Manga in Minutes: Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist, Vols. 1 + 2
Welcome to another Manga in Minutes! Before jumping into the weekly review, here are a few manga related news items from the past week that caught my attention.
- ANN has a short piece up about the kerfluffle surrounding a Korean comic exhibit at France’s Angouleme International Comics Festival. Short version, the Japanese contingent were less than pleased.
- In less politically charged news, August Ragone, author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters had a write up on his blog about the upcoming live action Kikaida reboot movie. He briefly talks about the property and its origins as a manga by the legendary Shotaro Ishinomori.
From Hideyuki Kikuchi, the mind behind Demon City Shinjuku and Vampire Hunter D comes Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist. Megumi is your typical office lady and she leads a fairly non-descript life, until one unfortunate night she finds herself the prey of an enigmatic, leather clad, inhuman, whip wielding woman by the name of Inran and her associates. Stumbling through the dark alleys of a popular Korean shopping distract, Megumi chances across the one person who can save her. Akamushi Fujiwara, the Red Spider Exorcist!
I have to admit that the general set up to Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist is something I have a soft spot for. Someone with special knowledge, skills or powers helping people who inadvertently stumble into a world beyond their ken is just a premise that clicks with me. The amount of media that I’ve consumed with similar concepts range from Kikuchi’s other works like Vampire Hunter D, to Mushishi, to American takes on the idea such as Hellboy. That said, while Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist is enjoyable, it can’t quite shake the feeling that its simply a checklist of Kikuchi’s cliches. Enigmatic pretty boy protagonist? Check. Damsel in distress? Check. Supernatural beings threatening sexual assault? Check! Despite not doing anything new with these concepts, it still manages to be a fairly entertaining tale. The bulk of the two volumes are dedicated to the story of Megumi and what happened to bring her to the attention of the supernatural predators who stalk her throughout the volume. Unfortunately Megumi herself isn’t a terribly intriguing or interesting figure. She spends most of her time terrified, confused and constantly needing protection or help. In fairness, you generally don’t read Kikuchi novels for their nuanced character development, you read it for the insane situations, monsters and more that he seems to be able to produce in mass numbers. In that regards Taimashin doesn’t disappoint. Living whips, black holes in palms, shadow people, Venusian plant life and similar imaginative fair all mix and appear to challenge or aid Akamusha as he attempts to protect Megumi. The twist at the end of her tale is one of the more interesting things about it, particular as it casts Akamusha in a role different from those most Kikuchi protagonists have and it’s something I would have been interested in seeing followed up upon in the second half of volume two. Sadly Kikuchi seems to be moving things in a slightly different direction, and the Akamusha that appears in the second story seems far more sinister and threatening than he did in the first tale.
Shin Yong-Gwan’s artwork is clean and easy on the eyes. It’s a little lacking in the mood and atmosphere that you’d expect in a horror manga, but it’s clarity means you’ll never be confused about what’s happening, who’s who, or be at a loss to follow the action. The inclusion of a few, awkward, chibified, comedic over reactions certainly don’t help in the mood arena either. All that said, he does a really good job at depicting Akamusha himself. His poses, clothes, and enigmatic smile all lend him a certain level of inhuman grace and mystery. When he leaps from a stage and seemingly floats down to protect Megumi, it really does feel like an effortless move and that he’s floating calmly downwards rather than leaping defensively to her aid.
Despite its adherence to Kikuchi’s traditional formula, Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist was still a fairly enjoyable read. I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense after all. It’s a formula that’s worked for Kikuchi over the years so why fix what’s not broken? Hopefully as the series progresses we’ll find out more about Akamusha himself, because right now all we know is that he’s pretty and badass. It’s interesting to note that this is one of DMP/Emanga’s first attempts at continuing a printed series in an electronic format. The first two volumes are available in both physical and electronic copies, with later volumes being available in electronic format only. Maybe if it does well enough other series that started out as physical books will receive a similar treatment.