Greg reviews every manga series he reads, part 2: <i>MPD-Psycho</i>

I kind of hesitate to review this, but I will anyway. I'll explain below the jump!

MPD-Psycho is written by Eiji Otsuka, drawn by Sho-U Tajima, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian, and lettered by Steve Dutro. Dark Horse publishes the English version, and nine volumes have come out. There's part of the problem. The most recent volume came out last May, a tenth volume has not been solicited, and there doesn't seem to be any news about it coming out. It seems that there aren't many more volumes to go before the series is completed, so it seems strange that Dark Horse hasn't continued publishing it.

It makes it difficult to recommend the series, because I have no idea if it's going to finish, and it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

MPD-Psycho is a fairly wacky comic that begins with a multiple personality disorder sufferer (hence the title) and then goes sideways into far weirder areas. In some ways, that's fine, but in other ways, the accretion of governmental conspiracy takes the focus away from the main character, and whereas series that I will highlight later in this mini-feature of manga reviews handle that better, Otsuka isn't quite as good at it. The main character, we think, is a police detective named Yosuke Kobayashi, who in the first few pages is being sentenced to a jail term for "professional negligence resulting in death." As he stands to be sentenced, he tells the court that he is, indeed, Kazuhiko Amamiya, not Kobayashi. Then we go back in time and see him as Kobayashi, who's working a murder case. The killer delivers a large cooler to him one day, inside which is his girlfriend, dismembered but still alive. Then we go back to the present, where he's in prison. He's no longer Kobayashi in prison, he's Amamiya. So far, so good. A woman, Machi Isono, visits him to get profiles of various cases she's working on. She gives the profiles to his old partner, Sasayama, who's somewhat incompetent . She's also bothered by a freelance journalist, Toguchi, who gives her a videotape showing the "birth" of Amamiya and the crime for which he was imprisoned - he tracks down the killer and shoots him. In that moment, we realize that there are three personalities in his head - Kobayashi, Amamiya, and the one who pulled the trigger, Shinji Nishizono. Still all clear?

Machi offers Amamiya a job when he gets out of jail at her private criminal research lab. This is where the series takes its first real twist.

A murderer Machi has been profiling (with Amamiya's help) turns out to be a female cannibal, and when the cops pick her up, she commits suicide using a razor she had hidden in her mouth. Toguchi is there to film it, and he gets close enough to look under her left eyelid and see a bar code there. The bar code becomes part of the central mystery of the book: What is it, what does it mean, and how are all the people who have one (and there are many) linked? Otsuka keeps piling weird stuff on weird stuff, but he does manage to keep things on track. This is a government conspiracy book, so things are never what they seem, but when you read all the volumes at once, you see the grand scheme much more plainly (at least, as much as Otsuka has shown us so far). One of the ridiculous things about conspiracy books is that everyone is in on it, and MPD-Psycho, unfortunately, doesn't escape that cliché, as people keep showing up who are plotting something behind the scenes. The mystery is fine - the entire enterprise has something to do with a 1960s folk singer who also happened to be a terrorist - but like all conspiracy stories, every so often the reader has to roll his or her eyes when the coincidences (that aren't, of course, actually coincidences) pile up. But if you can deal with that, you can enjoy this.

Otsuka and Tajima make sure that this world is dangerous - it's a violent manga, to be sure, but that's not surprising. What's interesting about MPD-Psycho is that no one is safe, not even children (who are, throughout the book, often the perpetrators of horrible violence). Amamiya himself isn't even safe! It keeps the tension high in the book and adds to the sense of not knowing who's who. Even seemingly innocuous characters might turn out to have a bar code on their eyeballs and become crazed killers. You're never quite comfortable reading MPD-Psycho, which is somewhat refreshing. With my last selection, Gantz, you expect everyone to die.

With later selections, there are certain characters you're reasonably sure are safe. With this book, you never really know. It's fun!

Otsuka manages to keep the book from being all grim and angry by including Sasayama, who's a nice comic figure. Sasayama uses Machi Isono early in the series to get profiling information from the imprisoned Amamiya because he's not very good at his job, and then he allies with her and Amamiya to solve cases, but he's still not very good at it. He's a goofy character, but this book needs something like that, someone to point out the absurdity of what's happening before the reader does. Yes, in Sasayama's world, people are actually dying horribly and people are turning others into killers, but it's still a little ridiculous, and Sasayama is Otsuka's way of winking at the audience. It's good to deflate the insanity a bit, and it keeps the book from taking itself way too seriously.

As difficult as it is for me to discuss American artists, it's even more difficult to discuss manga artists. One of the reasons I resisted manga for so long is because whenever I saw the art, it featured the same style of art - the big eyes, goofy expressions of extreme emotions, and too many speed lines to deal with. Obviously, I've learned better, but it's still hard for me to really express what's going on artistically in these manga. Tajima is a fine artist, but he doesn't have, to me, a wildly distinctive style. There's a lot of photo-referencing in this book for the long shots of Tokyo or Manila, and the violence is nice and gory, but he also slides into the extreme expressions that I associate with manga art at odd times, when they don't seem to match the words or even the situations of the book. I enjoy the art quite a bit, but I'm not very good at explaining what's good and bad about it. Sorry.

The biggest disappointment about MPD-Psycho is that Otsuka ignores the multiple personality stuff, for the most part.

I don't mean that Amamiya doesn't show his other personalities, just that it doesn't seem to have much impact on the story except to allow him to do horrible things. The real focus of the story is personalities and how they can be manipulated, which fits into the set-up at the beginning, but Machi Isono and Sasayama don't seem terribly perturbed that Kobayashi suddenly starts manifesting all these personalities, some a lot more evil than the Kobayashi one. We get a perfunctory connection between the personalities, but they don't do much more investigation into what's really going on with their comrade. The main plot distracts them, of course, but it seems weird that the fact that Amamiya suddenly turns into the crazed Nishizono, for instance, doesn't faze them in the least. It's not a book that delves into the psychological too much, nor does it pretend to be, but it's somewhat weird, given the major theme of the series.

As I wrote, MPD-Psycho seems to be stuck in limbo with regard to the rest of the series, and that's a shame. It's a wildly entertaining roller coaster ride of a story, and the ninth volume ends with some interesting cliffhangers, so I'd like to see where it all ends up. We shall see if Dark Horse sees fit to bring out the rest of it. That would be nice.

Next: Something that will probably end up being higher on the list, but it's a bit too soon to tell!

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