Monday, May 21, 2018

Merry Month of Manga Review: DOMINION

Once upon a time, Masamune Shirow could be relied on to churn out all sorts of interesting one-shot sci-fi stories.  Most of them have been overshadowed by the massive success of Ghost in the Shell, and that's unfortunate.  They weren't always masterpieces of transhumanism, but they were interesting in their own right.

DOMINION, by Masamune Shirow.  First published in 1986 and first published in North America in 2000.


In the future, the skies are brimming with dangerous bacteria.  Humanity has done everything to protect itself from the air, be it the strange pod-like beings they live in or the filter masks they wear outside.  It's not enough to protect the people from everyday criminals like the thief Buaku and his catgirl henchwomen Annapuma and Unipuma.  The only force capable of stopping them is the Tank Police, a hardscrabble group of cops dedicated to stopping crime (if not so much toward stopping collateral damage or pleasing their superiors).


You know what people forget about Masamune Shirow manga?  How funny they can be at times.  This quality has mostly been lost thanks to Ghost In the Shell's overwhelmingly serious reputation and Shirow's own descent into overly oiled-up porn, but he was always good at combining sci-fi funkiness with a sometimes off-beat and sometimes dark sense of humor.  Dominion is no exception to this.

For the longest time, I was convinced that this manga was either ripping off or parodying Patlabor.  It's not hard to see where I would get that idea, considering this is a manga about a spunky red-headed lady cop surrounded by a bunch of misfits and weirdos who work together to police the city.  Yet Dominion came out three years before the first OVA.  Was Patlabor ripping off this instead?  I'll leave that answer to those who know more about that franchise than I. 

I will say that I do like our heroine, Leona.  While the rest of the tank squad are based around a single gimmick, Leona has at least a few dimensions to her.  She's brave and committed to her cause, and over the course of the story she becomes something of a gearhead where her tank is concerned.  While there is a romantic subplot between her and one of her other squadmates, it's a very minor one and she remains mostly oblivious to his attentions.

It certainly does have a lot in common with most of Shirow's other works before and after its release.  You've got a group of crime-fighters led by a strong, capable woman who use short, squat tanks with weirdly insect-like parts.  While Shirow's vision of the future is an interesting fusion of Blade Runner-style noir with a funky, biological edge, it's also got an off-beat sense of humor that I find weirdly appealing.  Maybe it's just because the villains' plans are themselves so ridiculous.  When they're not stealing things like artifical plant beings or a bunch of babies, ,they're simply enacting petty revenge against the tank police.  Most of the time, it comes off like a big dumb sci-fi blockbuster and I feel like that's the best way to approach Dominion.


Shirow's style here is a bit looser than what people associate with him from later works.  The characters are fairly average (at least for him) with the exception of the bombshell proportions on the Puma sisters and the plant girl.  True to form, he does manage to slip in some fanservice in the form of bare boobs and casual nudity.  Still, you can tell how much fun he had drawing all the tanks and other mechanical designs, along with the big bug-eyed overreactions.  He also gives the city a rough, dingy look, but he uses a lot of larger panels to give all that detail some space to breathe.


I read this from the first, flipped edition.  I'm not aware of any major differences between the two, but I did enjoy the additional notes from Shirow about his ideas for this story, the appeal of the tanks, and some concept art.


Dominion is good old-school sci-fi action.  It may not be exploring any deep thoughts on humanity or technology but it's enjoyable all the same.  It's a prime example of what Shirow could do in his prime.

This book was published by Dark Horse.  It is currently out of print.

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