Monday, May 7, 2018

Merry Month of Manga Review: DARKSIDE BLUES

Some people only have one good idea inside them, no matter how many times they try to create something new.  If history has taught us anything, then this is most certainly true for Vampire Hunter D creator Hideyuki Kikuchi.

DARKSIDE BLUES (Dakusaido Burusu), written by Hideyuki Kikuchi with art by Yuho Ashibe.  First published in 1988 and first published in 2004.


In the not too distant future, the Persona Corporation owns most of the world's land and controls every faction of life with an iron fist.  Their rule is reinforced not only by the director's sadistic children, but also by their small army of biologically modified assassins.  The only opposition to them is a group of anti-Persona guerillas led by a woman called Messiah.  Into this struggle comes a strange man calling himself Darkside, bringing with him his own supernatural brand of justice...


My god, Darkside Blues is an absolute mess.  There are half a dozen stories going on simultaneously here, but rarely do any of them intersect, much less make anything resembling sense.

It shouldn't be this complicated to turn this premise into a coherent story.  The notion of a force of common folk rising up against oppressive corporate masters is a staple of sci-fi fiction.  The same is true for the concept of supernatural beings dealing justice to those deserving of punishment.  So why can't Kikuchi figure which part of each of those concepts is important and focus on those? 

Instead he just skips all over the place, introducing new characters and ideas at will and wrapping up maybe half of their stories.  It's not even like the other characters are written all that deeply!  The heroes are all motivated by rapes and murders committed against them or their loved ones, while the villains are all motivated by personal greed or sadistic pleasure.  Meanwhile the reader is never given any insight as to who (or what) Darkness may be, why he takes on the appearance and trappings of a 19th century dandy, or what the limits or definitions of his powers may be beyond whatever is most .  We don't even learn who wins in the conflict between Persona and the rebels!  Maybe Kikuchi thought that this lack of explanation for anything would build a sense of mystery, but instead it just builds a sense of confusion and frustration.


Ashibe is an old-school shoujo mangaka by trade, best known for her series Bride of Deimos.  I can see why she would be seen as a good match for Kikuchi's work.  Her art possesses the sort of delicate detail that would make her a good substitute for Kikuchi's best-known artistic collaborator, Yoshitaka Amano.  Alas, Ashibe's art never evolved beyond the 70s, to the point where I had a hard time believing this was made in 1988. 

Her characters maybe dark, lush and beautiful, but they also have weirdly spaced eyes, triangular noses, and flappy mouths that make them all look like mask-wearing corpses.  There's a shocking amount of bare breasts on display, and all of them are completely gratuitous.  The backgrounds are effective, though, as the rich detail and heavy hatching Ashibe fills them with plenty of atmospheric shadows and grunge.  It goes a long way towards unifying the sterile sci-fi office buildings and the decaying ruins of the older neighbors, even if neither of them feels very much like a futuristic Tokyo.

She can't always resist the urge to enliven the oppressive, dark world of Darkside Blues with some shoujo flourishes, which adds to the anachronistic style.  At random points characters may be cast into ethereal silhouette, pose in fields of blooming roses and sparkles, or surrounded with a halo of speed lines for dramatic effect.  It's all terribly pretty, but it doesn't quite work with this particular story.


Darkside Blues is a mess of a story that looked well out-of-date (and genre) when it was released, much less now.  Perhaps if the editors were more concerned with creating a great story and less on trading in on Kikuchi's name recognition, they might have created a book that was actually worth reading.

This book was published by ADV Manga.  It is currently out of print.

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