The Innocent is a tale of justice and redemption in the dark city. Johnny, otherwise known as Ash, has found himself dead one day after being executed for a crime he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, he’s just so hardcore that he’s been refused admittance to heaven and been deemed too problematic to let run loose in hell, so he’s stuck helping the wrongly accused until his “impurities” either drag him into oblivion or are redeemed. With the help of a griping androgyne angel, he gets drawn into a battle with the mob bosses that took him down, the people the mob is still after, and a devil or two in their employ as well.
A one-volume manga produced by Yen Press, this paranormal crime drama holds an interesting place in the manga world as one of Yen’s commissioned, multinational manga projects, and perhaps the one with the biggest names attached to it. The cover clues one into this: its author is listed as Avi Arad, one-time CEO of Marvel Entertainment and founder of Marvel Studios, while the scriptwriter is Junichi Fujisaku, chief game director and writer for Production I.G’s Game Production Department, while the artist is YaSung Ko, of Stigmata manwha fame.
When a manga reader first picks up this book, the reader recommendations on the back might be a bit of red flag. They come before the teaser synopsis, and feature big names that know nothing about manga talking about manga like they know something about it. Quotes by Stan Lee and actor Nicolas Cage show that the book is being marketed to American comics fans, perhaps a bit too hard, yet it’s not actually made or distributed by an American-style-comics company. With Arad and Fujisaku’s backgrounds, it’s easy to think, then, that the project is nothing but pork. Yet, upon reading, I found the book to be better than all that.
The book is a fun read, and the art is top-notch, as typical of Yen’s recent cross-market projects. One of Johnny’s plot points is that his body is made entirely of ash, and so every time he appears or is injured, a cloud of ash surrounds him. The effects appear every couple of pages and border on CLAMP-level detail, which is dazzling. The cover may lead you to believe the book is BL, what with the extra-wide male shoulders and big lips, but the inside artwork is delicate and attractive, with varied character designs. No detail is spared in the action, and compelling layouts provoke excitement while reading.
It would have been nice to see metallic ink on the cover for the silver font, but the ink that was chosen works really well as-is. Its gradient effect, which fades from silver to white and back, imitates the look of a metallic ink. One has to get close-up to see that it’s not actually metallic, which shows its quality. The book’s jacket is also a matte cover, which not only gives the black a “vast” feel upon viewing — perfect for a paranormal tale — but also renders a unique feel when in the hand. There’s a grittiness to the cover that matches the story inside.
Also, the paper is thick and lettering superb — every letter sits comfortably in its bubble, and the words aren’t afraid to go vertical. One curiosity, though, is the sound effects, perhaps because the book appears to have been written in English, translated to Japanese, drawn by a Korean, and then translated back again (at least for the sound effects). While drawn in Japanese with translated English nearby, there are only about ten different kinds of sounds in the whole book, with the same three or four (and their derivatives) used almost exclusively. Do, Don, Go, Gon, Da, Dan, Zu, and the mysterious Shyuaaa are the staples of this book, used to describe everything from footsteps and slaps to explosions and rain. It got a little disconcerting as someone who can read Japanese; I ended up making up my own sound effects as I went along. However, the English translations are quite varied, so sticking to those works fine.
The characters have every trope and flair you love about manga, but also everything you come to expect from an American-style mob story. Johnny’s a smoking-hot smoker that both men and women can relate to as the stoic badass in a suit. Angel, the androgyne, is petite and is reminiscent of Rukia Kuchiki from Bleach, while the living women all have flowing hair and ample figures. Everyone in this manga has great hair and sharp clothes, even the crazy mob assassin — who, if Baccano! has taught us anything, is exactly what we like to see.
Unfortunately, the character names are a little hard to follow; their appearance as symbolic verbs or nouns threw me off more than it charmed me. It’s hard to tell, for instance, that Frame is a person, not an organization, and it only gets more confusing with Ash, Rain, Grave, and Whirl. It’s something that would have come off better in a novel or movie. The Christian symbolism, too, is a bit choppy; it feels forced, and doesn’t connect to the narrative well. Luckily, by the end of the book, overt Christian symbolism — which begins the book in a rather flashy style — has been abandoned almost entirely, and we get a more platonic view of redemption.
Many aspects of the book feel like shorthand for a movie that draws on American traditions, which will make this a read more familiar to an audience raised on Marvel or DC comics: the focus of the narrative is on action rather than character, for one; and all the women are damsels in distress at one time or another. There’s also the way the main characters relate to each other: The angel and Ash are not afraid “to be guys,” in each other’s presence, and don’t spend any time on each other’s feelings. They do, however, maintain the proud anime tradition of bickering constantly, and amusingly. And with the art so wonderful, both readers of manga and comics should find this an enjoyable action-adventure.
The age range is rated as Older Teen, which in general means 16+, and that’s a fair assessment. The themes are mature, but not beyond a teen’s reach and adults will enjoy the moral questions as much as a youth. There are many fight scenes with gun and knife violence, and plenty of explosions, too (the explosions are really fun), but it’s not hyper-realistic. In general, it’s got the flare and wanton disregard to authority that a Bruce Willis movie provides. (Or should I say, a Nicolas Cage movie?)
The story covers a lot of ground, but everything is paced well; at the end of the day, you feel like you’ve gotten a lot of story for your book. There’s certainly a few carefully-constructed loose ends that could lead into a second volume. So, if enough people like The Innocent, maybe we’ll see more in the expanded universe of Arad’s foray into manga — and maybe a movie by Nick Cage.