The spring season of anime is well underway, and one of the biggest, ugliest critical flops is Triage X. If today's review is anything to go by, this show was doomed from the start, as its source material wasn't good to begin with.
TRIAGE X (Toriaji X), by Shouji Sato. First published in 2009, and first published in North America in 2012.
Within the gleaming walls of Mochizuki General Hospital lies the headquarters of an elite squad of mercenary assassins. By day they work in the hospital, doing their best to care for people. By night, they seek out the "black labels" of the city and kill them to excise the "cancer" of crime from the city. Their jobs are about to get a lot more complicated, though. Their latest jobs have not only brought the team to the attention of a dangerous criminal mastermind, but also a couple of bumbling detectives determined to arrest everyone involved.
High School of the Dead was no masterpiece, but it was successful as hell for the Sato brothers. So, how would they follow up that success? Why, by letting the artist create something that's trying so hard to be edgy and dark that it becomes outright laughable.
So the concept for this story isn't all that original, although it's got a lot more Western influences than one usually sees in shonen manga. We've got a team of vigilantes who might as well be superpowered considering the sorts of fights they survive, who fight all sorts of depraved villains with guns, blood, and boobs galore. It's a 13 year old's idea of what is DARK and EDGY, as the characters talk about what justice truly means and how they're saving the city and blah blah BLAH. This sort of gratuitous action feels like it would have been more at home in an Image comic circa 1993 than it does in the world of manga today. The only thing that distinguishes it is the medical theme of the team and their terminology, and as the volume goes on it only gets more and more forced. It feels like the medical theme is there mostly to justify the team's naughty nurse-style uniforms than anything else. It even feels like the story is setting itself up for a DARK and EDGY twist with the team's mastermind. He's a sickly old man who determines the team's targets, and if he doesn't end up being evil or insane in later volumes I will buy a hat for the express purpose of eating it. The sad thing is that would be a welcome relief because then at least one of these characters would exhibit something resembling actual character.
Yeah, Sato so clearly does not care about his characters as people. The only person who gets any sort of backstory is Arashi, the token guy of the group. It's suitably sensationalistic and vaguely tragic, bringing in both a bit of mad science and even a touch of superhero-style origin, but all it really does is explain why Arashi is covered in wicked-looking scars. Everyone else on the team is a girl, and they're all slotted into a lot of the standard otaku fetish roles - the childhood friend, the tsundere, quite a few bubbly ditzes (including one that's both a loli and an idol singer), and so on. Their opponents are nothing but cackling, sadistic madmen with vague but diabolical plans to take over the city because...well, just because. They're so comically, simply evil that at one point they literally run over a little old lady because they can. The detectives are relegated to dumb comic relief. I guess I should be happy that many of these women aren't being pushed to the sidelines during the fights. They are active opponents who have no qualms wielding guns, kicking ass, and driving fast vehicles. It's just that it's not enough to counteract the fact that they don't have any sort of character or motivation beyond "has boobs, will fight."
I didn't mind all the action scenes, though, because they were at least capably handled. The rest of the story is made up of lame attempt at lightness and comedy, all pulled straight from the cliché pile. We see some of the girls working as nurses, and of course everything has to end up back at a high school so we can watch Arashi and Mikoto ape their way through all the usual high school antics. There's even a running gag with Arashi being chased around by a flat-chested classmate with a raging crush on him, but it's so badly done that it almost makes you wish that it would go back to the action. Note that I said almost.
Triage X is a throwback to 90s American comics filtered through a 13 year old boy's id. It's all gratuitous action with little to no character or explanation to give it any depth. It's not even enjoyable on a guilty pleasure level, as it's too shallow and dumb for even that.
As poor as Sato's storytelling is, it has nothing on his art. Sato seems convinced that he's still drawing hentai, because he spends a lot of time on the tits. Nary a page passes by that doesn't find some way to highlight the enormous, distended, and often inconstantly sized breasts that nearly every female cast member possesses. We see them from just about every angle conceivable, and everything they wear either seems to have built-in boob socks or is stretched to its physical limits to accommodate them. Oh, how I pitied their poor, futile zippers, straining so hard to contain those mutant mammaries! Even if you're not a boob man, though, there are plenty of ass shots and bulging panty-clad crotches to complete the T&A quotient.
Sato's love of fanservice sometimes goes so far as to become outright uncomfortable. The villains apparently like to indulge in some sadism for the hell of it, but it's only the female victims that are stripped, bound, and whipped as the panel zooms in on their cries of pain as they cry and drool. It's shallow and shameless, but in this book it's the norm. I just wish he could have lavished that same sort of detail on literally anything else in the book. His characters' faces are flat, flappy, and occasionally derpy looking, and all of the women's faces seem to be copied and pasted from the same template. He's not even terribly good at drawing action. He can use perspective and extreme angles well in scenes, and it does bring a certain dynamic degree to them, but the actual action is drawn in a disjointed manner. It lacks any sense of flow, and it comes off like someone trying to translate a Michael Bay action scene to the page. Much of the art tends to come off as flat and shallow because he can't really be bothered to shade anything aside from the boobs. Looking over this, it's really hard to believe that Sato used to be an assistant for Rikudo Kihdo, a.k.a. the creator of Excel Saga, because he really cannot be arsed to draw anything well unless it involves fanservice, and this story begs for the kind of energy and non-sexual excitement that Sato is simply not capable of providing.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but Triage X is a step down from High School of the Dead. That wasn't a great manga by any means, but it seems that without his brother, Shouji Sato can't draw an action scene worth a damn and instead gets lost in fanservice. Like I said, this isn't even worthy of being a guilty pleasure because it's too juvenile and thinly sketched to enjoy. Triage X is a manga that's DOA.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 10 volumes currently available. 9 volumes have been published, and all are currently in print.