Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, November 26, 2010
      ( 11/26/2010 12:42:00 PM ) Bill S.  


“NOW THAT THE BELL’S RUNG, I HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO KILL YOU!” A snappy demonic variation on the werewolf/Hulk/Mr. Hyde transformation tale, Yoshinori Natsume’s Kuro Zakuro (Viz) concerns Mikito Sakurai, a geeky bespectacled teen who undergoes some radical changes after inadvertently swallowing a demon seed. A bully magnet at school, Mikito wishes to be “stronger so that nobody will push me around anymore” and is granted this wish by a fangy boyish creature who he meets standing underneath a barren tree. In return, the creature named Zakuro says, “I want you to cover this tree in flowers.” Little does our nice-guy hero know, of course, that the only way to accomplish this task is embrace the ogre inside him.

Mikito, we soon learn, is no longer human: gifted with superhuman strength, he develops an insatiable appetite for uncooked meat and a capacity for rage that he can barely keep tamped. Confronted by the inevitable cluster of bullies, the formerly easygoing victim tells the gang of punks, Bruce Banner-like, “Please don’t make me angry.” But, of course, the dopes don’t listen.

As our boy struggles to control his new voracious self, his childhood friend Saki and family try to make sense of the new personality he has started to display. His parents put it down to teen-aged rebelliousness, but simple adolescence alone can’t account for his growing attraction to the sight of blood. “It looks so beautiful to me, almost like a tree covered in flowers!” he says at one point. Still halfway between being human and ogre, Mikito is told by an ogre hunter that once he succumbs to his full monster self, his first victims will be his family.

The idea of developing adolescent power being connected with monstrousness is not a new one, of course -- it’s the central theme behind a work like Carrie -- but Natsume handles his familiar material with plenty of visual flair. His ogre appearances are especially strong, with more than a trace of Mike (Hellboy) Mignola in his use of shadowy blacks, while his fight sequences have an appealing taste of early Marvel Comics to ‘em. His depiction of our hero’s desperation is convincing both in story and visual terms: when an attractive ogre hunter shows up at his school, Mikito’s need to control himself becomes even stronger. Hunters wear earrings with “serpentsynth” bells on them that ring every time an ogre gives into its instincts, which fact provides our hero more than one sweaty Hitchcockian moment.

Kuro Zakuro (I’m unsure whether this book title should be one word or two, since I’ve seen it listed both ways) may be familiar, but it’s carried off with such clean-lined zestiness that I immediately found myself wanting to read into the next volume once I finished the first. A good sign.

(First published on Blogcritics.)

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



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