Sometimes, I randomly spawn Manga reviews and recommendations out of thin air for your reading pleasure.
The first thing that comes to mind to any anime and manga fans upon hearing the name Katsuhiro Otomo would certainly be his 1982 magnum opus, Akira. But not many people know that the seeds of that greatness have been planted years before in the form of a splendid blend of sci-fi and horror manga called, Domu.
Psychic powers, young vs old, good vs evil, ambiguous motivations, massive structural destruction, and other elements that make Akira so extraordinary can be found in this short manga, albeit in a much modest scale.
In Domu, a group of police officers is investigating a string of unusual suicides that happened in a multi-story apartment complex. Unbeknownst to them, their involvement would only escalate the bizarre incidents even further to the point of massive killing and buildings blown to bits.
Three Flavors in One Story
We can roughly divide the story into three major parts based on the shift in its genres.
The first is mystery/thriller. The mysterious premise was set, the characters introduced, and relevant information was dropped. At this stage, the pacing is slow but we can feel the tension gradually building up without fully knowing where it gonna go.
The second part is the horror. This part is marked by the sudden reveal of the antagonist. The pace is getting slower while the art is getting darker. There are lots of dimly lit scenes and creepy sequences here. We can feel the tension climbing up even higher and the situation is getting more hopeless for our protagonist.
The last part is action. There is a new protagonist in the story and there is some sort of childish rivalry going on between the force of good and evil here. It didn't take long for the petty squabble between them to escalate to the point of massacre and explosions. The pace is moving at Mach speed and the readers are taken into a roller-coaster journey filled with blood and rubbles.
All three parts are masterfully stitched together so you can seamlessly glide through the pages without realizing that you just transition from one part to another.
The only gripe I have is the lack of a fully rounded character. We have no back story whatsoever, no explicit motivations ever mentioned behind each decision made, and there's little to no development for them at the end.
I guess it's the limitation of a short manga like this. As a brief, plot-driven manga, Katsuhiro Otomo has particular sets of priorities to fulfill if he wants to make the story as impactful as possible. Unfortunately, there's simply no pages left to craft proper three dimensional characters.
Intense Pitch Black
That being said, Katsuhiro Otomo's expressive illustration certainly helps bring each character into life. There's even a double spread illustration dedicated to a facial expression of one of its central characters and it is quite simply a feast for your eyes.
The masterful pen works could also be seen in the intricate details of the environments, the buildings, the trees, the interior of the rooms. All of them were carefully drawn to invoke a truly believable and lived-in
But where the artwork truly shines is in setting up moods, tones, and atmosphere, particularly in the second part of the story.
In general, manga as a black and white comic book medium tend to have a bright overall atmosphere with black ink only used sparingly and when necessary. The one genre where black is the primary color, where a panel could be filled mostly in black, is horror.
You can see it in some of the most famous manga that emphasis heavily on the scary elements such as Berserk, Tokyo Ghoul, and most notably, the complete works of Junji Ito.
In one of the scenes in Domu, we see two police officers walking around the apartment complex at night.
Suddenly, one of them frantically running into the dark, leaving his partner behind. Then BANG. The scared officer dashes towards the ear-splitting sound and found his partner's dead body lying on the ground. His gun is nowhere to be found.
Scenes like this unfold in just a couple of pages with hardly any words in it. Just illustrations filled with intense and gut-wrenching atmosphere. And Domu has a boatload of scenes like this.
A Brief Escape
Those two things are what impressed me the most with Domu, or rather, with Katsuhiro Otomo. The ability to seamlessly connect and shift multiple genres in one story and the astounding work on creating and maintaining an intense atmosphere from beginning to end.
Domu is definitely not Katsuhiro Otomo's best work, there are still things that could be improved upon, particularly in the character-building department. Which he certainly addressed and perfected in his best work, Akira, that released just two years later.
What Domu has to offer is a short burst of a super immersive and interesting reading experience. You can, and you will, lose yourself in the pages of this manga and emerged feeling pumped and satisfied in a mere hour or two. And in that regard, it is without a doubt superior to Akira.