Devil (2010)
By: Tristan Jones on December 15, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Cover Art
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Writer: Torajiro Kishi
Art: Torajiro Kishi and Dynamo Pictures
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Let's get something out of the way right now: I dig anime and I dig some manga. It's not something I immediately go for when it comes to picking something to watch or read, but I'm not going to shut myself off to it entirely. Some of the best movies I've seen have been anime, one of my favourite TV shows is anime, and I've read some pretty great mangas along the way. I'm also not a huge fan of the vampire genre, especially modern stuff. Forget that Buffy and Twilight have managed to warp the genre into something entirely different, even the traditionalist stuff - the stuff that attempts to make vampires as scary today as they were in classic literature - tends to leave me pretty cold.

All that said, when I saw the solicitations for Torajio Kishi's Devil, I was intrigued.

Here's a modern vampire book written by a somewhat well known manga creator (perhaps best known for his book Maka-Maka, which is basically a lesbian sex manga) with art assists by the incredible Madhouse Studio team (who are probably best known for their work on the animated Highlander movie, the anime classic Ninja Scroll, and the critically acclaimed Metropolis) presented in style specifically suited to the Western/American comic market. The fact that Madhouse contributed to this book warrants a look in in itself, but I personally find it interesting whenever creators attempt something wildly different from what they're traditionally used to, regardless of what the outcome is. So what is the outcome?

Devil is a story set in a not too distant future where a virus is wreaking havoc across Japan (and possibly/presumably the rest of the world) and essentially turning people into vampires. There are however, different classes of vampires, some being more powerful than others, but the majority of the infected tend to be nothing more than common "Buffy-style" scum that just want another blood fix. The book revolves around two investigators working as a part of the Special Investigations Unit "Devil: (meaning they deal with vampire, or devil related crimes exclusively), who are brought in to hunt down a near omnipotent "S-Class devil", who was once part of a group of scientists working to find a cure for the Devil virus. It's a decent enough plot; feels a bit like Daybreakers (but better) meets The X-Files had it been directed by Quentin Tarantino. However, as cool as that might sound to some, the results of this little experiment are mixed.

If you like anime or manga, I'm sure you're going to dig this book. It has all the flair of an action horror anime like Vampire Hunter D, all the over the top violence, as well as the characters one would expect to see (including the overdeveloped schoolgirl villain type, and the gun-toting, cool-as-shit protagonist). However, for me, this is a problem. Ultimately, what we have here is something that reads just like another ho-hum anime with predictable, clichéd characters and scenarios. I think visually the book is fantastic, and probably would have worked better as an anime in all honesty, but a lot of this sort of anime is often really big on ideas and very thin on the story telling, which is essentially what's wrong with Devil.

As a Western style comic, it works visually. Torajiro professes to being a fan of Hellboy, and you can see that straight away in the inking and colours; it's very Mike Mignola. The panelling all flows extremely well, and the art style never falls into that hectic and borderline confusing mess of lines a lot of mangas fall prey to during action sequences. In fact, there are a lot of really beautifully rendered panels throughout the book, and while they do certainly make the story itself a more enjoyable ride, it doesn't elevate it enough to make it anything above average.

As I mentioned earlier, the story is pretty standard fare, nothing in here is really surprising if you're familiar with anime, and if you're not, you may actually be somewhat disappointed by the climax. The characters are, by and large, the same characters you'd see in any anime or manga of this particular genre, and in spite of this being a book geared at Western audiences, the fact that it's set in Japan, and uses Japanese characters kind of leaves you cold to them. As I discussed with a few of other friends who read this book (two of the three really loved this book), the similarities between the character names makes it a little harder to remember who's who, especially when you're just kind of dropped into the middle of things and only given eighty something pages to hold on to it all. There's no real establishment of who is who, or any real character building outside of "Here's X and he/she does this", which is a trap a lot of Japanses OVA's (original video animations) fall into, as do many comic book mini-series that tend to grapple big concepts the way this one does.

I'd seen a lot of people absolutely rave about this when it came out as a monthly series, but beyond the visuals it really isn't all that special. I think for this to work properly, the Japanese creative team should have tried to tackle something completely foreign to them; set the book in America, or England or even here in Australia. Visually, the experiment was a success, but it honestly doesn't feel like any attempt was made to make the script more digestible for the Western market.

It is still a book that's at least worth checking out, and the point of view given here is totally my own; there are plenty of people who really love this book (many of whom I've found are very into anime or manga), so you may find that you disagree with me completely on this one. As I said, it's a painfully mediocre story but visually fantastic.
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