Comic Picks By The Glick

The Strange Tale of Panorama Island

July 13, 2013

This has been a looooooong time coming.  They were joking at the “Best and Worst of Manga” panel at Comic-Con last year that 2013 may be the year this collection finally ships.  Well it has and the results are going to be most appealing to those who prefer art over story.  “Panorama Island” is the tale of struggling novelist Hitomi Hirosuke who finds out that his “double,” a rich industrialist he went to school with, has suddenly passed away.  Gripped with a fit of imagination and passion, the writer concocts a plan to pose as the man returned and utilize his fortune to build the paradise of his dreams.

Mangaka Suehiro Maruo is the one who adapted this story from famed Japanese detective novelist Edogawa Rampo, and though I’ve heard about him for years, this is my first major exposure to his work.  Though I recall the excerpts of his work that Dirk Deppy used to run during his time at “Journalista!” were quite freaky, this isn’t as disturbing as those.  Of course, it doesn’t really have much in the way of narrative at all as the majority of the story is given over to Hitomi’s relatively straightforward efforts to build his playground for adults.

Yet what a playground it is!  Even in the opening chapters which take place in a relatively conventional mid-1920’s Japan setting, Maruo’s intricate linework is a sight to behold.  You’ll want to observe each panel slowly to take in the detail he invests in even the most mundane scenes, and when he cuts loose -- as a double-page spread of a graveyard at night shows -- the effect is amazing.  Then you get to the second half of the book, where Hitomi takes his “wife” Chiyoko on a tour of the island and things just go right off the scale as the mangaka gives us a feast of imaginative sights, tricks with perspective, and lots of sex at the end to show the decadence of its creator’s vision.

Unfortunately Maruo is so focused on the visuals that the story and characters remain studiously underdeveloped throughout.  This may be a flaw of the original work, but it becomes increasingly apparent as the story progresses.  Though the first half of the book shows us the writer’s efforts to infiltrate the wealthy family it’s done fairly easily with a minimum of fuss.  There is some tension from the fact that Chiyoko realizes something is “off” about her new husband, yet it remains a subplot at best.  Everything here is secondary to the visuals and it really shows in the end.  It feels like the mangaka, having reached the end of the story, just wrapped things up and called it a day.  The end result is an ending that, for all its fireworks, has zero emotional impact on the reader.

Considering the level of visual extravagance on display, even I can’t complain too much about the lack of a compelling narrative or characters.  “Panorama Island” is pure style over substance and full of images that will not likely be forgotten by the reader anytime soon.  However, I can only hope that if Last Gasp wants to make a go of publishing more of Maruo’s works in English that they choose something with more substance for their next effort.

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