Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The World is Mine, Volumes 01-07

This is an awful and inadequate review, especially considering how this manga deserves the best review ever.

But, honestly, how the fuck do you describe this?

Little has been said in English about The World is Mine, a series as bombastic as its declarative title suggests. Translator Stephen Paul did a review a couple years back, and our own Andrew Cunningham provided his own thoughts last year. The only other mention has apparently been in an old Pulp magazine article that includes it in a list of the least-likely manga to be licensed and translated into English. In its opening chapters, the reason for this becomes evident: two would-be terrorists, Toshi and Mon, find themselves in a series of routine events that end in brief explosions of violence (courtesy of the more ego-driven Mon, seemingly disregarding the immediate consequences of those around him).

What makes the first volume and a half of the original fourteen series print run (halfway through the first volume of the five volume reprint) a difficult read is that these personal stories are interrupted and impersonally destroyed. The Toshi-Mon duo are not the only ones responsible for these early depictions of carnage; an enormous, Godzilla-sized brown bear, soon dubbed Higumadon, traverses through mountainous terrain, slowly creating its own myths as the monster kills the people it finds in its way. Eventually the attention of the media settles upon Toshi and Mon through an escalation of bombing incidents -- first in a policeman's car, then at a pachinko parlor, and finally at a police station. It is here where Arai seems content to invite readers in, as the focus becomes more committed and Very Big Questions are addressed from Toshi to the Japanese government -- all, of course, a mere diversion. Just as Arai hooks the audience in with this horrifying hostage exhibition, the situation's resolution gives way to another story where an oddly gifted, confident hunter and a meek, secretly juvenile newspaper writer track down reports about and evidence of Higumadon.

Arai gracefully juggles these different plotlines, freely moving back and forth between the two parallel stories. The pacing is just as fluid, with a range of multiple days being summed up over a few chapters to devoting an entire chapter to eight seconds. This movement creates an incredibly dynamic narrative that allows tension to build when appropriate -- such as the aforementioned bombings and hostage situation -- to a graceful slide back as Arai examines the media and political reactions to both Toshi-Mon's escapades and Higumadon, as well as the supporting characters' observations and actions.

It is, in fact, these very same characters that also provide some of the most compelling tales. Idiosyncratic traits are applied to every named-character -- including the aforementioned hunter and reporter, as well a deranged police commander and a rebellious, perverted prime minister -- making them instantly recognizable even after separation of reading the series for nearly a year. The main female character, Maria (the counterpoint to the pettiness of Toshi and the viciousness of Mon), is reintroduced after a seemingly throwaway encounter, becoming as tangibly real as a fictional character can as Arai sets his panels amidst her daily life before literally abducting the girl back into the plot. If these snapshots provide an uplifting and admirable life, then Arai's readiness to acknowledge the more sordid and depressing side of humanity must be equally respected. As news breaks out about the killer's identities, the contented lull of Toshi's parents is stolen from them. Toshi's mother, in particular, provides an utterly devastating account as the media entrenches itself into every aspect of her life, ruining and ultimately extinguishing it. Even the incidental characters, such as the couple taken into the mountains by Toshi and Mon after the police station incident, are given very human faces before they meet an ill fate as Toshi desperately tries to kill the woman as Mon watches on, laughing at his partner's struggle to finish the job.

Beyond any doubt, the violence is intensely visceral, toeing a line of sensational but never crossing it into glorification. This is primarily due to Arai's compositions and art, frequently breaking the process down to where there is only pain on the page.

This is not to say that Arai never permits a spectacle to unfold, whether it's a portrait of the fight for survival or senseless destruction of a city.

Still, where the strength of Arai's art lay at its greatest -- though likely least-appreciated by the average reader -- is the sheer range of emotion and facial structure of his characters. No one design looks like another, completely rejecting an all-too common truism in manga and anime where the Big Eyes, Small Mouths run dominant with only different hair styles and clothing to differentiate between them.

Mon especially embodies this, displaying excitement, boredom, amusement, fear, contemplation, et cetera, within one volume. Through his charisma Arai captures all moods, pivoting the narrative around his mystifying development between two extremisms as those surrounding him attempt to manipulate, destroy or curb his abrasive tendencies.

Halfway through the story, I have absolutely no idea where the end point might be, or what it will involve. What little I've read of indicates a type of large scope that defines epics, with other countries becoming involved. That a more mythical bent also is more evident comes as no surprise, either; even as obvious as Higumadon is, the first half of the series has scattered scenes of surrealism, supported by a reinterpreted mythos that Arai establishes as his own.

Yet is there an all-encompassing Message from the Author? I can only guess for now. Despite how upfront a lot of the immediate issues are, Arai is very careful of placing particular judgment or signs to help readers grasp themes too simply. Throughout these first seven volumes, loss of life occurs, as is common in real life, with no easily suggested reason. The audience is left alone to assign their own meanings to the proceedings as Arai's humanity edges closer to the edge, prepared to plunge deep into immovable and ever-present violence.


  1. WOW. Thank you for this, as I've been contemplating for a while whether or not I should sit down and read this series. This is exactly what I needed - I now know full well that reading The World is Mine is an absolute requirement.

    "Awful?" "Inadequate?" I think not.

  2. I have no ability to describe the experience of reading it. For those that don't care for the story, this is irrelevent to them, but all the comments I've come across online have a similar reaction: Arai's pacing, tone and characterization in this manga are totally removed from any comic I've read. It's incredibly paradoxical.

    One thing I also should have mentioned in the review is Arai's detail -- check out the train being torn apart and colliding with traffic, while telephone poles snap and fall in the background. That kind of attention to destruction hasn't been seen in manga since fucking Katsuhiro Otomo.

  3. I still need to get started on volume three! D:

  4. Yeah, it really is an amazing work. So amazing for its time and almost hard to grasp that it started more than a decade ago. Big Comic Spirits is one of the more underrated mags for me. I'm glad there are groups like KEFI that are still working on it.

  5. Wow. Just wow. I've heard a lot about this series, but never sat down and read it. Next time I set foot in Kinokuniya I hope they've got the reprint in stock.

  6. The World is Mine actually ran in Young Sunday, which makes it serialization even weirder.