A tangled tale of survival for those that can’t go home again.
Translation/Adaptation: Caleb D. Cook
What They Say
After suffering unprecedented disasters in World War II, Japan accepts the American and Allied Forces’ terms of unconditional surrender. Now the citizens of a ruined nation, the people of Japan come together amid an influx of influences and immigrants and–cunningly, carefully–survive… This is the unrecognizable Japan to which the sharpshooting, sweet-talking womanizer Leo Shishigami returns three years after the war. Against this backdrop, in the spring of 1947, everything is set into motion when Leo meets Rose Haibara, the Madam of Club Primavera…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Rose Guns Days creator may ring some bells. Based on a PC visual novel of the same name it was created by Ryukishi07, the same author as Higurashi & Umineko. Those series must be selling well for Yen for them to pick this story up as well. This appears to be a more straightforward tale than those tangled murder mysteries though. This is a story of swindlers and prostitutes, set in a post-WWII Japan that never was.
The setting starts setting off alarm bells about it being a potential nationalistic propaganda piece, but it’s never taken further than the ‘scary foreigners taking over’ part. What gets me is that the background doesn’t add up to result in the situation presented in Ryukishi07’s alternate history timeline. In his universe a catastrophe hits Japan in April of 1944 which devastates the entire country. (What that catastrophe was isn’t discussed, but likely an act of nature.) After the conclusion of the war, China and the US launch a massive rebuilding effort flooding the country with foreign interests which turns the Japanese people into a minority in their own cities. Basically, his one major change isn’t enough to have resulted in the extreme situation we see in this manga’s setting. It’s hard to imagine what natural disaster could have resulted in more deaths than atomic and fire carpet-bombing. The US policy makers likely would have likely done the same rebuilding plan regardless of how the war came to an end, and in this case it probably would have been less restrictive. Actually, I’m not sure how China gets involved here, it would have more likely been the USSR since they originally wanted Hokkaido, but then they’d be telling a very different story…
Hazy history logic aside, the end result is a setting where the Japanese people struggle to make ends meet. The locals have taken on western given names to make themselves seem more employable. There is a very realistic breakdown of traditional labor to it’s lowest level, with the disenfranchised men left to menial labor and the women turning to prostitution. When that results in the women gaining more financial wealth than the men, hostilities flare. That’s the world that Leo Shishigami walks back into after returning from overseas as a member of the military.
Then it all turns into manga. A girl falls from the sky, Rose Haibara, the madam of Primavera. For Leo (who strikes me as a Spike Spiegel clone more than anything else) it’s love at first sight, of a sort, as he has a fondness for pasta. Being the madam of a house of pleasure Rose has made enemies of the local gang who is looking for protection money. Leo saves her not once, but twice, and is soon invited to become one of the bodyguards of Primavera. When Alfred, the mafioso of failure, kidnaps Rose, the boys of Primavera mount a rescue operation that mixes impossible bullet dodges with camera movements that would make John Woo jealous.
The action is clearly meant to be the draw while the cast is still being introduced because outside of Leo they don’t have much depth yet. There’s the young hothead, the older badass, the stranger, the sassy girl, the sexy one, the too innocent for this line of work boss. Leo is world-weary and fearless, and the others wonder if he’s more than a little shell-shocked. Leo narrates to the audience that he went home only to find it gone, which makes him sympathetic despite everything else about him being overpowering. Even his clothes are even loud, his suit being more 70’s than zoot. The fashion and design marches all over the timeline outside of it’s 1947 setting. At least no two characters look the same.
Strangely, the translation notes come before the final chapter of this volume. Yen includes the usual color lead pages when applicable. There are no extras to speak of, just an author’s note where Ryukishi07 explains the idea behind the setting was basically to get a mafia run Tokyo, as opposed to a yakuza run Tokyo. Well, he says a bit more than that, but you get the idea.
Rose Gun Days volume 1 walks a fine line between compelling and incomprehensible in its search for an interesting setting. It’s a far cry from Ryukishi07’s previous works. The characters, while having eye-catching designs, don’t have much in the way of character yet. Much of the subject matter is uncomfortable in nature, yet not graphic, depicting a post-war Japan that never was and yet has many of the same problems the real post-war Japan did. The action is nice, if not extremely silly at times, and Leo could turn out to be a multifaceted lead even if he comes off as a hodgepodge of Lupin and Spike.
Content Grade: B –
Art Grade: B +
Packaging Grade: B +
Text/Translation Grade: A –
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: September 22nd, 2015