Thursday, April 22, 2004


I'll confess that since I first wrote about Initial D, I've become slightly addicted, checking out several volumes from the library and even buying volume eleven (though that was partly to support the the creator and the independent bookstore where I saw it). The overall story still doesn't particularly interest me: a bunch of amateur mountain road racing teams compete to be known as the top team in the prefecture, with no evident motive for us to care which team "wins." But the races themselves, which can stretch for over one hundred pages, are compelling, even though I have no interest
in auto racing per se, on mountain roads or elsewhere.

The races follow the familiar shounen manga pattern, with the underdog (by virtue of his less powerful car) coming from behind to win. But because Shigeno is dealing with racing ordinary (if souped-up) cars, which his audience would be familiar with, rather than physical prowess or supernatural powers, he can't explain his heroes' victories by superior "heart" or vaguely-explained secret techniques: he has to make them at least seem to be the result of techniques which someone could actually use. In fact, following each race in the volumes I've read, there's a coda in which somebody explains just what the winning driver did, or the losing driver failed to do, that accounted for the victory.

But what's really compelling about the races is the art. Creating a convincing impression of speed in comics is difficult, for obvious reasons. Rather than rely on speed lines, Shigeno draws the entire panel as if it were being viewed by someone driving very fast, in an almost Impressionist manner. I can't explain it too well, but it looks really good.

At the same time I bought Initial D, vol. 11, I also bought The Red Snake by Hideshi Hino, published by DH Publishing, a small publisher that has recently begun publishing Hino's horror manga. I won't even try to describe The Red Snake: it is utterly bizarre, almost psychotic, and even the lame ending doesn't detract from its effect. Unlike other horror manga artists who have been published here (Junji Ito, Kazuo Umezu), Hino has a simple, cartoony style (see here for samples), which fits well with the way the book's events seem to have bubbled up unfiltered from Hino's unconscious.

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