Satoshi Kon’s Opus (Dark Horse)


CREDIT: Dark Horse

Rating: 5/5 – A Manga Creator Trapped in a World He Made.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

In the world of comic book criticism, writers who like to sound smarter than they are often refer to “world-building” by creators, as if to suggest that like mighty Zeus we are forming the earth with the fire forged from our very nostrils, cooling it with the sweet sweat of our efforts, and tempering it with the hammer of our talent. And the truth is, we are doing all that, and much more. Because the fact of the matter is – we’re gods.  Think about it. It’s right there in the title – creator. As a writer I determine the lifespan of every character I write about. I know their dreams and desires. I know what motivates them. I know the exact moment of their death and how it’s going to happen…because I set the whole thing in motion. Is there any wonder at all why that one creator at the comic convention is so off-putting and full of themselves that you just can’t stand to be around them? Don’t blame them…pity them. It ain’t easy bein’ God, folks!

The late Satoshi Kon, creator of some of the best anime you will ever see (Paprika, Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue), understood this concept all too well, and before he started creating the best anime you will ever see, he created one of the best manga you’ll ever read. In fact, I’m going to lay the gauntlet down right now: If you create comics…if you call yourself a comic creator…you need to read this book. Because it spells it all out in a way both honest and entertaining, and you will find yourself within its pages.

Chikara Nagai is the creator of Resonance, a hot-selling manga title about to wrap up its run with the death of the main character in a final battle with the main villain. Just one problem – the main character found out about this and doesn’t want to die, so he steals the final panel from Chikara, leaving him unable to re-draw it effectively enough to meet his deadline. While this sounds humorous (and it is) Chikara finds himself trapped within his own manga, a victim of the very pages he writes. When he meets his other protagonist, she immediately makes the God connection and realizes over a short amount of time that not only is “God” no longer in control of his situation, but that “God” is pretty messed up for someone they’re supposed to believe in. Thus begins the true philosophy of the book. Chikara’s characters do not support him – they distrust and outright hate him at times. Wouldn’t you if you came face to face with the person who molded you, shaped you, and knows the moment of your death because he’s the one who’s going to will it? Whatever your religion might be, the actual prospect of meeting your creator is, and should be, at least a little terrifying.

Things are revealed in a manner much like Kon’s anime – pieces at a time giving you just enough to want to know more. Chikara truly is a god in his own world, but even that may not be enough to save him from what he’s created. This book is pretty much everything – fun, entertaining, poignant, philosophical, mind-blowing, tragic – but here’s the part where I throw in a little Nietzsche at you: God is dead.

Satoshi Kon was taken from us in 2010. I don’t say that phrase lightly – “taken from us” – but if it applies to anyone it simply has to in his case. He was truly one of the people who elevated anime to a form higher than what the general populace expected from it, and humanity and the art world truly lost someone when we lost him. When people tell me they don’t like anime because it’s all the same garbagy claptrap, I look them in the eye and say “Perfect Blue” and if they don’t know what I’m talking about, we have nothing further to say on the subject. If you’ve never seen his work, make a point to. Forget anime, he did more to advance storytelling and wonder than many who came before him.

I took a paragraph to tell you all that because I’m asking you to read a book that doesn’t have an ending. Kon was well on his way to winding up Opus when he was called away to work on a number of anime, and as a result he never completed it. The brilliant thing is that he didn’t have to. The book still works if you allow yourself to get swept up in the narrative within the narrative. Even a god at some point has to step back and allow their creation to take over, and that’s almost what’s happening here. And if you really want to get crazy – consider that Satoshi Kon is the God of his manga about a guy who discovers he’s the God of the world he created. And yes…the book does go there.

Before I read Opus, I really hadn’t considered just how deep a relationship we creators have with our creation. Yes, we call them our children. We defend them rigorously when others try to violate them (because that’s our job!). We’re so much more to them, though. We gave them life, and if we choose, we’re going to give them death. In between, well…that’s really a conversation between the individual creator and their creation, isn’t it?

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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1 Response to Satoshi Kon’s Opus (Dark Horse)

  1. Pingback: GUEST BLOG: Al’s Year in Graphic Novels | ComicSpectrum – Bob's Blog

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