Monday, September 18, 2006

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Viz Edition Sampler

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Viz Edition Sampler
story and art by Naoki Urasawa

I’m getting really desperate now. Seriously. I need to go to the comic book store. Or the bookstore. Even a 7-11 magazine rack would do. I can’t imagine that I’ll find too many more uncovered crannies in my box of Comic Con goodness. Today’s read was a stretch. Still, the Monster Viz Edition Sampler told a story with sequential art between two covers, so it counts as a comic. Of course, as a sampler, this excerpt is but a small part of a larger epic – a chapter, if you will, based on the distinction I established on Saturday. Further, and more importantly to the grand scheme of the A Comic A Day challenge, this comic is a sample of a genre as a whole. Monster is my second official foray into the mysterious world of manga.

Unlike Oriental Heroes, the other manga I’ve read thus far, this sampling reads from right to left, as is its eastern tradition. Further, while Oriental Heroes was essentially a sixty-page fight sequence, this excerpt from Monster is a twenty-six story-intensive diatribe on the downfall of a young talented surgeon. Ironically, Dr. Tenma is the kind of hero that preserves life, unfortunately in this case at the detriment of his own blossoming career. Despite reports that the Mayor is injured and en route to the hospital, Tenma hastily decides to tend to the critically wounded boy that arrives first. He saves the kid, but without his help, Tenma’s team loses the Mayor, to the devastation to the hospital’s reputation. What follows is the very collapse of a man, as Tenma loses the respect of his peers, his prestigious position, and his fiancée, who forsakes him as thoughtlessly as a pair of used surgical gloves. This tale brings to mind the old adage, “Physician, heal thyself.” Yet, we can only assume that the worst is yet to come.

I enjoyed these twenty-six pages. Honestly, I was surprised to count that this sample was so many pages, because it read so quickly. Despite the lack of action, Urasawa is obviously a master of suspense, propelling his medical drama with political intrigue and smatterings of the supernatural. His artwork is crisp, with diverse, expressive characters that utilize the best of manga’s form without abandoning the melodrama of its function. This is the ingredient that was missing from Oriental Heroes; in just a few short pages, I sympathized with Dr. Tenma and was curious about his plight. It’s called character, on both the writing’s and the writer’s part. Something tells me Urasawa has penned a story with some significance, and I may actually track it down someday to figure out how it ends.

Is this why so many manga epics are so long? Because they’re actually unraveling character?

Could it be that I’ve found a fondness for this stuff after all? Maybe Urasawa really did create a monster. Forget 7-11. Manga bookshop, here I come.

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