BLACK GOD (Kurokami, “Black God/Spirit”) (??) • Dall-Young Lim (story), Sung-Woo Park (art) • Yen Press (2007-ongoing) • Square Enix (Young Gangan, 2005-ongoing) • 9+ volumes (ongoing) • 16+ (frequent language, graphic violence, partial nudity, sexual situations)
The product of a Korean writer and artist (although the art style is extremely Japanese), Black God deserves special consideration as a “manga” because it was created for a Japanese magazine. When he was young, Keita saw a woman who looked exactly like his mother…and a day later, his mother died horribly. Many years later, Keita is a college-age computer programmer hoping to make it big, when he encounters an young homeless woman, Kuro (”black”) on the run from enemies. He soon discovers that Kuro and her pursuers are not human–they are the mototsumitama, clans of superhumans who secretly control the world and preserve the balance of fate by eliminating two of the people involved when people encounter their doppelgangers. (It turns out that everyone has not one but two doppelgangers, aka “doppeliners,” for a total of three individuals.) Bonded to Kuro by a pact, he tries to discover the mystery of his mother’s fate, while Kuro defends them against their foes in super-strength, brutal martial arts battles. Black God awes with its beautiful art, slick and sexy with detailed backgrounds and grueling fight scenes (the color pages look especially good). The writing is more of a mixed bag. Kuro is a ditz who refers to herself in the third person and Keita is a bit of a jerk, calling Kuro “you fucking brat” (an example of the extremely foul-mouthed English rewrite) and otherwise behaving poorly. The battles between the humans and their mototsumitama partners quickly take on a predictable shonen manga-esque quality, with each new character introducing themselves via a lengthy and usually unnecessary fight scene, causing the plot to move forward at a snail’s pace. Lastly, the writers spend way too much time coming up with a laundry list of katakana terms and video game-esque move names of questionable coolness (”exceed,” “tera,” “tribal ends,” etc., although the manga doesn’t use the anime term “Tera Guardians”). Still, the gorgeous artwork, staggering battles and competent writing make this dark conspiracy beat-’em-up well worth reading.
*** (three stars)
Is Black God a manga? I’d say yes, because it was created for the Japanese publishing environment, with input by Japanese editors. In the same way, Felipe Smith’s “Peepo Choo” is also a manga. The particular requirements and pressures of Japanese publishing shape the story in ways which are undeniably “manga-like.”
To be honest, though, I think it’s ultimately futile deciding what is and isn’t “manga.” This is a debate which always comes up, and it’s always an emotional debate, usually prompted either by (1) American artists who craze the legitimization of the term “manga” (and don’t want their work to be called “comics” OH NOOOOO NOOOO NOOOO), by (2) “if you call it manga, then it is manga!” folks who want everyone to be happy, or by (3) hardcore manga-only fans who want to make sure that the riff-raff (American comics, Korean manhwa, etc.) don’t get the privilege of being called “manga.” Manga: The Complete Guide doesn’t contain non-Japanese titles, but that, frankly, was mostly a space decision, with a slight subdesire to show how manga presents Japanese culture. I didn’t want to go with (2) because then some very questionable books would have been included (Marvel Mangaverse, anybody?), and I also didn’t want to play “style cop” and say “Sorry, Frank Miller your work is not ‘manga’ enough… but oh, Mark Crilley, you can come in!”
In the end, I decided that the key elements were: (1) the book had to be produced with a Japanese editorial team for the Japanese market or (2) the book had to be worked on by an artist/creator who had been raised in that market. An example of (1) would be Black God, and an example of (2) would be Hiroki Otsuka’s Boys of Summer. There are a few series in the (1) category that I missed, however, such as Frederic Boilet’s Yukiko’s Spinach. I’ll get around to including those books in 365 Days of Manga.
Today’s winner is Aaron S. of Indiana! Congratulations, Aaron! Prepare to receive… MANGA! More reviews tomorrow!