You might know the name Yoshihiro Tatsumi from its frequent appearance on lists of Eisner nominees, including this year's candidates for the Eisner Hall of Fame. He didn't start out penning autobiographical masterpieces like A Drifting Life, however. One of his earlier endeavors was Black Blizzard, a noir thriller in which two accused murderers—on the lam and cuffed together—strike up an unlikely friendship.
By Yoshihiro TatsumiDrawn & Quarterly, 134 pp.
Clocking in at just a little over a hundred pages, Black Blizzard is a quick and fun hard-boiled adventure yarn that reminded me of watching an old film. The protagonist, a young man named Susumu Yamaji, is a down-on-his-luck pianist who believes he has killed someone in a drunken stupor. When the cops come for him, he goes quietly and ends up on a train under police escort, shackled to career criminal Shinpei Konta. After a landslide derails the train, Susumu is dragged along as Shinpei makes a break for it, and must keep his comrade from hurting anyone else. Eventually, he shares the story of how he came to be in this situation, and the two men find they have some things in common.
Despite the fact that Susumu’s story is kind of silly—it involves the circus, need I say more?—and that Shinpei’s connection with it is also too convenient, I still ultimately enjoyed reading Black Blizzard. There’s definitely something to be said for a fast-paced narrative like this one, which is fairly simple and subsists on a sense of adrenaline, nicely captured in Tatsumi’s depiction of the two fugitives, the snowy mountains into which they’ve fled, and their pursuers.
Although Tatsumi’s art doesn’t technically resemble that of Osamu Tezuka, I found the feel to be similar. It looks cartoony—especially Shinpei and his perpetual scowl—but depicts adult subject matter, a juxtaposition that takes a little bit of getting used to. In a Q&A in the back of the book, Tatsumi admits he worried his style here was too rough, but in retrospect, I think it actually works. More sophisticated art wouldn’t suit the desperation of the characters, particularly Shinpei and his fatalistic view of his life of crime.
Black Blizzard isn’t a classic in the sense of a monumental achievement that will change the way one looks at manga, but it’s significant nonetheless as an early work of a legendary creator. It also happens to be an entertaining tale, which would make it worth reading even without its lofty pedigree.
Black Blizzard is available now.
Review copy provided by the publisher.