Ryuko Volume 1: Fast, Frenetic, Fabulous Crime Manga

by Richard Bruton

Ryuko is, quite simply, a spectacular exercise in comics art, a kinetic, breathless rush of a read. It’s both the first-ever English publication of Eldo Yoshimizu‘s two-volume story and the first Manga included in Titan’s Hard Case Crime series, although frankly, it’s more brilliant action thriller than it is crime book.

But that’s immaterial because what Ryuko really is is a simply beautifully worked thrill of a comic for you to enjoy.

This is the tale of Ryuko, Yakuza of the Black Dragon, deadly, dangerous, resourceful, a woman with a mysterious and dangerous past. The story twists and turns through the chapters, weaving its way through a series of incredibly fast moments, whilst we discover more and more of Ryuko’s past; how she killed her father, what happened to her mother, the true story of her ward, Valer, and how she ended up on the path that took her to the Yakuza life.

(Oh, and before we start looking at the art, a quick reminder – this is published in the original Manga formatting, so get your brain in gear to read from right to left.)

In many ways, the story here is almost secondary. It’s good, it really is, it’s involving, even if it’s occasionally overly complicated and guilty of throwing too many twists and turns in. No, to me, the joy in reading Ryuko is all about the art.

Art like this…

Take a deep breath and just luxuriate your way through the next three pages…

Oh yes, artistically, it’s a beautiful thing, with Yoshimizu using a shifting mix of fabulous styles, so many different incredible styles. About ten pages in I realised I was looking at the sort of Manga artwork that Paul Pope always talked of wanting to accomplish, the sort of Manga art that he’s so influenced by and seeing how much I love his work, it’s no surprise that Yoshimizu’s artwork had this impact on me.

In the quieter moments, Yoshimizu does a simple yet wonderful thing, drawing his backgrounds and supporting cast in a sketchier yet more realistic style, whereas the leads are always done pure Manga style, tighter linework, less shading… it’s a really intriguing way of presenting a page and works superbly well.

But even better than that, you have the action sequences, whether they’re hard-hitting double pages or the multiple pages that you’ve already seen. Both of them are just incredibly kinetic pages of action and in the hands of a lesser artist, this sort of experimentation could easily have turned into an unreadable mess. Here, it becomes a thrilling page-turner of a thing.

So, here’s one of those double-pagers…

The way Yoshimizu choreographs the action, almost a violent ballet, is just magnificent. So much so that I found myself actually slowing down my read of Ryuko for the action sequences, allowing them to play out in my head in almost slow-motion, all the better to enjoy the art. He’s really pushing the boundaries of what he can safely deliver to keep the storytelling flowing, veering into abstraction at times and utilising so many different styles.

Want to see what I mean?… This, this is what I mean, five pages of simply incredible action…

The way he breaks everything down on the page, creating such a flow, whilst also leaving so much to the imagination – it just blew me away visually.

However, outside of the artwork, it’s not perfect. Like I’ve said, it’s sometimes too complicated, guilty of throwing in too many twists and turns. But more than that, it’s got two problems, although it’s too damn good for these to really spoil the overall experience.

Frankly, there’s perhaps an over-reliance on cheesecake shots, with too little clothes, too many gratuitous ass shots and too many bikinis on display, particularly in the first third. Yes, it’s all very well done, but it just reads wrong. And then there’s this…

It’s the lettering. Or more accurately, the placement of the translated lettering inside speech bubbles that are simply too big. Now, this is, undoubtedly, down to the original Manga having much bigger lettering, which is a damn shame as all that white space looks both jarring and hides too much of that gorgeous artwork. Very little that can be done really, but it’s just an annoying little thing that I kept noticing throughout and, in doing so, kept being yanked out of the flow of what was going on.

However, it’s a minor thing against a book that just simply had me turning page after page, delighting in everything Yoshimizu was able to do.

Ryuko Volume 1 was a book that nearly flew under my radar, just a minor Manga crime thing from Titan was what I initially thought when I saw it. Oh, how wrong I was. Don’t make the same mistake. It’s a perfect example of how different, how incredible, how staggeringly great Manga can be and you simply should miss it.

 

Ryuko Volume 1, published by Titan Comics, written and illustrated by Eldo Yoshimizu, translated by Motoko Tamamuro and Jonathan Clements – and it’s out right now.

Volume 2… the conclusion is out in October…

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