Sporadic Sequential
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Heady Stuff

Dragon Head Volume 10 brings the suspenseful survivalist series to a strangely anticlimactic close. It's an ending both bleak and uplifting, with our heroes facing apparent imminent demise yet still managing to find comfort in the fact that they're facing it together. It's an ending both frustrating and fulfilling, as things suddenly come to an abrupt stop with long-lingering mysteries wrapped up too quickly and conveniently, yet in many ways it feels like the perfect ending for this series. This was never a series about endings or answers (although possible reasons for the disaster are clumsily provided through a clunky, too-long text piece, they're presented as speculative); rather, it was a series about the journey and the effect such exploration has on the explorer. A deranged character claims that "everything is created by the human mind, even this world itself" but this is exactly backwards: All the characters in the series act and evolve based on the way their external environments have shaped them. A thuggish character who had seemed at least somewhat redeemed returns to form at the end, threatening his former companions in order to get what he wants. Rebuffed and alone, he attempts to comfort himself with a stoic and solipsistic thought: "I've always been like this... This world can't change me... Nothing can..." But this ignores the evidence to the contrary: When things seemed more optimistic, he was capable of cooperative action. It was only when things looked hopeless that he panicked and acted selfishly. And even this response was conditioned by his past, as he unwittingly revealed a few moments earlier: "[Life] never gave me anything. Everything I ever had, I had to take." We are all products of our environments. (I find it telling that the only character who managed to transcend his external influences was the one who acknowledged the influence his environment had on his character. Only by recognizing the external forces acting on him could Teru hope to shape his actions and reactions consciously, and in turn hope to shape his surroundings (or at least his perception of it).)

As thought-provoking as the ending was, though, what I'll remember most about this series is the journey. Creator Minetaro Mochizuki managed to out-Akira Akira with his lovingly detailed drawings of a devastated Japan. At times the incredible amount of detail proved distracting, making the story difficult to follow (Where is Teru in that collapsing building? What just happened in that panel transition? What is everyone staring at?), but that's perhaps appropriate in a story about being lost and confused in a familiar setting made unrecognizable by destruction. Now that Mochizuki's grand tour is complete, I find myself wanting to revisit the series again from the very beginning. Here are some of the stops that stood out as highlights for me the first time through:

The Abyss: Mochizuki's use of pure black spreads may be viewed by some as a cheat, but I found it remarkably effective. After page upon page of realistically rendered rubble, the sudden abscene of anything was stunningly shocking. The multiple double-page spreads of inky blackness really conveyed the enormity of the pit our cast descended into. It was reminiscent of a piece of abstract art striking and bold in its primacy. It also brought to mind the saying, "If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

The Tunnels: The sequence where Teru ventures deeper and deeper into the subway tunnels was one of the tensest and most claustrophobic things I can recall reading in a comic book. Mochizuki did a masterful job of staging the space so that you felt as though you were right there with Teru in the tunnels, struggling with the conflicting feelings of "I wonder what's up ahead?" versus "Omigod, I should just turn around and head back to the surface right now!" Gripping, suspenseful stuff.

The Ash: When Teru finally reaches Tokyo, there's a bittersweet feeling beautifully captured in the scenes of a city covered in layers of ash. Yes, you're back home again, but it's not really home anymore, is it? You can never truly go back home again. Having reached his destination, what will Teru do now that he's found what he was looking for? What will he do if what he was searching for no longer exists? And what will we readers do now that the story is over? The answer: Reminisce, reflect, but ultimately move on.

Labels: , , ,