A Few Words About Dogs (Bullets and Carnage)
A Manga Review
by McCamy Taylor
No, not those kind of dogs. The dogs I am writing about are the assassins which inhabit the futuristic world of Miwa Shirow. The title refers to the fact that some of the killers wear collars which are attached to artificial spines that have the power to turn ordinary kids into superhuman murder machines. This is an overworked idea, and the manga would be just another Robocop clone, if not for the great art and colorful cast of characters which are introduced in the first volume of the manga, entitled Dogs: Stray Dogs Howling in the Dark in Japan and Dogs: Prelude in the new U.S. release from Viz.
In Dogs , Miwa uses a black and white art style that may remind readers of Frank Miller's Sin City -- if Miller's world included such Japanese staples as genetically engineered girls with angel wings dressed in Loligoth, another term for Gothic Lolita which describes girlish clothes for women (therefore "Lolita") in Goth colors -- i.e black with a little bit of white. If flounces are not your thing, do not worry. The fours heroes of the story are strictly all business. And by business, I mean killing.
My favorite is Badou Nails, a chain smoking private investigator with red hair and an eye patch who turns into a double fisted automatic weapon wielding psycho killer if deprived of his smokes. He is the comic relief and also the most human seeming of the heroes. Mihai is the older, retired assassin who just wants to live a nice, quiet life with his girlfriend, a restaurant owner. However, trouble has a way of finding him -- particularly since he is cursed with a ridiculously bad sense of direction that always seems to lead him into danger. Naoto is the obligatory school girl wielding a lethal katana. She wears a scar in the shape of a large X across her chest from the blade of the assassin who murdered her parents and who almost murdered her. She is driven by the need to avenge this attack and recover her memories which were lost in the ordeal. The quartet is rounded out by Heine, a white haired young man who has one of the "dog collars". He has been genetically and surgically modified so that he regenerates from nonlethal wounds, leading one minor character in a later volume to call him a "zombie".
They say every dog has its day. I am going to be honest here. I think that Dogs already had its day in the first collection of graphic short stories, which were released in 2001. Miwa does a brilliant job of introducing each of the four main characters. The art is more detailed than in later volumes, where background is implied and the printer seems to be rationing the black ink. The stories are only loosely tied together, which is fine since this is a character driven piece.
The follow up manga, Dogs, Bullets and Carnage which was started in 2005 has not impressed me as much as the earlier stories, even after almost 40 chapters. The plot -- who are the people in the underworld that keep making killing machines and why do they insist upon sending their creations above ground so that our four heroes have to fight them? -- starts to overwhelm the characters, who are forced to participate in increasingly bloody and implausible battles against a freak show of villains.
I recommend the first volume highly. It is a manga classic. If you find that you really like any of the characters or if you like stylish violence with a heavy dash of humor, you may want to check out later volumes.
Oh, did I mention that the Dogs anime adaptation is due out this month in Japan?
© 2009 McCamy Taylor
Bio: If you don't know who McCamy Taylor is, shame on you... What? We're not allowed to say that? Okay, she's the current Aphelion Serials and Novellas editor, author of many stories, novellas, and now manga reviews, here at Aphelion and elsewhere. Go. Look up her work. It's worth it.
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