By Jason S. Yadao
One of the things I love about the Manga Movable Feast is that it gives bloggers like me a chance to look at series that I otherwise might not have considered. We saw that a few months ago with Karakuri Odette, and even before that with the Color trilogy.
But if you want the now-reigning king of second chances, look no further than this month’s subject, hosted by Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith over at Manga Bookshelf: Wild Adapter. When it first came out in 2007, the series didn’t catch my attention. Sure, it was by Kazuya Minekura — “the creator of Saiyuki,” as a cover blurb helpfully pointed out (and in a manner much more subtle than those Rumiko Takahashi stickers I dissected back in April, at that) — but I had yet to experience a single moment of Saiyuki, although it was on my list of series that I wanted to get around to looking at eventually. (Yes, I still have yet to look at Saiyuki to this day. It’s a common, sad trend.)
Wild Adapter was just one of many, many books that Tokyopop was throwing at us manga reviewers and bloggers every few weeks, in thick envelopes filled with 10-12 debut volumes of series. It wasn’t so much the “manga revolution” that the publisher had dubbed it as it was a “manga, manhwa, light novel, original English manga and whatever else had black imprints on white paper and had some tenuous relationship to manga as long as it fit into a 5 x 7-3/8-inch-trim paperback revolution” being crammed down our throats. We could either sit and dutifully read every single volume we got — giving up any hope of carrying on with anything else in life aside from breathing in the process — or pick and choose what looked interesting and donate the rest to a nice library somewhere. I liked having a life beyond breathing, so off Wild Adapter went, into the donation bin of the beyond.
Whoever got my original review copy of Wild Adapter lucked out. It took four years, but after re-buying that first volume and finding copies of the other five volumes online, I can say that I made a mistake in passing it up back then.
If I were to describe this series in the context of others I’ve read before, it would be “Banana Fish version 2.0″ — both series involve enigmatic lead characters, vulnerable sidekicks, seedy gangland drama over a mysterious drug that is both desired and deadly, and an undercurrent of shounen ai (boys’ love) that bubbles to the surface every now and then. Minekura’s art, drawn in the early 2000s, certainly has a sharper, grittier, more contemporary look to it than Akemi Yoshida’s mid-’80s-to-mid-’90s work on Banana Fish — yes, for you shounen ai fans out there, Minekura’s guys are drawn in the familiar style of those lean, glowering pretty boys that you so adore.
Everything in the series revolves around the mystery of “W.A.” or “Wild Adapter,” a drug that can transform its users into rampaging beasts before killing them outright and one that the police, as well as the rival Izumo and Tojou yakuza factions, want to secure for their own purposes. At the center of this struggle is Makoto Kubota, a guy whose calm, lackadaisical demeanor hides a cold assassin’s instincts. While he says he cares about no one, his actions throughout the series would seem to indicate otherwise, first with Izumo associate Nobuo Komiya, then with Minoru Tokito, a “stray cat” he picks up off the street who seems to have the effects of W.A. scarring his right hand. It’s Nobuo’s death, in fact, that prompts Makoto to leave the Izumo youth group, but not before destroying Tojou’s Yokohama headquarters in the process. As you might expect, that sequence of events makes Makoto a sought-after man by both groups.
But where this series excels is in how this story is told — not as a straightforward narrative focusing only on Makoto and Minoru and the people around them, but as a series of smaller stories with a focus on the key player in each story and how our primary duo interact with them. Each volume is a self-contained arc in that vein: Volume 1 is the “Nobuo” arc, where we meet Nobuo and his whore of a mom and learn about how the criminal underworld of Wild Adapter operates. Volume 2 is the “Saori” arc, where Makoto and Minoru take in a young, pregnant woman whose boyfriend falls victim to the effects of W.A. Volume 3, the “Fortune’s Fang” arc, follows Makoto and Minoru as they infiltrate a religious cult and get wrapped up in a dysfunctional family’s deeds. (This volume, with its twists and turns, false leads and true revelations, was my favorite.) The “Shimura” arc of volume 4 sees Makoto framed for a murder committed by a salaryman tormented by a teacher’s past comment.
Minekura only gets around to really fleshing out the relationship between Makoto and Minoru with the fifth and sixth volumes, but the stories up to that point have been so compelling, it’s easy to not have noticed that omission. It’s pretty much taken for granted that there’s a rapport between the two, and to have more information about them is a bonus. Even here, though, the way their story is fleshed out is flavored by the perspective of other characters — the neighbor boy Shouta Iizuka in volume 5, the gang member Osamu Kiba in volume 6.
The only problem with the series is one that’s plagued an increasing number of series released in the U.S. as of late: If you’re looking for some sense of closure, with all the mysteries resolved and the main players’ fates determined, you’re going to have to either learn Japanese or pray to the god of manga license rescues (who’s quite backlogged, last I checked; he has yet to get back to me on Urusei Yatsura, so it’s been a while). The last volume to be released in the U.S. was volume 6 in 2008; the Japanese serialization sputtered in fits and starts, enough to delay compilation of a volume 7; and Tokyopop never could release said volume before the U.S. branch shut down and Stu Levy went all sad panda on us. Also, if you’re in Hawaii, you’ll have to find your books online, as I did; if there are any stores on any of the islands that have volumes in stock, I haven’t walked into them.
It’s definitely worth tracking down, though. Take it from the guy who took four years to get it — both in the “have them physically in my hands” sense and the “ahhh, now I understand what the appeal is” sense.