The term “hardboiled” is used to describe a subgenre of detective fiction that typically incorporates graphic sex and violence, an urban setting, and fast-paced, slangy dialogue. The stories feature a protagonist who is a cynical, unsentimental detective, although sometimes he’s got a well-hidden soft spot for a pretty dame. The great American writer Dashiell Hammett is credited with inventing the genre in the late 1920’s, and it’s most frequently associated with American crime novels by the likes of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler.
But, as Kazuhiro Kiuchi proves in A Dog in Water, hardboiled detective fiction seamlessly makes the jump to Japan. Kiuchi’s new novel has the taut pacing, raw narrative, and tough-guy P.I. that tag it as a classic of the genre. The Detective (who is never named) is an antihero for today’s world, with his own version of a moral compass that keeps him on track as he takes on the Yakuza, gun dealers, sleazy nightclub owners, and other unsavory denizens of Tokyo’s back alleys and smoke-filled joints.
The wild ride begins when a beautiful bar hostess, calling herself Junko Tajima, hires the Detective to help her deal with her married lover’s violent brother. Following a trail that starts with Junko’s tale of sexual assault, the Detective discovers that the story gets only murkier as he keeps looking for clarity. People are not whom they say they are and not what they seem. Are the victims really the victims—and if the bad guys are really all bad, why is the Detective sometimes on the same team?
Dark, disturbing, brutal, A Dog in Water is the kind of novel that shows you the nastiest side of life, and then reminds you that it’s still possible to hold on to some shred of humanity in the face of it.
It is well known throughout comic circles that Japan’s manga industry thrives due to its range of content and reader diversity. Manga over there is consumed by the general public, and even with magazine numbers declining, graphic novel sales are seeing spikes across the board. However even within the manga world there is still new territories to be discovered.
These days works from international artists and yuri (lesbian relationships) comics tend to be considered the next frontier. But just thirty years ago, ladies comics were the final frontier. Where women were known to read shojo comics, along with shonen and seinen comics, josei (ladies comics) were a new fad driven almost exclusively by harlequin style romances and fashion themed magazine spreads. A generation later, artists like Kyoko Okazaki were beginning to revolutionize the category by branching out from the old memes, while still resonating with a new generation of young women readers.
Helter Skelter is the culmination of that change. In it, Japan’s top fashion model Liliko may be at the top of her field but like many in her position she is wavering internally. But Liliko has good reason for her struggles… She is physically falling apart. While younger, perkier models begin to make their moves on the scene, Liliko like a tiger is not willing to let go of her territory. She takes on more and more work and dates some of Japan’s business elite. All of this is accomplished while continuing to work on her beauty. And with all that stress, the young woman is now breaking down inside and out.
There is no amount of plastic surgery that can fix her. Medication or therapy will not bring her back, either. Nevertheless, if this star is going to fall or fade into obscurity, she is going to take down as much of the business with her. And that downfall proves quite a fascinating ride for the reader.
Dark, powerful and never willing to hold back its punches, Helter Skelter is a challenging work that is well-worth the critical acclaim it has received over the years, having won the Osamu Tezuka Award and the Japan Media Arts Award for Manga Excellence.
These days when people associate Vertical with manga, the first thing that comes to mind is seinen comics. And in the West, unlike in Japan where seinen are often dramas, these men’s comics are often hard-edged science-fiction or over-the-top fantasies in the vein of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk or Ryo Mizuno’s Lodoss Wars. Well, Vertical is no stranger to sci-fi, having released Gundam the Origin, Knights of Sidonia and Heroman over the past year, but fantasy is something we have neglected as of late…Until now!
Enter Wolfsmund! The debut work from Mitsuhisa Kuji is truly the next in the line of Berserk-style fantasy. And this is partially due to the fact that Ms. Kuji previously worked on Berserk as an assistant to Mr. Miura. From the very first page, the art style and dark tone bleeds fantasy. Set in medieval Europe, around the creation of the Swiss Confederacy Wolfsmund is a retelling of the legend of William Tell, but its lead character is not a hero my any means. Instead the lead is the entity that is oppressing this region in the Alps – the Wolf’s Maw (known in that region as the Wolfsmund.)
In Wolfsmund the objective is to topple the transit station nestled in the St. Gotthard Pass. But as readers will soon find out, despite the need for freedom and unity in that region, Mitsuhisa Kuji consistently has the Wolfsmund exert its will on the region…and to an extent its fantasy hungry readership.
Vertical is happy to present a short preview of Wolfsmund with the help from its original publisher enterbrain!. Enjoy. And purchase Wolfsmund part 1 of 4 at better bookstores today.
Click here for the Wolfsmund Preview!