Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Zatoichi (2006)

Authors: Kan Shimozawa / Hiroshi Hirata  |  Illustrator: Hiroshi Hirata
Page Count: 218

Don’t make me responsible for what’s happening around me!

A one-shot manga containing two Zatoichi adventures, both adapted from one of the many films starring Shintarô Katsu.* If you’re not familiar with the character, Ichi is a blind masseur (Zato is his title) who’s also a master swordsman.  He tries to avoid conflict but his compassion always seems to place him in the thick of it.

The first story is titled The Ballad of Zatoichi, adapted from the 13th film in the series, Zatoichi's Vengeance (1966).  It has Ichi undertake a dying man’s wish and unwittingly become a role model for an orphan as a result.  It’s largely faithful to the film but some scenes are omitted and some new ones have been added.  Of the missing scenes the most prominent is the story of the whore and her lover, which carried a large part of the emotional weight.  The book is weakened by its absence.  It’s debatable whether or not the additional content makes the story better but it certainly puts a different slant on things.

The artwork is functional.  The style is comparable to Goseki Kojima's work on Lone Wolf and Cub.  If you're going to create a jidaigeki/bushido manga then there's no better influence to take than Goseki, but it’s not as sophisticated.  The backgrounds are often too empty and the facial expressions aren't given nearly enough attention.  It fares better in the action department.  The sword fights are dynamic and the angles are cinematic.  I haven’t performed a direct comparison, so it’s possible they’re copied directly from the film.

The second story is Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, adapted from the 14th film, also called Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage (1966).  The changes this time are significant.  Again, the emotional heart of the story—the reason for the pilgrimage—is lessened, reduced to just a few sentences.  What remains is another simple tale of an honourable man putting himself in danger while attempting to right a moral wrong.  It's still enjoyable but the lesser page count and a story that’s had all the affecting pain filtered out of it make Pilgrimage the weaker of the two.

3 swift deaths out of 5

*You can find mini reviews for many of the Zatoichi films on our sister site, In a Nutshell, including both the ones mentioned above.  It’s an ongoing project and I will eventually have all films covered.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pretty Deadly: Vol 1: The Shrike (2014)

Author: Kelly Sue DeConnick  |  Illustrator: Emma Ríos  |  Page Count: 120

This world ain’t been kind to me.  I say let it burn.”

Being described as a series ‘that marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher,’ was enough to get me interested. The fact that it’s selling at a special price (just over £5) was enough of an incentive to get me to take a chance. I'm glad I did. If Pretty Deadly continues to be as good as Vol 1, I'll be buying every TPB. It might just be able to fill the gap that was left in my comic-reading life after binging on Mike Carey’s Lucifer (2000-06).

It’s a Western centred on a small handful of well-written characters, each with a murky past that either they’re aware of, attempting to hide, or are oblivious to.
One of those people is Ginny, a woman on a mission. Ginny is a yellow-eyed violent force within an already violent world. She has a skull mark on her face but it’s not just for show—it has a deeper meaning. The meaning is revealed when DeConnick’s darkly poetic prose hits its stride.

Emma Ríos provides the art. It has weight to it. People’s faces have history ingrained in the creases and cuts. The wide panels are cinematic. They’re contrasted by small, square boxes that get up close and personal with the action, which helps tell the story in the proper sense of the word; it’s not separate from it like in many superhero comics that include fight scenes as an obligation more than anything else. It’s fast paced, so can be a little confusing at times but not so much that careful analysis won’t reveal the intention and intricacies.

Jordie Bellaire’s colouring is complementary and dark, making good use of dusty oranges, inky blacks, and reds that aren't far removed from the colour of congealed blood. It captures perfectly the savageness of the environment.

If there was some way for comic creators to do the kind of director commentaries that we get on dvds, I’d want one for PD with all three women present.

The book collects together Pretty Deadly issues 1 - 5.

5 frolics in Death's garden out of 5

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dredd: Underbelly (2014)

Author: Arthur Wyatt | Illustrator: Henry Flint | Page Count: 36

‘…Mega-City One eats hope alive…’

Underbelly is 2000 AD’s first publication designed specifically for an American audience. That means it’s the size of a typical American comic, which is smaller than either 2000 AD or the Judge Dredd Megazine.  Reducing Dredd in size doesn't mean he need also be reduced in stature, but the one-shot story, a sequel set in Mega-City One a year after the Dredd (2012) film that I absolutely adored, fails to capture the power or the authority that the future lawman commands.  It resembles a typical 2000 AD single-issue Dredd story; the kind that acts as filler between the more exciting multipart epics.  If Rebellion had hoped to use it as a means to encourage more support for a proper film sequel they ought to have commissioned something really special, something unforgettable.

Aesthetically it attempts to capture the look of the film.  The Tower of Justice is the same version and Anderson looks a little like Olivia Thirlby if you squint with one eye and wedge a fork in the other.  Dredd, however, looks nothing like Karl Urban.  All we get to see of the man beneath the suit is the lower half of his face, so it wouldn't have been hard to achieve.  I can only assume that the shift towards a style closer to Carlos Ezquerra's Dredd of old was a conscious decision.  Perhaps it was to make the transition easier for readers of Underbelly to the existing Judge Dredd books that Rebellion repackaged for the American market?

I'm not going to go into a synopsis of the story, because it’s very short and knowing even the smallest detail before reading will rob it of what little depth it has.  I will say, however, that if you missed out on picking it up, either on first print run or as reprint (with different cover art), then don’t feel too disappointed, you can still get it from the official site as a digital DL if you really want it.

2 dead muties out of 5

2000 AD have made an official petition for a film sequel (link below).  History has shown that such petitions DO occasionally work, so if you want it to happen you know what to do, creep!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Wicker Man (1978)

Authors: Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer | Page Count: 285

From inside the asylum of his own skin, he looked around a world that he peopled suddenly, in his imagination, with strangers...

A wise person once said ‘Never judge a book by its movie.’  It’s generally applied one way, to defend a good book from the damage done to its reputation by a bad movie, but sometimes the opposite perspective is needed.  Judging by how good The Wicker Man (1973) film is, I imagined the book to be at least equal in terms of impact given that it’s written by the film’s director, Robin Hardy, and uses much of the dialogue from Anthony Shaffer’s excellent screenplay verbatim.  I've only myself to blame for that assumption not panning out as hoped.

The protagonist is Police Sergeant Neil Howie.  On the surface he’s an honest, steadfast Episcopalian Christian respectful of the laws of man and God.  Beneath that, he’s forceful and secretly judgemental of others.  It’s possible to view him as a haughty zealot quick to strike down those who challenge his beliefs but that’s only half the story; he’s more complex than he first appears.  Deeper still, hidden from the world, he’s inexperienced and fearful of his own desires.

Howie is summoned to a remote Western Isle off the coast of Scotland.  It’s an isle filled with villagers that worship a different pantheon.  For Howie, the Christian God created everything in nature, so in theory even the heretical worship of false gods could be, by extension, reverence for his god.  That’s the depth of his arrogance and is in part responsible for his actions once there.

There’s a mystery to be unravelled.  It’s an unusual missing person case that may even be a murder.  Sergeant Howie's belief that his superior deity will guide and aid him in ensuring justice is done is only the beginning of his problems.

As the mystery deepens, the novel begins to unravel.  The quality of the prose drops and doesn't recover.  By the end it feels like fan fiction.

I’ll do us all a service by cutting the review short here and instead return to how I began.  Maybe it'll help someone else avoid the same level of disappointment that I had.  Never judge a book by its movie—even when the movie's good.

2½ circles to the nail out of 5

Saturday, May 3, 2014

5 Centimeters per Second (2012)

Author: Makoto Shinkai | Artist: Yukiko Seike | Page Count: 566

'I bet you must have changed a lot too.  And bit by bit, you’ll keep on changing.'

The manga adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s anime of the same name is the story of Takaki Tohno and his love for Akari Shinohara.  The book is faithful to the themes and characters of the source, and in its own way is equally as heartbreaking, but there are also a number of differences.  There’s more dialogue between the couple and a lot of new scenes have been added.  Most of the additions don’t lead anywhere new but each in some way expands or accentuates both the closeness and the distance between the two individuals.

It’s split into three parts, each focussing on a specific period of Tohno’s life.  The first and third eras are the most successful and satisfying.  The middle section was the weakest in the anime.  It was necessary to the story but it felt unfinished.  It gets a lengthy epilogue at the book's end that attempts to redress that but overall it remains the weakest aspect.

I love how Shinkai can elicit opposing feelings simultaneously.  There’s a scene that functions as a rekindling after a period of separation that also highlights differences and connotes the inevitable.  That kind of subtlety is the foundation of the work and unless you pick up on it early on, you may get bored or even depressed with the inaction.  Ultimately, its effectiveness will vary drastically from reader to reader; the idealistic young dreamer will interpret it differently than the hopeless romantic or the aged and injured recluse.  The title is all important to the way that love can be perceived; it’ll make sense in context.

At its most basic level, the book is summed up on two pages, but those pages don’t come at the end because realisation is never an end; it’s another beginning.

3 dividing lines out of 5

Note: You can find spoiler-free, mini-reviews of some of Makoto Shinkai’s films, including 5 Centimeters per Second, at our sister site, In a Nutshell.