The one Ryohgo Narita series that never did much for me was the Etsusa Oohashi series -- set on a man made island in the middle of a huge bridge, abandoned shortly before creation. The place subsequently became a land without law, and would seem to have been an ideal setting for Narita's unique brand of madness...and certainly, there are great bits and characters in all the volumes. But he never quite balanced the fun with a desire to work in darker themes than his books set in civilization, and never quite managed to figure out how to make the darker themes fun instead of sort of upsetting.
5656 is a bit of a reboot, then; the original series finished several years ago, and this volume returns to the setting with an actual, consistent series title. Albeit a meaningless one. (If you pronounce it Goro Goro, it sort of sounds like the animal noises of the earlier volumes.)
Narita grabs a page from Kadono's playbook and tries a unique structure -- three chapters depict an ongoing battle to the death between two men that conveniently takes out a group making snuff films on the island in the process -- while the other two chapters branch off from this chaos to tell other stories happening in the same time frame.
A dead body that crashes to the ground between them, soaking the bullets they'd fired at each other leads to a long story that not only explains how this guy wound up getting thrown off a roof, but also filling in the back story on Li-Lei (麗蕾, I'm sort of guessing here, actual Chinese speakers feel free to correct) a yandere who spends all her time sleeping, hugging things she deems cute, and beating people to death with a iron pipe. A childhood spent blindfolded in captivity, iron pipe of death skills learned entirely on her own as a way of fighting her nightmares -- dark stuff, but gleefully fun. The story cross cut with this, an unreliable first person narration of a man obsessed with her, works less successfully, but there was a certain amount of entertainment when the other shoe dropped and he finally got around to admitting the full extent of his own 'good deeds.' Needless to say, they lead to him getting beaten half to death and thrown off a roof.
The other inset story is, apparently, Narita's idea of a romantic comedy. The fact that the participants are a serial killer, a sword wielding hit woman, a chainsaw wielding maniac, and one of the two guys involved in the volume long gunfight...is just what makes it HIS.
The snuff film element itself is the sort of thing that would have dragged the earlier volumes down, but here he handles it better, almost immediately giving way to the two gunmen both showing up to rescue the snuff crew's latest capture and blowing their own cover by shooting at each other, and the crew's latest capture turning out to be Li-Lei, undercover. More importantly, it allows him to have Li-Lei pluck out their eyeballs and juggle them without it seeming remotely excessive.
I was quite relieved to find myself really enjoying this volume; it make have taken a few tries, but it feels like Narita's finally got his thumb on what makes this series and these characters work, and I'm looking forward to it continuing. Once they let him write anything but Dulalala!! again.