Thursday, March 25, 2010

Black Blizzard

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Released in Japan by Hinomaru Bunko, direct to the Rental Book stores. Released in North America by Drawn & Quarterly.

I'll be honest: I talk a good game when it comes to 'noble' manga projects that show off Japan's glorious history, but don't always follow through in terms of actually *reading* it. Sure, we all want to see Vertical, Last Gasp and D&Q release "obscure 70s title X', but will we actually enjoy it? I tend to be more on the Shonen Jump/Shojo Beat scale of things.

So I hadn't read any Tatsumi before, but I saw this solicited, and thought 'why not'? And it turned out to be a good investment - this is not only a nice, solid story but gives a very good look at what the manga market was like back in 1956, when it first came out.

The basic premise seems ripped from the pages of a mystery thriller, as the author admits in an interview at the back of the book. A pianist, convinced that he killed a man in a drunken rage, is being hauled off to jail, handcuffed to a fellow criminal. But then their train derails due to a landslide, and they make their escape into the middle of a bad snowstorm. Holed up in a deserted cabin, the pianist begins to tell his story in flashback, hoping to convince his fellow criminal not to do something drastic to get them free of being cuffed together.

There's nothing particularly original here, and this would be true even at the time it came out. But it's an iconic story, one that speaks to the emotions, and that's clearly what Tatsumi's going for here. It's helped by the strong art, with nice visuals (the artist wonders about the huge numbers of diagonals in his work here - I'd suggest that's inevitable in a story with a blizzard in it.) The art is, of course, very old-fashioned - it reminded me very much of Monkey Punch's Lupin III, only there's no goofiness here. I loved the dream sequence where he finds a hook at the end of his arm.

If there's a weakness, it's in the final twist, which is not foreshadowed particularly well. If you're going to do a twist like that, it's best to at least give some hint of it so that the audience is not left thinking that they were just shown a deus ex machina. It wouldn't even have been that hard to do, given the characters. Also, for hardcore manga fans, be warned that like all of D&Q's manga releases, this is being released flipped, with the permission of the author. It doesn't particularly matter here - the story reads just fine from left-to-right. And there's even some color pages!

This is a story that's clearly written for young boys - heck, the hero even sees the heroine as a little sister, with no hint of romance - and indeed the interview notes this is not very much like the later, more mature stories he would write. But it's a good simple action thriller, and shows the immense talent that the young Tatsumi had. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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