Sunday, September 13, 2015

Area 51, vol. 1 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Masato Hisa was born in 1977, and his past works include the manga Grateful Dead (Monthly Afternoon, 2003-2004, 2 volumes), Jabberwocky (Monthly Magajin Z, 2006-2008, 7 volumes), NOBUNAGUN (Comic Earth Star, 2011-) and ongoing Area 51 (Comic Bunch, 2011-, 10 volumes so far). I first encountered Area 51 in May, 2012, when I was reviewing the various manga magazines, and I decided to fan translate the 8-page short-story that ran as part of the announcement for the release of volume 3. Unfortunately, as mentioned in the Aug. 22 blog entry, I lost the one copy of volume 1 I'd found, but a few weeks later Maruzen bookstore restocked all the books I'd bought (1-6), so I picked up #1 again, along with vol. 7.

Many well-known creatures show up throughout the series, including Sphinx, Bahamut, Cthulhu, Cyclops, Zeus and even Santa. Most are slumming in Little Tokyo, while others have valid jobs. One Japanese concept that reappears a few times through the series is that of the Tsukumogami, a Shinto belief that things that remain in contact with humans long enough will become alive and self-aware. Pike, having been manufactured at least around 1911 is one such tsukumogami. When sleeping, he looks like a regular pistol, but when awake he's a toothy demon that can control the bullets he shoots (changing their directions, shapes and abilities). It's a very fun manga, but a bit etchi.

Area 51, vol. 1, by Masato Hisa. Grade: A

(Kishirou jokes about McCoy cleaning her gun before cleaning herself. Bad mistake. But, we get to see her former boyfriend standing off against someone that had ordered him to shoot her. The boyfriend says "I decide who I shoot.")

H1) Why Are You Guys So Quiet?
The chapter starts out with McCoy narrating, talking about the denizens of Area 51, located in Nevada, who fall into 2 categories - creatures that the outside world isn't supposed to know about (gods, monsters, aliens), and humans that don't belong outside anymore. She's in the second category. But, she doesn't want to talk about her reasons right now because she's in the middle of a job, which is to chase down a vase that Hermes, the God of Light, has reported missing. Turns out though, that the vase is a tsukumogami - an object that has existed for 99 years and has obtained a spirit of its own. It wasn't stolen, it had run away. And now it's running so well that it avoids McCoy's bullets. She has a Colt Government M1911 that she uses enthusiastically. They run into a sushi shop, where the owner is trying to convince a customer to try a $50 dollar piece of sushi from a Japanese mermaid, which will give him immortality. During the firefight, McCoy damages the back wall of the shop, causing it to collapse in a flood of water and reveal the holding tank where the Loch Ness monster has been swimming. The customer realizes that the "mermaid" sushi is actually a cut from Nessie and demands his money back. Nessie accidentally hooks the vase on her fin, and decides to swallow it. McCoy takes the carving knife from the sushi chef, gets Nessie to swallow her too, and then cuts her way back out with the vase. She finishes by shooting Nessie in the head. She takes the vase to Hermes, but he doesn't want it back now that it's intelligent, and McCoy gets to keep it in lieu of her payment. Which is fine by her. She tells her assistant, a Kappa named Kishirou, that tsukumogami usually take on the personalities of their owners. Hermes collected antiques and precious items, but basically he was just a thief. She gets the vase to cough up (literally) everything it's stolen, and then she lets it run away. In with all the jewelry and money is a crown that she thinks she recognizes.

The zombified body of King Arthur shows up and she remembers what it's from. Arthur is dead, and has been wandering Area 51 for decades trying to get back the crown stolen from him by his wife. He has copper coins over his eyes so he can't see anything, and he's deaf to anyone that talks to him. He attacks Kishirou and McCoy with Excalibur, cutting entire buildings to pieces and dicing up bystanders that are laughing at him. McCoy tries to escape by car, but Arthur is too fast in his pursuit. They duck down an alley, which confines Arthur. McCoy tries shooting the coins out of Arthur's eyes, and misses. Then a voice tells her to hold her shot, and when to fire. The bullet hits Excalibur, splits in two and knocks out the coins. Arthur looks around, McCoy points to the crown a few feet away, Arther takes it and puts it on his head, replaces the coins over his eyes, and then cuts a hole in the street to disappear into the sewers below. McCoy comments that this kind of thing happens all the time in Area 51, but she is more concerned about where that voice had come from. Then again, that's a tale for a later story.

(Note, after climbing out of Nessie, McCoy asks for a towel to clean off her gun. Kishirou jokes that a normal woman would clean off herself first, and McCoy points the gun at him and says "don't ever talk like that about my gun again". She also has a brief flash of memory of the person that had owned the gun before her. He'd protected her from a killer, but later apparently committed suicide.

(McCoy walks out of the room as Bibi bursts into flames from the silver splashed on him.)

H2) Farewell, Mr. Vampire!
A young teenage human boy is shooting up some kind of a drug, after which he visits McCoy to ask her to take on a job, but she refuses. He makes a grab for her pistol, and she slams him into the ground. From this angle, she can see all the needle marks, so she orders Kishirou to open the boy's suitcase - it's filled with used syringes. The boy explains that he and his sister were born in Area 51 after their parents moved here, but both parents died a few years ago, when he was 12 and his sister was 10, making them "Never Childs". He'd made a living stealing things to sell on the market, or busting up properties, but in return he'd occasionally get caught and beaten to a pulp.

One day, he saw his sister dating Bibi, a vampire, figuring that she had found her meal ticket. But. Bibi runs a "gentleman's club", and his girls are all his wives, performing for the audience in exchange for the promise of eternal life. The boy wants to get into the club to see his sister again, but the bouncers at the door won't let him in. McCoy gets one of Bibi's customers into a poker game in order to win a pendant off of him. She gives it to the boy, which now identifies him as a member of Bibi's club. He gets inside, and has to go through a security check to remove all silver items from his pockets. Bibi himself comes up and comments that having a human customer is rare, because he mostly gets monsters that want to physically abuse the undead "hostesses". The guard checks the suitcase, but the collection of needles doesn't raise any eyebrows. He is asked who he wants for the night.

A few minutes later, he's in a torture room with his sister, and she's now a ravening, mindless beast, chained to the wall. He lets her bite him on the neck, and the silver grains in his bloodstream cause her to start screaming. Bibi rushes into the room, demanding to know what's happening to his product, and McCoy holds him off with her Colt. The boy is holding his sister's hand, and she eventually remembers how they used to laugh and play together, and her soul is calmed by the time she finally dies. The boy had overpaid McCoy for the first part of the job and now he asks for one more task, to shoot him before he turns into a vampire with silver blood. McCoy takes the job and blasts him in the head so that the silver blood splashes all over Bibi.
One fun comment: All of the signs on the buildings in the district around Bibi's club are the names of vampire movies, like Blade, Innocent Blood, and Twins Effect.)

H3) You Can't Hold Someone Without a Body
McCoy walks into the room of a client, holding a head attached to some entrails, and tells the man that she was too late to save his wife. The husband is distraught, and he crawls out of his body, too. The client and his wife are Penanggalans, Malaysian ghosts. At night, their heads leave their bodies and they fly around dragging their entrails with them. Normally, they return to their bodies in the morning, but if they can't, they die. Later, McCoy and Kishirou are at a bar, and McCoy is turning into a very surly drunk. They're visited by a thin woman with long black hair and wearing an extremely revealing dress. She tells McCoy about an upscale party being held at a mansion across the street, although Tokuko isn't interested in that kind of thing at the moment.

Kishirou asks who the strange woman is, and she introduces herself as the Japanese goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu. Amaterasu gives them invitations to the party then leaves. McCoy complains the drinks taste bad now and she heads out the door, bumping into an old man escorting what seems to be a trophy wife. A leaf falls from the woman's hair, and McCoy recognizes it as coming from a Mandrake. Mandrakes are human-shaped roots; when they're pulled from the ground they emit a shriek that kills anyone who hears it. The party in the mansion is for rivaling mafia families (Italian, Chinese, Japanese) fighting to take over the smuggling routes in and out of Area 51. All weapons have to be checked at the door, but if someone somehow got a Mandrake into the building, it would be deadly. McCoy changes her mind, runs into the mansion, and looks for the trophy wife. She's wearing the ring of the dead Penanggalan, meaning the body is being controlled somehow and the mandrake is inside.

McCoy tells Kishirou to prepare to grab the mandrake and jump over the balcony into the pool below before it can wake up. The trophy wife targets the Italian mafia leader, pretends to kiss him, and reveals that her head is a mechanical trap. It snaps shut on the guy's face and he yanks back, pulling the head off and dragging the mandrake out with it. Kishirou lunges for the root and they go over the balcony together. McCoy gets ready to shoot at the leader, and a voice tells her to wait, then pull the trigger. The two bullets launch side-by-side and blow off the mafia target's ears, tearing the ear drums perfectly just as the mandrake shrieks from the pool. Kishirou is ok because as a kappa he doesn't have ears, but all the fish and orca that were also in the pool are now dead, as is the mandrake. The mafia leader screams about his mutilated face and ears, but he's otherwise fine. McCoy directs the guards to apprehend the old man, which they do. McCoy returns the Penanggalan body to her client, and he buries it along with the head. McCoy tells Kishirou that the old man was Chinese triad and he'd gotten the head from aliens (ref. - Mars Attacks!), and filled the body with dirt to pack the mandrake root in. The kappa comments that she'd said she wouldn't take on a job for free, but that's exactly what she'd done this time. McCoy smiles, holding up the dead mandrake, commenting on how much she's going to sell it for.

(The ramen shop owner used to have a gun, too, but it was taken by someone he still trusts. He comments that everyone has someone like that, and McCoy flashes back to her boyfriend, who had committed suicide. She's not really receptive to this line of conversation.)

H4) Do You Know the Story About the Blue Bird?
McCoy sells a rare Japanese sky fish to a buyer, and then has Kishirou drive her to the red light district, where she goes to the Four-Legged clinic to get a regular check-up from her centaur doctor, Keiron. He berates her for having skipped coming in for several months, and she complains that she's busy. She's got a wicked scar across her chest, but there's no explanation for where it came from. When she returns to the street, Sonya, a spiderwoman streetwalker greets her, and comments that the neighborhood is changing because a rival protections racket gang is trying to move in. McCoy asks where she can get some ramen, and Sonya points her to a shop across the street.

The old man inside the shop asks her to not take the seat next to the wall because it's reserved for a special customer. McCoy notices a pistol case on the wall, and the old man comments that it was taken by the special customer, who he's still fond of. "Everyone has someone like that, right?" McCoy recalls her former boyfriend, who committed suicide with the Colt Government M1911 she's carrying around, and she refuses to comment. As she's eating her ramen, a thug, Big Foot, comes in to threaten the ramen shop owner for not paying his monthly "dues". Both McCoy and the owner put up with Big Foot's bullying, until he attempts to destroy the chair near the wall. The owner yells at him to leave it alone, and Big Foot is about to use this as an excuse to attack the guy when McCoy casually shoots his right foot off, adding that he's going to have to change his name now.

Big Foot leaves; McCoy pays her bill and returns to her truck. Big Foot comes back, this time with a Fire Salamander in tow. They try to torch the ramen shop, but McCoy has Kishirou attach a rope from the truck to a water tower, and they pull the tower down to dowse the flames. The salamander attacks McCoy and pretty quickly gets her into a strangle hold with his tail. McCoy shoots him, but the bullets have no effect. The ramen shop owner comes out, and comments that her gun is just about 99 years old. It's owner is in trouble, so what's it waiting for? The voice comes back complaining about all the noise, then the gun turns into a monster, Pike, and blows a hole a foot wide through the salamander's chest. Pike says, "I decide who I shoot."

Summary: The first chapter has a completely different character design for McCoy, making her look a bit more girlish. That changes pretty quickly in the next chapter. The book is a great introduction to Area 51, with its monsters and undead, and jumps swiftly between horror, gore and humor. There's a little nudity, but nothing out of line. And it's a lot of fun. I like McCoy, Kishirou is good in a bumbling way, and characters like Sonya are "tainted but with a heart of gold". Highly recommended if you like cultural references and Lovecraftian storytelling.

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