Ice Blade vol. 1 – Tutomu Takahashi

4 out of 5

I’m definitely willing to give manga a tankobon’s worth of chapters or so to warm up, but Ice Blade still certainly caught me by surprise: after a fairly generic, tuff-cops-and-brutal-robbers opening, with an equally generic, floppy-haired, morose-looks-at-the-camera lead – Ky, our tuff cop – Ice Blade jumps head first into much more complicated fare, leveraging Ky’s coldness to pursue oblique leads and take the second story into unforeseen directions. The characterizations and tone are in line with what writer / artist Tutomu Takahashi started, except expanding the mindset to allow for moral grays that the opening could only hint at, on both sides of the law – the criminals Ky meets have their own reasons for acting as they do; the Foreign Affairs officer that Ky buddies up to pushes on a by-the-book mentality; we sit with our POV cop and try to suss out if there’s a “right” or “wrong” in this mix, as bombs go off and soldiers storm the gate during tense actions scenes and a killer cliffhanger.

Takahashi’s art is blunt and clear; it’s a great match for the series, playing subtle tics of emotion for all their worth and cinematically framing and pacing scenes with well-spaced flashbacks and splash pages so that the succinct dialogue carries weight, and the action (and violence) has consequence.

There’s a bit of confusion with a bomb that’s made its way to mainland Japan from the island of Kunashi – it’s either a translation issue or there are more details to come – and the first chapter might as well be some non-canon story, as it ultimately has little to do with the rest of the book besides introducing Ky, but I couldn’t believe – and was incredibly pleased by – how dedicatedly Ice Blade gets in to serious business, and at how clearly Takahashi communicates a tricky plot of politics and morality and honor, leaving us on a precipitous edge for volume 2.