Why the hell hasn't this reached more people?!
Those who have the sense to read this book and even the good graces to discuss it have commented enough on Akira Hiramoto's imaginative storytelling and FUCKING GORGEOUS ART (the cover is not a misrepresentation whatsoever), so I'll touch upon something else first. This aspect has been neglected by all reviews I've come across so far: Me and the Devil Blues is nearly overwhelmingly dark. I don't mean that in the context of its premise -- a twist on the legend of the bluesman selling his soul to the devil, losing his wife, home and months of his life -- nor the location -- deep in the rural south of the U.S. in the early 1900s. It's a given that a none-too-happy story will rise out of that. No, this series is downright nasty and bleak, something that didn't hit me until after I put this volume down.
Even if a similar script were given to another artist, keeping the rare humorous aside and organic plotting, the same effect wouldn't be achieved. So much of the tone depends on Hiramoto's art. Unlike other seinen artists, such as Kentaro Miura and Takehiko Inoue, there is some restraint being exhibited here; Hiramoto does not shove his talent in your face on every single page. There's a gradual, though sometimes shocking build-up to chilling compositions, most frequently close-ups set at odd angles. The level of detail can reach hyper-realism at times, yet almost always remains something straight out of a nightmare.
This is aided by the setting, which deviates between two extremes: much of the book takes place at night, in jail cells or a forest, while the rest occurs during the daytime in the unnamed southern town. When Clyde Barrow is standing, breathed hitched, in the middle of the hallway as he hopes for the blind Stanley McDonald to pass on by, there is antipication, followed by relief when McDonald apparently passes him. This is immediately turned around when McDonald suddenly faces and questions Clyde -- empty space emphasizes the aforementioned high level of detail given to his frightening face. Even during daylight there is still a palpable tension, as the repetition of the alarmed, heavy-lidded eyes presents a signal for when all hell is about to break loose.
And, yeah, there's a fantastic story behind it all, but, fuck, I'm still coming to terms with the damn pictures. The book is worth reading for those alone; the pulp-ish fantasy story is just an amazing bonus thrown in. (This post is also a great reminder that a scanner would do wonders to show just what I'm talking about.)
I am worried, though, about future releases for the series. I've no idea how well the title has sold for Del Rey, but that's not the immediate concern when the author seems to not be giving it anywhere near the attention it deserves! I remember that it was being serialized up to some point early last year before going on hiatus; Hiramoto apparently creates an arc before it goes into serialization. But I haven't come across any indication that progress has been made since then, as he would seem content on drawing an apparently awful gag manga. Cannot make heads or tails of the Japanese Wikipedia entry for the series as Google translator is utterly useless. Any sort of translation and/or information would be greatly appreciated.