| I I remember watching this anime on late night TV over a decade ago. Leaving aside the novelty of seeing black protagonists in anime, the show exudes this cool, sleek style, and a fearless confidence that’s easy to get sucked into. It’s not holding your hand, or trying to convey anything important. It just gives you a premise, hands you some popcorn, and tells you to enjoy the ride.
|| With this frame of reference, much of the comic’s appeal is apparent. If you’re someone who has had a similar experience to mine, this book will be entertaining enough to knock you off the shelf. For those not exposed to the franchise and its legacy, this might be a bit of a hard sell, as what you see is pretty much what you get. This volume is the beginning of an extremely simple narrative structure, with our protagonist moving from point A to point B, and all the chaos he encounters. No doubt there is a charm to this simplicity, but the comic form sometimes feels like and also simple.
|| While this anime overlaps in appeal with the aforementioned anime, this show at least has the benefit of music and voice acting , can highlight many decisive moments better. All those extra flavors help make things stand out in your head and make them richer. The manga does have some unique elements to a similar effect, but unfortunately not to the same degree.
|| The comic’s art style is so thick that everything looks like a series of silhouettes squeezed into a straightforward landscape. This helps certain elements stand out, like the white eyes that focus on characters during tense moments, and the red blood that contrasts with the stark monochrome of the rest of the book. There are times when you can only make out the outlines of certain bodies and scenes based on the distribution of blood, and that’s where the book stands out. I wish more manga and manga did something like this to better emphasize certain elements of violence and destruction.
|| Our protagonist, Afro, is no longer a character, but a vessel for revenge. He barely speaks throughout the book, with only one goal focused on his mind. I’m not even sure we should be cheering him on because we’re just seeing how he’s going to get out of the next dangerous situation he’s in. Supporting characters get occasional attention, but they end up being axed material, whether it’s the various assassins who enter the scene, or random civilians who apparently have their own stories. At times it feels like characters stumble into the book and end up dead by being left in the wrong place at the wrong time, which may be unintentionally amusing, but it also highlights problems.
|| There is nothing to cling to about this book. Our villains aren’t in the story long enough to be memorable, even with little dialogue that hints at more meaning behind why they do what they do. Any time anything resembling a soul enters the page, it is brutally chopped off in the firefight of the upcoming battle three pages later. In many ways, it really makes you wonder what the point of it all is; if the story is laid out this way, then why is there any dialogue? All of this could be used to show how cruel and harsh the world can be, but the book already does a good enough job of demonstrating it in the first five pages that it always feels a bit redundant to emphasize it.
|| None of this helps because the book is far less visually appealing beyond the visceral bloody battles. Heavy silhouettes and shadow styles stand out when contrasted with them, like red blood. But on its own, things look messy, as if there are various smudges on the page. There are even places where I have a hard time parsing what I’m seeing because the lines between organic and inorganic materials are just beginning to blend together. It’s a shame because there are times when comics can create these unique panels and shots using white backgrounds and such, but those moments are rare.
Overall, I find it hard to recommend. While it’s visually distinctive and easy to pick up, it’s just as easy to put down. The book is disjointed a lot of the time because it’s so visually brilliant and the narrative so simple that it might just be a skeleton with barely any animation. This volume does not end the story, and the final pages hint at something more important to come. Still, I hope the manga finally decides which direction it wants to lean, since the immediate path the book started with wasn’t as exciting or memorable as it would have liked.