Urasawa’s Mind Must be Creepy as all Hell

I’m not that big of a Star Trek fan, but when the latest movie came out I figured I’d give it a shot. And surprisingly enough, it was a pretty good movie—nothing crazy amazing, mind you, but in comparison to the crapton of sci-fi movie flops, it was definitely a must-see. In that same sense, I guess I can see where people come from when they talk about manga-ka Naoki Urasawa.

For the uninitiated, Naoki Urasawa in a nutshell is one of the bigger name manga authors out there, writing critically acclaimed series Monster, Pluto and 20th Century Boys just to name some of his bigger titles. While he started off writing gag manga, most people know him for his psychological thrillers, making use of a story-telling style putting readers on end while jumping between multiple characters’ stories. In that sense, it’s like NBC’s Heroes… except done right.

Last year, my dorm neighbor first introduced me to Urasawa with 20th Century Boys. Being about a group of ragtag kids finding out which one of their friends has become a terrorist in their adult lives, the series does a good job of telling the story in a rather nostalgic way, making me actually wish I was born before the days of the Amber Alerts, so I could walk down to the Malt Shops and do whatever the hell they do at those places. But while the concept was solid, the story got pretty ridiculous with their technology as they moved from the ‘70s timeline to the less factual world of the new millennium. By then, I really just started reading for the sake of finishing the series. Thankfully, though, the series picked up in the home stretch and delivered quite the excellent finale, wrapping up all loose ends, if not efficiently at least in an understandable manner.

Later that year, I followed up with Pluto, Urasawa’s dark take on an arc from Osamu Tezuka’s well known series Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu for you purists). Again, the story starts off solidly, coming off as more noir-like than anything else, with a detective trying to figure out who’s been killing off all the more advanced robots in the world. Details like the robot laws (which I’m absolutely sure I, Robot had to have taken a page from) really made for a more believable futuristic society. What ended up disappointing me this time, though, was the ending of the series. While Urasawa was just cranking out awesomeness after awesomeness in each chapter, it seemed as if he was really trying too hard to focus the story on Atom (this series’ “Astro Boy” equivalent) even though he already formed a solid story with all the other characters. This resulted in a rather rushed finale, with everything coming to quite the abrupt end. Some kind of epilogue as was done with 20th Century Boys would have really helped.

Now, with my current winter break being everything past breaks have been cracked up to be, I was able to finish up the title I’ve heard the most acclaim for: Monster. A doctor, questioning his place in the world, must hunt down a young boy he brought back from the brink of death, who’s now become a serial killer. Once again, a solid story… but what about the middle and end? Actually, I found little to complain about this time around and was pleased with nearly every point in the story; each step was clearly done to move the story forward, rather than backwards, sideways, slantways, or any other ways, like the other two titles did. If anything, I was more concerned with how each point in the story was told, with some minor events taking a bit longer than expected, and some of the more major events happening almost too quickly, especially during the climax.

Having read some of Urasawa’s big-hitting series, I figured I’d continue my trek on the bandwagon and start following his latest series, Billy Bat. The story starts off in America with a Japanese-American cartoonist making it big with his hit series Billy Bat—an Adventures of Tin Tin-esque kind of series filled with mystery and adventure. Little does the author know that he somehow subconsciously stole the character from an already existing series in Japan. While the story is interesting enough to draw readers in, I’m sorry to say that so far, only a mere 24 chapters in, the series has already taken a turn for the worse in explaining the cause of the author’s subconscious plagiarizing in the first place. Seriously, bringing Christ into the plot will either make it or break it for you. Furthermore, Urasawa is beginning to insert his morals into the story in a rather flawed fashion. With his previous series, there’d be occasional “Public Service Announcement” talk integrated into the story lines, ranging from alcohol abuse, to drugs and sex (wondering just how many tag searches I pulled in just by typing that). But while such talk was rather obvious to point out, it didn’t detract enough from the story that it came off as obnoxious. In Billy Bat’s case, though, later chapters especially dealing with racism seem to be just so over the top when it comes to preachiness. I mean, I could almost hear myself rolling my eyes as I was reading through those chapters. Definitely the black sheep (or more accurately, “the Heroes seasons 2+”) of Urasawa’s works.

So, there you go: four of the great Naoki Urasawa’s critically acclaimed titles taken apart by some lowly blogger who clearly has no concept of what true writing’s all about, right? Well for those who haven’t already exited out of this entry, let me make a feeble attempt in justifying myself. Urasawa is clearly not your run-of-the-mill manga-ka, writing stories that captivate readers due to their complex and thought-provoking storylines more than anything else. But even with all the praise he gets, I still think, based on his more popular series, that he has yet to reach the peak of his work. So far, we’ve seen that he has been capable of setting up an excellent basis for each of his stories, but is still lacking the “oomph” needed to really bring everything together. Regardless, many see his works as literary genius not because of their overall setup, but because of the ideas and concepts brought up in them. Like, imagine seeing the theory of relativity explained written entirely in crayon—the concepts discussed are clearly well done, but its delivery is rather lacking, is all.

Or if that doesn’t work for you imagine JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. So many people gave such positive reviews of the film, but that’s not to say that it’s the greatest thing in the history of forever. It’s more like there were so little works of the same genre to compare it to at the time (and the later ones that did exist were seen as crap), that in comparison, of course it would come off as the greatest thing in the history of forever. I mean, let’s face it: as much as I love DBZ, it doesn’t exactly have the kind of “makes you think”-ness that any of Urasawa’s work delivers. But because I’m a fan, I’m probably more likely to use my $25 Target Christmas card to put a pre-order for the latest Dragon Box, while the live action sub 20th Century Boys will probably end up on my Wish List for future events.

So don’t get me wrong – I definitely see Urasawa as a genius when it comes to his topics of choice he covers in his manga. He just needs some time to perfect that genius, is all. Eh, I’ll stop now before I go crazy with the analogies again.


About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

6 Responses to Urasawa’s Mind Must be Creepy as all Hell

  1. Anonymous says:

    I can totally understand some of your criticism’s of Urasawa’s work, and some of your complaints aren’t uncommon.

    That said, criticisms included, it baffles me that you could make any sort of comparison to Abrams’ Star Trek. Urasawa has near impeccable plotting, excellently written characters, amazing capacity for drawing expressive faces, a mastery of comics pacing and panelling, as well as some really important themes on the conceptual side. Abrams’ Star Trek is a fun mess with superficial characters, a contrived plot, great special effects, and no worthwhile themes.

    Also, the fact that you consider both Star Trek and Urasawa’s work to shine because within their respected ‘genres’ there’s nothing else terribly good also betrays a pretty big ignorance of said genres. It also unfairly marginalizes both genres and Urasawa as a result.

    • daemoncorps says:

      First off, congratulations for getting the first non-spam comment on this here site. Any and all kind of opinions on my writing are welcome :).

      Randomly bringing out Abrams’ Star Trek like that was used more as a lead-in to the main topic of Urasawa and not really meant for an in-depth comparison between the two, since like you said, both people have rather distinctive styles of story-telling from one another.

      If anything, the only real comparison I was trying to make was the latter one you mentioned about them standing out within their respected genres. Though, that’s not meant to marginalize Urasawa or any genre mentioned. My thoughts comparing the two works were more from the perspective of a general audience–the type to be ignorant to accepting comics as a form of well-written literature. It is this type of audience I focus my writing toward when it comes to these entries in the first place in hopes that I’ve peaked their interests enough to consider any of the titles I’ve mentioned.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ah, well I am sorry to have misunderstood your intent, as well as your target audience. My apologies.

  2. Digit says:

    Just ran across this looking for a Urasawa review.

    felt obligated to point out that I, Robot didn’t take a page from the Robotic Laws – it CREATED them. (I, Robot was the book by Isaac Asimov that first set forth the Laws of Robotics that’s been used in Pluto. If you’re thinking of the movie, then yeah, it took a page from the book.)

  3. Pingback: Holiday Catch-Up: Goodnight, Punpun | DaemonCorps

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