Domu: Dreams of Children
A guy I borrow anime from is selling his manga collection, which was simply too much of a temptation. As a result I picked up the old Mandarin release of this mana by Katsuhiro Otomo, best known to us as the man who wrote Akira. It's an interesting piece which was critically acclaimed in Japan...and I can sort of see why.
It's called `Domu: Dreams of Children', but at heart this is actually a remarkably simple story. The setting is in a current day apartment block. One of those huge concrete worlds that seemed like a good idea at the time but now have too many people in too close proximity. And like any such estate it has it's share of flawed individuals. It also has a huge number of `unexplained' deaths that has the police both involved and powerless. There just doesn't seem to be a reason behind what is going on.
As we quickly discover the source of the problem is that a `power' has been given to one occupant of the estate. This power, being both great and beyond human expectation, allowing his mind free reign to play with the estate as if it were simply an entertaining toy. Although it seems he is getting more possessive and demanding with his toy, and the toll in `unexplained' deaths is rising. Things coming to a head when another person, with the same power but definitely not the same personality, comes to live in the estate.
Well, I did my very best to keep spoilers out of that...so it probably sounds incredibly vague. The important observation however is that it is not what I expected. The `dreams of children' subtitle led me to expect something subtle and arty. This is not like that at all, it's a simple and aggressive story that acts as a binding agent for a strong atmosphere, some shocking scenes and some large scale action. Indeed, at heart, it's an action manga. And those who liked Akira will see some of the same idea's and elements in this story.
But saying atmosphere and action isn't really sufficient. Let's start with atmosphere. There is a gritty and corrupt feeling to the entire story. People are flawed, including the authorities, weak and vulnerable. Those who have power use it selfishly and without care but even the normal people can be cruel, thoughtless or self absorbed. And with so many people it almost does feel like they're almost expendable. It's a very `American' and negative view of human society quite different from what we expect from a lot of manga. It's no surprise it gained a lot of notice, although I'm sure a lot of that was shock.
As for the action, well, it's impressive, it's large in scale and there's an awful lot of extremely explicit violence. This is a story about how people `fall apart' and there's a lot of physical destruction as well as mental. Gouts of black blood (like most manga this is monochrome) and detailed violence is one thing, but the atmosphere combines with this. People are accidentally killed, often simply for getting in the way, and the story doesn't even really stop to notice. By the end of this quite short manga the body count is pretty high. It's really relatively cruel, but it certainly does have a dramatic effect. And then the final conclusion is cold and clean.
What can I say, if you're looking for deep character, romance and optimism then keep well away from this one. If you want some action, and don't want anything to `wussy' or arty then come on down. And if you want to read a manga with some potent scenes and a strong personality then this is well worth a try.
In visual appearance the manga is not the most beautiful I've ever seen. Indeed the style is actually quite utilitarian. The human figures are often quite simple, rarely beautiful and occasionally almost crude. He also seems to like drawing sweaty, bald, overweight and other less standard character types. His drawing of a drunk, of a killer, of playful cruelty is powerful. And then every so often there'll be a really strong visual image. Backgrounds are often quite plain and simple. On the positive side when he draws action, destruction (whether physical or mechanical) there's a very careful sense of attention to detail. Whereas in some manga you might see an abstract explosion, or a cloud of smoke, here you seem to be able to see every brick and fragment. Indeed, at times, the action is rather more detailed than the squeamish might find comfortable.