge and that what you are seeing is some twisted voyeuristic fantasy of some outside party spying in on the characters. This works perfectly though as it helps create the atmosphere and the overall look of the piece. The violence is much the same in the fact that it is bloody and graphic, but at the same time is realistic and has an almost ‘crime-scene photography’ feel to it. Maeda is clever in how much he shows and what he shows. It’s worth noting that the sex isn’t censored in the slightest and at times is highly graphic.
It is at no point a happy read and for this reason for me it instantly stands out from almost all ‘Western’ publications. It’s pretty much jet black in terms of the emotions it expresses. Its more lust over love; more death over life. It’s a fascinating journey through realms very rarely explored and one of the most realistically dark portrayals of the world I’ve seen in comic form (even if there are demons and such like within)
So would I recommend it?
It’s a toughie. For one, it’s getting harder and harder to actually find a copy as it’s something that I doubt will be allowed in print again due to the graphic nature of it. It also focuses on subjects that many would like to ignore or pass off as ‘taboo’. It’s not ‘nice’ in the slightest and will not leave the reader with that happy sense of accomplishment they may get from reading some superhero story. It’s dark and dingy and makes you feel dirty afterwards. While reading you get sucked deeper into this dark pit and every time you try to escape you just get drawn further into the darkness. It’s an amazing experience for people who know what they are getting into and for people who like to experience something almost entirely unlike anything else.
For me this is a true masterpiece of storytelling and is just so ‘different’. Toshio Maeda established his name with this series (as well as La Blue Girl) and is known for his twisted mind and the twisted imagery it pumps out. He is one of the greatest comic creators I have ever had the fortune of both reading his work and meeting him in person.
So I would recommend this, but only to those who can handle it and look past the sex and violence to see the deep story and intelligently written characters beneath. It’s a deeply challenging and at times deeply repulsive journey, but one that is truly worth going on.