Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mardock Scramble, Vol. 1 Review

Just before Christmas, I decided to hit Book Off to pick up something to read on my flight back to the U.S. for the holidays. The covers of Mardock Scramble caught my eye, and I bought volume 1 for 105 yen. After flipping through the pages, I returned and got volumes 2-4. The series goes up to vol 7, but Book Off didn't have used copies of the later books.

Mardock Scramble, based on novels written by Tow Ubukata and drawn by Katsuya Terada. Grade: B-.
The manga ran in Bessatsu Shonen Magajin from 2010 to 2012. If you remember, back in August I wrote a commentary on Bessatsu, saying that I considered it fairly derivative and uninspired. Well, Mardock was finished by that point, so I'm not sure how I would have reacted at encountering it in Bessatsu at the time. Anyway, this manga is being released in the U.S. by Kodansha Comics, which bought out Del Ray Manga. So, rather than spend a lot of energy reviewing it, I'll just make some comments.

This is a pretty violent story, starting with homeless girl Rune Ballot being picked up off the streets and cleaned up by Shell Septinous (or "Ciel" depending on which source you use), only to have him cut her throat and blow up the car she's in. Turns out that while Shell works as a dealer at a casino, it's just a cover for the crime syndicate that he runs, controlling Mardock city. One of his hobbies is rescuing homeless women and then killing them, Rune being number 7. However, she really doesn't want to die, and her remains are discovered by mad scientist Dr. Easter. She's turned into a cyborg, and paired up with a cyborg weapon/mouse named Oefcoque in order to create a team to help bring Shell down. Initially, Rune's only goal is to find Shell again and ask "why?" Problem is, Shell has his memories surgically removed after each "game" and he doesn't remember her. On the other hand, when his goons try to kill her again, her new body allows her to easily defeat them. Shell decides to make Rune an exception and has his memories of her reinstalled. From here, the rest of the story is established as Rune attempts to become stronger and survive against the insane assassins Shell sends after her.

(The main enemy is Boiled, Oefcoque's former partner.)

The artwork is pretty good, and the story makes some strange twists and turns. The second and third books are the darkest of the four as we learn just how bad Rune's life had gotten before Shell found her. The enemies are the typical over-the-top criminals that inhabit most manga, and none of them are a match for Rune, except for Boiled, who is unbeatable at this stage. There's lots of blood, some nudity and some implied sex, so this is not a manga for those under 18 or who are easily offended. However, there's also a fair amount of humor (Easter is played mostly for laughs) and some drama.

I'm not really taken by the action scenes. They look a bit too static and posed, as if they were drawn by a Korean artist. Based on the wiki entry, Terada is Japanese (and not just a Korean using a pen name), but his style contains the elements that I dislike in Korean manga. It's not distracting enough, though, to make me want to stop reading. I don't really recommend Mardock Scrambled, but if you find a copy in the bookstore, it might be worth at least looking it over.

The inside covers contain gags, including what looks like an online men's store where you can buy Shell's outfits. Here, we get his $599 tie.

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