Monday, October 1, 2012


Ah October, when a girl's thoughts turn to all things bloody and wild.  Being the month of Halloween, what else could I review this month but a selection of horror titles?  Let's kick things off properly with a series I've long been dying to find...

MPD-PSYCHO (Taju-Jinkaku Tantai Saiko), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Shou Tajima.  First published in 1997, and first published in North America in 2007.

PLOT: Yosuke Kobayashi is a detective in Investigations Section One - basically, the Japanese equivalent of an American homicide squad.  When we first meet him, he is in the middle of a serial killer case, one who dismembers his victims and leaves them in horrific, staged poses.  Kobayashi is also suffering from strange, vague dreams full of blood.  It all comes to a head when a large cooler is delivered to Kobayashi's desk, and it turns out to contain the armless, legless, but still living body of Kobayashi's girlfriend.  This awful act, committed by the very serial killer Kobayashi was pursuing, causes something inside of Kobayashi to snap.  This snap reveals that Kobayashi is only one of many personalities in the same mind, and not all of them are rational...

Skipping ahead five years, Kobayashi is released from prison, in part because he has been identifying himself as Kazuhiko Amamiya since the murder.  He is quickly recruited by a private detective agency, as Amamiya et al. is still a great criminal profiler, and his own experience gives him insight few others possess.  Nonetheless, Amamiya's other personalities are still present within his subconscious, including the killer one.  Worse still, there is no way to predict which one may present itself, and if or when they may appear.

STORY:  If you ever wanted the rough equivalent of Dexter in manga form, this is the work for you.

Between this and Otsuka's other manga (Mail and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service), I get the strong suspicion that Eiji Otsuka is a very morbid guy who also happens to be a brilliant mystery writer.  You can't dispute that this is a brilliant concept for a mystery series - a brilliant detective who understands the criminal mind because he himself (or at least, one of his selves) is a serial killer.  It gives the reader all the thrills of a crime thriller with a touch of bloody vengeance to satisfy the audience's thirst for justice, even if it's the vigilante variety.

At this point, I can't call Amamiya's personalities all that distinct.  Kobayashi and Amamiya seem rather similiar to one another, although Amamiya is more grumpy and jaded of the two.  The only distinct one at this point is Shinji, the killer personality, who is brash, vulgar, and quick to anger.  Sadly, he's still probably the most fleshed-out character of the cast.  We do meet others, such the coworkers from the police department as well as the detective agency, along with a roving photojournalist with an interest in Amamiya's past, but they can't hold a candle to the guy with half the cast in his own head.

Of course, it's not just all about the crazy guy.  A mystery series needs compelling and original cases to survive, and MPD-Psycho delivers that in spades.  It's expertly paced, with just the right amount of twists and turns to bring Amamiya (and the reader) to the real killer, and the killer's signature move of 'human flowerpots' is as creative as it is gruesome.  Make no mistake - this is not a series for the squeamish or the sensitive.  The "Parental Advisory" sticker on the front is well-earned.  Those who do not mind such graphic content will be rewarded with a well-written crime series with a fascinatingly twisted protagonist.

ART:  The artstyle here is quite realistic, and actually reminded me more than a bit of Death Note, which is odd considering this series was published well before Death Note.  I think it mostly comes from the fact that Amamiya looks like he could be Light Yagami's bespectacled older brother.  Sadly, Tajima's art is nowhere near as detailed or as well-shaded as that artwork.  That lack of shading does give the artwork a certain sort of starkness, but it can also sometimes make the characters look a bit flat.  Maybe Tajima was just saving all that detail for the murder cases themselves.  I mentioned before that this was not a series for the squeamish, and I say so with good cause: there is more than a bit of gore and realistic, non-sexual full-frontal nudity on display. 

Before you protest, I can say that it's never taken to extremes; I never felt like the artist was getting off on his subject or adding gore solely for the gross-out factor.  I think it's mostly because the panels are composed in such a way that there's a sort of clinical detatchment in how these image are presented.  There's just something about the combination of the stark lighting, the dramatic angles at which many of the images are drawn, the general lack of backgrounds, and the lack of tight close-ups that leave the reader somewhat distant from these events.  I don't know how purposeful this tone is, but it's oddly appropriate for this series considering the protagonist's unique outlook(s) on life and death.  That distance even carries to the introduction, where the credits are intersperced between the panels like the credits of a film.   Another interesting visual trick that Tajima uses is that sometimes the sound effect in a scene will be superimposed over the panels like a stencil, sometimes even using the structure of the kanji to divide the panels.  It's a rather subtle touch - I didn't even notice it until the footnotes brought it to my attention.  It's subtle touches like these which make the art for MPD-Psycho stand out from the crowd and even help me forgive some of its faults.

PRESENTATION:  There are color pages in front, but strangely enough it's not full color.  Instead, they are shaded in black, white, and a pale shade of red.  There's also an afterword from Otsuka, as well as translation notes.

MPD-Psycho can sometimes look a little flat, but the brilliance of its writing more than makes up for that.  I would even dare to call it a bloody masterpiece.

MPD-Psycho is published in the USA by Dark Horse Comics.  14 volumes have been published in Japan, of which 10 have been published in the USA.  This series is out of print.

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