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.)