Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fun-loving criminals

"My first series is a story about arms dealers. It's a rather serious topic, but while I draw I'm always smiling and having a lot of fun." So saith the author, on the very first page of Jormungand, a story set in "a certain Eastern European country", where a beautiful genius arms dealer with the rather unlikely name of Koko Hekmatyar hires child soldier Jonah as her new bodyguard, and bullety hijinks ensue.

I never thought I'd find a series that made Black Lagoon look like gritty realism, but here we are. Both series share a fierce, dumb energy that makes them ripping reads, but Takahashi unfortunately also follows Hiroe in having some muddy, hard to follow action scenes... and actually, that goes for his plotting too, unless someone can explain to me why announcing to your enemies that you're unarmed, then threatening to rearm means you've won the fight.

It may not be fair to be reading this in Lagoon's shadow, but I find it impossible not to, given that they're both in Viz' Signature line, released new volumes on the same day, and even share a trim size. I suppose they ultimately both descend from Sonoda's Gunsmith Cats, which wasn't exactly a paragon of realism itself. It's sort of interesting to track the protagonists' moral degeneration across the three series, from bounty hunters to mercenaries/pirates to war profiteers.

I definitely don't want all my entertainment to be socially responsible, but Jormungand's frothy adventuresome tone ironically bothered me by NOT following up on any of the darkness in its premise. Jonah's background is entirely glossed over, and seems just an excuse to have an adorable little boy toting a gun around. Even Full Metal Panic managed a more nuanced take on the subject. Actually, what the hell; between this, FMP, and Gundam 00, "child soldier" is in danger of becoming a stock character type.

Ultimately, Takahashi is not here to make any commentary on war culture, military-industrial complexes, or even human suffering. He is here to show stuff blow up real good. To his credit, there isn't any particular joy in brutality either, so the book remains tacky but not tasteless. Again, the frontispiece says it's his first work, and it definitely shows, but I can't say I didn't enjoy this.

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