Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, June 15, 2008
      ( 6/15/2008 07:45:00 AM ) Bill S.  

SIXTY-MINUTE MANGA: You can keep your stodgy old Crypt of Terror; for true modern horror, you need to (in the words of Berlin) go Riding the Metro. At least that's the premise behind Tokyo Calen & Yoshiken's manga horror series Dark Metro (Tokyopop), and when you think back to recent history (vis-à-vis, the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo Metro), you can perhaps see the point. "They say there are passageways to the underworld in the tunnels," one subway worker tells a new hire in one story, "and that the dead wander the subway." So it's not just loony millennialist cults that'll get ya, it's the ghosts lurking underground.

Volume One of Dark Metro features five stories, largely centered on young attractive urbanites as they face vengeful spooks that have been waiting for them in the city's bowels. Also residing in the Metro is a guide very unlike the Cryptkeeper, the dark-haired and shoujo handsome Seiya, who helps to lead the innocent out of peril and stands back when the guilty are about to get what's coming to 'em. In the second episode, "Shibuya Station," two high school pimps are lured to a party where they're torn apart limb from limb by the ghosts of girls who were murdered by one of their customers; a third, unknowing, classmate gets yanked out of the party by Seiya before things get grisly. In the first volume's final tale, "Meiji-Jingumae Station," we learn that Seiya has been given the ability "to choose who will live and lead them to the correct path" after he presumably perishes rescuing a young girl from a subway fire. Seiya, apparently, was born with the ability to see the flame of life that burns within us, and thus can tell whether it's our time to go or not.

The first method utilized by Seiya to warn the unwary is through their cell phones: in the opening episode, for instance, a lithe young actress threatened by the ghost of a former rival, keeps receiving messages to escape by hurrying to "the exit with light." Why our guide can't be any clearer with his instructions ("What the heck is he talking about?" the panicky girl thinks) is a mystery, except it keeps the girl in exciting peril longer as the one-legged ghost (she tosses a bloody severed appendage at her target in one panel) continues to relentlessly hunt her. Perhaps Seiya just enjoys a good chase scene.

Per its "Older Teen" rating, Dark Metro has its share of grisly moments and quasi-adult themes, which artist Yoshiken renders in a slick style which reminded me in places of Housui Yamazaki's Mail or Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, two other well-wrought urban ghost manga. The only visual moment that temporarily threw me was a page in the first story where Anna the actress is threatened by a dark something in the locked subway station: I wasn't certain whether it was supposed to be blood or shadows, but in the end it ultimately didn't matter. The big issues were the BPD ghost pursuing her - and whether our handsome subway lurker will ultimately provide enough info for Anna to find the "exit with light."

As the title indicates, it can get pretty dark in the ol' Metro . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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