Today's review is a rare short-story collection from a noted Weekly Shonen Jump creator. What can we learn from this glimpse into their early career?
TIME KILLERS (Time Killers - Kato Kazue Tanpenshu), by Kazue Kato. First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2014.
This short-story collection from Blue Exorcist creator Kazue Kato covers everything from assassins to demon killers, along with Native Americans, rabbit people, street kids, aliens and astronerds.
I'll admit that I'm not that familiar with Blue Exorcist, but I've heard enough good things about her work over the years to be curious what this story collection would be like. While the end result is a little uneven in spots, but Kato manages to actually make the most of most of these stories in spite of their length.
That's quite a feat considering that some of the stories only number half a dozen pages (such as "A Warrior Born of Red Earth" or "Nirai") and the rest don't stretch beyond a chapter or two (including "They Miyama-Uguisu Incident," which feels like a bit of a warm-up for Blue Exorcist). Yet every single one of them feels complete and satisfying, which is sadly unusual for these sorts of anthologies. Admittedly, she doesn't stray too far from her wheelhouse; most of these stories are action pieces with plenty of fights, villains and demons. Still, they don't feel like half-complete story pitches or leave any plot threads hanging, even if they involve a rice bowl granting wishes, a superhero kid left home alone, or an alien invasion.
The brevity of these stories and my own desire to not spoil the better ones limits my ability to discuss them in-depth. What I can say is that it is absolutely worth reading. In her author's notes, Kato says that these stories were all personal projects of hers and not suggestions from her editors or her audience. If so, then she's clearly a talented woman who should be allowed to follow her own interests more often.
Kato's artstyle is notably less stylized than most of her compatriots. It's rounded, earthy, and well-shaded. While a couple of them bear a suspicious resemblance to a couple of cast members of Blue Exorcist, overall there's a good variety of looks and body types on display. I like the attention to detail in her backgrounds, as she draws plenty of vistas, rooms full of clutter, and streets full of people. It gives these often fantastical stories a sense of reality and depth that is seldom seen in modern shonen.
Some of them are even drawn in full color, and they are soaked in vivid brick reds and minty greens. You can even see her start to experiment with framing and composition over time, as each new story expands a little further beyond those sturdy little black boxes. Even in her early days, Kato was clearly a skilled artist and one that was only growing better with time.
Time Killers is a story collection that can be appreciated by newcomers and Kato fans alike. It's a great anthology that's fun and visually dynamic from beginning to end and easily one of the best manga anthologies I've ever read.
This book is published by Viz. It is currently in print and available digitally.