Dead End vol.2 – Shohei Manabe

1 out of 5

Truly painful to read.

Regardless of whether you’re consciously paying attention to it or not – like, say, when you’ve shifted to always and watching with the mind in eventually reviewing – the media we experience is playing a juggling act with our tolerances.  And obviously this act will be more entertaining to some than to others, but it’s first the challenge of taking what works for a core person or group – the creator/s – and then translating it into something that can be performed en masse.  This is word to page, or image to screen, and the extent to which that core cares about en masse will determine how much tweaking is done to make the performance more and more palatable.  This isn’t always a “sacrifice” of artistic intent; our brains are messy signal-spewers after all, and I think this process can be healthy in narrowing down what it is whatever’s being created wants to “say.”

And you know there are a million variations on this.  One such variation jumps on the random whims of the brain and sallies forth, confident that entertainment can be wrung from the results.

Dead End volume 1 followed this tactic to a certain extent, blending splashes of violence with Purpose of Life musings, lite romantic dabblings, and a surreal plot structure that the involved characters just sort of swallowed wholesale.  It was sloppy but interesting enough, pausing to allow us to properly soft through some of the waywardness before jerking into gear for a few more pages.

But creator Shohei Manabe exposes a lack of patience with his act in volume 2, and starts juggling very much for his own enjoyment, causing the entertainment and interest factors to tank and visual and narrative legibility bottom out.

We essentially pick up where we left off, with Shirou gathering past associates to… do something, and the next associate (Mr. Q) only agreeing to team up if he’s paid, which leads to a completely “this is the plot because I say so” illogical direction involving robbing a mob boss, while killer Stitch Head lumbers about killing things.

Nothing is accomplished in this volume.  The further away we get from the vague setup of the missing Lucy, and ‘The Beginning Man’ who sets Shirou on this path, the more obvious the complete lack of characterization becomes – we barely know Shirou, we don’t much like his new friends, especially given Manabe’s ignorant (pardoning potential translation gaps) attempts at humor and emotion, and we loathe Mr. Q.  Pursuing further vague goals off of this shaky framework proves unwise, again underlined by problems with the text: Namely that the goal is executed without any real logic.

The sketchy, stylized art that at least communicated motion well descends into what may be considered actually poor artwork (i.e. not excusing it by calling it stylized…) when shirtless characters show up with muscles in places that certainly don’t exist on the human frame.  And as this is a more action-intensive volume, Manabe’s time/scene-jumping trick absolutely drowns any sense of clarity, as the loose artwork struggles to convey what the fuck is going on, before any context of time or place is even considered.

The artwork cleans up a bit in the last chapter, so maybe Manabe was experimenting along the way, but it’s not enough of a change to rescue this.

The only plus is that I’m not left with any lingering curiosities to continue the series.  I’m good with stopping here.