Friday, June 8, 2012

Manga Judgment: Black Paradox (ブラックパラドクス) by Junji Ito (伊藤 潤二) (2009)

Well, I never thought that the day would come when I would not only be reading a manga, but would be actively reviewing it on my blog here. I've read a few of Junji Ito's works recently, and I have to say that I like most of them even if I don't love most of them. A little while ago I reviewed the movie version of Uzumaki and found it a little ridiculous, but I really liked the manga version. I especially liked the ending which reminded me of House of Leaves, which remains my favorite novel.

Anyway, Black Paradox is no Uzumaki. I don't know exactly how to proceed with reviewing this. It's a new type of review I'm trying out here and hopefully this works. I'm also finding this strangely ironic because this weekend I'm off to an anime convention with my girlfriend (She's into this stuff a great deal more than I ever could or would be, and I'll be joining her for that kind of insanity...), so I guess this is as fitting a time as any to do a review of a manga.

See, I had personal reasons for disliking manga and anime for the longest time. I had seen people literally consumed by these ways of storytelling. Certain types of anime and manga tend to breed fanboys and fangirls who eat, breathe, and live these stories. I found it out the hard way more than once. Socially awkward anime fans... an ex-girlfriend who paid more attention to her Japanese animes and manga than she ever would to me... and some of the weirdest fetishes I have ever heard of outside of the internet. I still don't understand Yuri and Yaoi, and I really don't want to understand them. Blast it, last year I was at the same convention I'm going to this year and in a panel I was sitting in on, hardcore Yaoi conversations started up with young children in the same room! Kingdom Hearts fans are a little hard to understand at times... and teenagers and adults should know better than to be sick enough to speak about cartoon relationships and sex around young children who enjoy essentially a children's video game series.

I throw all of these things out there because, as I've mentioned before on this blog, I have a bias against anime and manga. So when I say I like something in those media, like Uzumaki or Miyazaki and his films, it really does mean something special. Trust me on that one.

So, my girlfriend, bless her crazy head, introduced me to Junji Ito not long ago. She mentioned it in an offhand type of way, something about a horror manga I might enjoy if I gave these things a chance. She set me off to reading it, but I doubt she ever really expected that I would with my bias against the entire medium. She was shocked, literally shocked, when I told her that not only had I read some manga, but that I had enjoyed it. It's new for her, seeing me actually enjoy something that she's been into long before I met her and not complaining about it, not hating on it, but actually reading it, even recommending certain stories to her! She finds it funny, but I don't like having the bias against this medium. I've had some bad experiences about manga and anime and popular and fetishistic Japanese things, so I never thought I'd ever enjoy an anime or manga thing... but I was wrong.

I really like Junji Ito's style and his storytelling. He isn't the best writer in the world, nor is his stuff incredibly horrific like some reviewers tend to think, but he tells a pretty decent story with a good pace in the vein of Lovecraft, the short stories of Stephen King, and early cosmic horror in general. He has some odd tastes, and his characters tend to all have similar looks to them in different stories, but he does a good job at drawing and writing compelling stories. I like the manga he does for the most part. Because I do like a lot of his stuff, allow me to say that I'll probably be doing more reviews of his manga and the movies based off of said manga in the future.

So, let's get started! Black Paradox is not very good.

It's starts off pretty well, with an interesting premise of four people going to commit suicide together for similar reasons, but the story simply falls apart when it gets more complex. The characters barely exist as characters. They are so one-dimensional and shallow. There is no real weight to the story either as many of the characters in it either don't accentuate the seriousness of what's going on or are simply too callous to care. There never seems to be a main character despite one of the characters, Marisol, seeming to take that role in the beginning. Only one character ever seems to even grow throughout the story: Baracchi, and that's only because of some plastic surgery and a convoluted  love triangle type of thing that never gets any closure anyway.

There is a mad doctor who is so villainous it's almost comical. He seems to want both of the women in the story without any problem at all. He, conveniently, is the main hinge of the plot, and his villainous behavior and extreme understanding of science and medicine are the only reasons this plot ever even gets off of the ground. I just want to sigh at the convenient story and ridiculously one-sided characters. I will say to Junji Ito's credit that his drawings are mostly superb, and his art shows a dramatic improvement from some of his earlier works even if there is not as much grotesque art, the characters and the backgrounds are much better done in general.

I found the story and plot a little too preposterous to set aside my suspension of disbelief, and constantly found myself wondering why things were happening, why was it these four people? What was going on? and sometimes when those question come into my head, it can be a good thing, but here it felt like a distinctly negative aspect of the manga. I didn't really enjoy reading the story after the second chapter or so, but pushed through because that's how I roll. Again, the art is pretty good, but the story is literally almost laughable and the characters are basically one-dimensional or nonentities.

I did like how Baracchi has a "birthmark" that takes up half of her face. I liked the art there and would have loved to have had her backstory explored. The same goes for all of the characters. I found their backstories so much more interesting than the story presented. Four people going to commit suicide together and are stopped by some weird forces? That sounds amazing to me. But the finished product with body parts opening up to another dimension where souls are stored in jewels of a sort?  I don't know. It just didn't do it for me.

The premise is really that weird. These four people can eventually, once their body parts are removed from them, enter into a comically enlarged removed body organ (that's conveniently stored in a tank or a pool) into another dimension to find soul stones that are used for various things like energy expenditure and such. Oh boy... Sure, there's a message in there about people being willing to exploit anything that makes their lives easier, even if it's their own souls... but... hmm... the message I just wrote there actually makes me like the story a little bit more. If the manga was written solely for that message it's still a bad manga, but at least it's trying to say something.

Honestly the idea of the story sounds a hell of a lot better than the execution. Reading through it was almost excruciating, especially when Junji Ito's visuals weren't as strange and amazing as they usually are. No, I;m not contradicting my earlier statements either. His people looked better as did the NORMAL and MUNDANE backgrounds, but his horror elements and creepy art were woefully missing from this piece. I found nothing incredibly memorable, and largely this manga is forgettable and not as good as most of the Junji Ito stuff that I've looked through over the last couple of weeks. I could compare Black Paradox fairly unfavorably to Hellstar Remina (地獄星レミナ), which I thought had some similar elements but was better executed in every single way.

I can't recommend Black Paradox as much as I've enjoyed Junji Ito's works. Go check out Gyo, Uzumaki, or Hellstar Remina long before you waste your time with this one. I didn't enjoy it. I didn't have a good time reading it. I don't think it's really worth reading. I don't think it's the kind of quality I've come to expect from Junji Ito.

Anyway, I may do some more of these Manga Judgments, but expect harsh criticisms at times if I do. This is a style I do not generally like, so it takes something really special to blow me away. I don't want to show my bias, if I can help it, but when something is bad expect me to really scorch the boots off of it. That being said, if I get the inkling to review Hellstar Remina, you'll see me actively loving everything in that one... so much more than Black Paradox. (I said that last in a very derisive tone as I wrote it. Just thought you readers should know.)

15 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this review and you made a lot of good points, but I find that the criticisms you made actually apply to A LOT of Ito's work. To the point that it's not even about the characters or any kind of development on their part, really (I mean, even in Uzimaki, which I adore, exactly how much character development do you see?). I've taken to Ito's manga in such a way that I don't really consider them character driven. It's more about what weird, unthinkable, monstrous situation they will find themselves in. That's what makes his work so compelling for me :) He seems weak on characters but it just all goes into that horror aspect of it instead.

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    1. Yeah, see I agree with you that most of these criticisms could go on most of his stuff, but I find that a lot of his other stuff do have some characters that drive them even if it is more subtly or barely at all. I mean anything with Souichi and his ridiculous adventures or Hellstar Remina or The Town Without Streets or some of the Tomie stories or The Lovesick Dead or even Gyo... Especially my favorite like Den of the Sleep Demon or The Long Dream... those all have some pretty strong character archetypes despite, admittedly, being a little simple with characters in most of them. They also have a very well put together plot that is set up throughout and characters that can be defined and grow throughout the story.

      I found Black Paradox to be really lacking though, in basically every department. It felt like it had so much less of a story and so much less of a point than his other stuff that seemed more set up and more in depth. I felt like this was almost random at points and really without horror, which was the worst feature by far. Horror is one of the features I love about Ito's works, and Black Paradox lacks it to an incredible degree. That's my personal opinion, and I'm sure people would disagree, but that's how I felt when reading it. I mean, it could also be that I like his more set up stuff better, or at least his stories that do have definable characters and such, but for whatever reason Black Paradox was a viscerally unenjoyable experience for me.

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  2. i agree with every points there about black Paradox...

    im since im a fan of surrealistic horror like Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clie Barker i admit the first chapter of Black paradox was incredibly fascinating...

    i like how its story pulling so many urban Legend about human fascination on death... like the theme about 'evil twins' that become a reason Saburou, Baracchi and Piitan want to commit suicide..

    its very creative way... until the stories pulled down to some supernatural sci-fi thing

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    1. Yeah, that's my main thought about it too. It's very disappointing on the whole, but had such a great premise. Junji Ito tends to do this every once in a while, but I've found that usually even his bad executions are still palatable. Black Paradox just seemed bad. I wish it had gone in a more compelling direction.

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  3. Not to mention the ending. Oh my god, the ending. What was that?

    Anyway, great site and review. I´ll be sure to check on some of your reviews of Ito´s work, and if you want, check on mine as well!

    I have a couple of them on my website -

    http://crowinacloudysky.blogspot.com.br/

    Cheers

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    1. Yeah, that ending was terrible.

      Thanks! I should have some more Junji Ito manga reviews (or movie reviews related to Junji Ito) coming in October. I have a couple of hard to find gems that I am really excited to talk about.

      When I get a chance I'll check out your blog too! I always like seeing other people's opinions.

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  4. At least you have brains, sense, and you seem objective enough not to fangasm over something that's not necessarily BAD, per se, but not written the best, from the sound of it.

    That said, if your girlfriend's an otaku, though, you better dump her like a hot potato. It's going to end badly, and you'll get burned bad. You explained (rather reasonably, I thought) why you don't like anime and manga, so having an S.O. who likes any of it makes no sense to me. Also, any suggestions how to bomb the fuck out of those little shits and slaughter the lot of them? The world doesn't need their perverted sickness and stupid lazy asses around, right? :D

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    1. I have never "fangasmed," Anon. And while your comment has led me to a certain amount of circumspection in my brain, it has also made me shudder with a certain kind of fear.

      See, Anon, you've given the advice of "dumping" my "otaku" girlfriend too late! Alas, if you had ONLY commented on this review of a manga sooner, I might have heeded your warning, but she's my otaku fiancee now! I don't think I can do anything about it. It's pretty set in stone.

      So, that's all there is to say about that. I assume Junji Ito is very upset at me right now for failing to realize that every manga and anime fan is literally the worst person in the world and deserves to die.

      (And if you don't read everything I just wrote with oozing sarcasm, you're doing it wrong.)

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    2. Congratulations on your engagement, then, and I sincerely hope you don't end up regretting it.

      You seem like a decent person, but in all seriousness, I have no such respect for otaku. If murder wasn't illegal, I'd have gladly slaughtered all of those I've met, even if they are otherwise okay people. Some things just aren't cool when they've reached a critical point, and in my experience, rabid otaku-ness is one of those things. They taint my view of humanity and occasionally like to murder any hope for the human race I might get, when they get that bad.

      Since you appear to be a decent, reasonable (albeit sometimes perhaps a little tactless, looking at the comment section on your last Homestuck review) person, again, congratulations, and I hope you don't end up feeling it was all a Bad Idea. Perhaps your girlfriend is a more moderate 'otaku' or anime/manga/etc fan, in which case, I'm sure she's quite intelligent and mature, a rare credit to our species. Treasure the lady, my dear fellow, because if you lose her, you will be highly unlikely to find her equal again, or her better.

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    3. Wait, so, I'm confused. Are you suggesting Saquarry's fiancee be slaughtered, or treasured? I need some clarification, because I SINCERELY hope that you're not implying that mass genocide is deserved simply by liking certain entertainment media... Or that becoming engaged to someone is instantly a 'Bad Idea' simply because every single interest each partner has isn't entirely mutual.

      Seriously. Treasure or slaughter? You had two very different tones despite knowing NOTHING about me.

      Oh, did I introduce myself? Hi, Anon. Otaku fiancee here. I can't say I appreciate comments like "If your girlfriend's an otaku, though, you better dump her like a hot potato," or "any suggestions how to bomb the fuck out of those little shits and slaughter the lot of them?" or "If murder wasn't illegal, I'd have gladly slaughtered all of those I've met, even if they are otherwise okay people." And my personal favorite, "Since you appear to be a decent, reasonable... person, again, congratulations, and I hope you don't end up feeling it was all a Bad Idea."

      You make me feel so warm and fuzzy inside, Anon-san. So glad to see that you truly care about the status and happiness of our relationship.

      So, really, I'm curious. Am I 'intelligent and mature' or a 'stupid lazy ass' with a 'perverted sickness' and deserve to have you 'bomb the fuck out of [me]'?

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    4. Anon, I think irony and confusion has mostly left me a bit more numb to your comment than I want to be. Murderous intent for any fanbase is harsh. Believe it or not I'm incredibly reasonable. And more than that I have the utmost amount of patience for the fanbases of the world, even the Homestuck one, which I find tedious. I just don't have patience for people who whine at me or miss my points entirely though. Or throw insults or rage at points that are throwaway ones at best.

      Hint hint.

      And my point here is that threatening a fanbase for supposed deserved harm seems in poor taste especially when my own fiancee is part of that fanbase. I get that some fans can bring about a bad impression, but they neither represent the entire fandom nor do they deserve violence or threats against them for liking what they do regardless how hardcore a fan they are.

      So, I would advise for you to take a chill pill, stop interacting and hating on the otakus of the world and find something you can enjoy talking about that doesn't involve slaughter or hate or commenting on a blogpost of a somewhat obscure manga about the author of said blogpost's otaku girlfriend. This is a discussion about Junji Ito's Black Paradox manga, not a discussion about your inability to be a decent human on the internet.

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  5. man ,have you read Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezu? That's what inspires Junji's work and its pretty awesome

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    1. I've heard of it but never read it. I didn't know it helped inspire him either. I think I'm going to have to check it out then. I don't know all that much about manga or the authors of manga, so I claim ignorance on basically anything that isn't Junji Ito.

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  6. I also think your article raises some fairly good points, but I also think that there is another point to the manga. The whole thing seems experimental, like a pilot episode, you've got the "skilled" team gathered for a purpose, a thing to quest after, an underlying theme, a villain that won't be going away soon and interesting things brought up at the start of the story that will become more important as a longer story went on. The end of the piece seems to emphasize it the most and the last pages or so are like an intro to a show. Due to no large amount of people enjoying it, it remained experimental. I also feel like the doctor was in a way a parody of drama doctors that are extremely skilled in their field, basically allowed to do stuff normal ones wouldn't get away with and ones who after nursing a woman back to health, instantly fall deeply in love with her. On the other hand I have to say this isn't the sort of story visual or otherwise that I'm into; I simply had finished a story that had time paradoxes as one of it's focuses and started searching up more about paradoxes. While I was looking at pictures of charts and theories, pictures of this manga popped up and I mainly began reading to figure out what the heck it had to do with time paradoxes and then how it led to those parts of the manga that I saw. I was mostly fueled by morbid curiosity and some of those scenes really repulsed me, but those other elements (I haven't read much that involved both a seemingly mystical doppelgänger and a straight up android) kept me going and the style was interesting to say in the least. On another note since your fiancé is into anime, though I myself aren't really obsessed with anime either, I have seen a few good shows that I think are pretty good and that anyone might enjoy. I specifically recommend cowboy bebop and trigun, both have about 26 episodes that each go for about 24 minutes with a movie that fits in later in the show (though they are made later and don't have to be seen while watching in it's entirety). I haven't finished watching bebop but there are a few episodes and music sequences alone that merit watching the whole thing. I also think you should watch them from start to finish. As far as mangas go, trigun had a manga first that was still being published while the show was made and went off in another direction that I don't care to follow because I was satisfied with the shows story (but the artist is the same one from the show and his style is great in both) where as cowboy bebop had some mangas made after that from what I've seen aren't by the same artist (and in my opinion aren't as well drawn). Either way I hope you are able to watch both and I wish you and your fiancé the best.

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