Thursday, February 21, 2008

Variante, vols. 1 + 2

Written and Illustrated by Iqura Sugimoto
Released in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Having your arm replaced with a metastasizing shape changing thing is one way to get out of piano lessons.

Aiko has had a really bad day. She has not been doing so well in her piano practices, because of them she never gets to play outside with her friends, she comes home late one day and her parents are dead, killed by something that is so horrible she has blocked out her memory. And to cap it off, somehow her arm has been replaced with some rapidly changing chimera, capable of expanding, shifting shape and slicing people to shreds. It seems to be mostly under her control, but it does some bad things, such as killing her best friend's dog. The organization that 'rescued' her and is trying to control, cover up and exploit the Chimeras has this idea that it might be a good idea to pack her off to a lab and cut her up a bit to determine what makes her tick. But despite being very depressed (incited by the additional murder of her best friend by another Chimera) she decides that she will continue to live, and to do so she has to agree to fight the Chimeras. The second volume is mainly about Aiko learning to deal with the fact she is used as a killing machine and the fact that she freaks out everyone around her. In addition, we learn a little about the background of Sudo, the homicide detective that is part of the organization and is Aiko's handler.

Body horror has this interesting tradition in manga. I suppose it is the ultimate expression of the confusion of adolescence, when your body changes and seems to have its own wants and desires, irrespective of your own feelings in the matter. I think that the first volume is stronger to the second, where it descends more into the monster of the week and the monster within, where the first volume dealt more strongly with the isolation and depression of such a radical reshaping of one's life. I am sad to say that the shocker of the first volume actually took me by surprise, where I thought a character was going to serve as a grounding force and doesn't (dancing around to maintain the spoiler aspect of it.) But the first volume works much better as a horror story, where the second volume starts going into the action aspects of it, which were less engaging for me. The story also has the hurt Rei aspect, that infatuation that came out of Neon Genesis Evangelion to see the character Rei hurt. I never understood it myself, but apparently that is a big thing, and that built that right into the character, the haphazard, hurt look she continually project whenever she meets a Chimera, because that is the best way to engage her arm's self-defense mechanisms. I am not sure to admire the creator's rationale or wince at the thought that people like that.

Variante, vol. 1 and vol. 2 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


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