Story: Avi Arad
Script: Junichi Fujisaku
Art: Yasung Ko
What They Say
Wrongly executed for crimes he didn’t commit, a former detective is given a second chance at life. To earn that chance, though, the man now known as Ash must use the supernatural abilities with which he has been infused to prevent the deaths of other innocents. But is Ash willing to dedicate himself to helping others, or is his thirst for vengeance against those who destroyed his life and his loved ones too powerful to ignore?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I have a good policy to be wary when a well known figure in American entertainment slaps their name on something like manga. In this case, I have no idea how much input Avi Arad had in the creation of this book. Without knowing how the process went, I can only assume Arad went to Production I.G with a pitch, and they did the rest of the work. Then Arad sent the finished American product off to some friends and acquaintances for the review quotes on the back of this book, which come from Stan Lee, Sam Raimi, and Nicolas Cage. Was this written in English to begin with? Was the translation done for Japan? What I do know is that it originally ran first in the Monthly Comic Blade manga anthology in Japan. There are many questions with this title that I don’t have the time or means to find out, though I’m sure the process was fascinating.
The book itself is very classy looking, with a matte black cover featuring the lead character dissolving into ash, wrapping around to the back. The artwork inside is just as classy, with highly detailed and attractive characters with solid backgrounds and paneling. The action is brisk and easy to follow and the many panels of Johnny using his ash are painstakingly drawn down to the last speck. There’s even a few color pages to start the story off.
The story is a simple tale of revenge, with a former detective named Johnny set up by the man he’s trying to take down. Executed for a murder he didn’t commit, he is given a chance to right some wrongs and prove his innocence by a heavenly council, and an unnamed angel is assigned to watch over him and make sure he’s doing what he’s supposed to. Why he needs to do this when he’s clearly innocent, I’m not sure. It doesn’t even appear that he wished to be able to exact revenge. What follows is a break-neck quest for vengeance, against the wishes of those that gave him a second chance.
Johnny learns that the only way he can interact with the world of the living is by using the remains of his mortal body, in the form of ash, to manipulate objects or create new ones. He mostly uses it to make cigarettes to smoke as he wanders around trying to locate his comatose sister and the man who put her into that position. Meanwhile, another man sits on death row in similar situation to Johnny’s own, and he’s likewise mixed up with the same bad guys. In addition to that, the lawyer who was supposed to help Johnny win his freedom, but failed him, is representing the kid.
This is where the story starts falling apart. The story is supposed to take place in America, I think, but the characters suffer fake name syndrome so it’s hard to tell. The process by which Johnny was found guilty fits more with a Japanese court system. There’s also a lunatic hitman that can see and attack Johnny even though he’s a ghost, and it’s never explained why. The resolution of Johnny’s quest for vengeance is a unintentionally hilarious deus ex machina which had me shaking my head and left me wondering what the writers were thinking and what the actual aim of the story was.
A single volume series is often a tricky beast for pacing, and unfortunately The Innocent falls into the usual trap of too much story and too little space to tell it. Some of the text hints at missing scenes, like whenever Angel scolds Johnny to obey a nebulous set of rules about his new existence. The reader never saw Angel offer more than the base explanation of why Johnny was chosen to help others. There are hints Johnny might be the reincarnation of something not altogether human, but that plot line is dropped. We never find out why Angel is so angry about everything and why he’s currently wingless (or even what that means, since his powers seem to be intact.) The bad guys are strictly one dimensional and comically evil, going so far as to depict the lead bad guy as having a collection of pet snakes around him at all times. We aren’t given enough time to empathize with Johnny, who comes off as brash and disinterested in everything except exacting revenge. It’s no small feat to make a man wrongly executed unlikeable! The characters around him are equally lacking in development, which is a shame since Angel seems like he has quite the backstory that we never get to see.
The premise of The Innocent is a personal favorite of mine, revenge from beyond the grave. I love the artwork, and the characters show a lot of promise, but there’s simply no time for their story to be told. Splashy artwork and frenetic action are fun to look at, but the plot is rushed and the characters end up pale shades of what they could have been. The weak writing, unresolved subplots, and an ambiguous and unsatisfying ending drag what could have been a fantastic book down. With another volume or two to work with perhaps it could have redeemed itself… but alas… it is not to be.
Content Grade: C
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A –
Text/Translation Grade: C +
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: November 22nd, 2011