Before I get to Wild Adapter, there are three other things I am very happy about right now:
1) Sharing manga leads to wonderful suprises: My sister has pre-ordered Bleach Volume 26 and Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 18 for me “in support of the manga industry” and as a thank you “for supplying happy, happy reading.” I was completely touched and more than a bit watery-eyed. Of course she will get to borrow these volumes from me when they arrive ;) Heh. Do I have an awesome sister or what? She’s even way ahead of me on reading Nana!
2) Mangatude. I’m having lots of fun there but I think I may be operating outside one of the goals of mangatude, which is to trade manga you don’t want for manga you really do want. Instead of stabilizing or shrinking, my manga collection keeps growing. You see, I have a lengthy wish list, but I did not have a lot to offer in trade. So instead of being patient I’ve been stocking up on popular titles from my local Half-Price Books stores that I can use to trade for the titles I cannot find. I’m hopeless. I know. But its an approach that is working.
3) Volume 1 of Natsuki Takaya’s new series Phantom Dream. It is now in my possession! I did a happy dance when it arrived. Its not often that I buy manga brand new, relying on my public library’s fairly extensive collection and haunting the used bookstores in the area, but for an author or series I love, I have a really hard time waiting.
Which brings me to my hopefully spoiler free review of Wild Adapter Volume 1, by Kazuya Minekura. I read a library copy of Volume 1 in December, was blown away by it, rushed to the computer to order the next volumes, only to discover they had not been purchased. [I should note that as of this post, the library has purchased volume 2.] Thanks to Amazon and Powell’s, I now own volumes 1-6.
I have to confess, I picked up this manga out of nostalgia for Banana Fish. The enigmatic leader of a youth gang, gets caught up in a war over a mysterious and deadly drug and forms a relationship with another young man who has a deep, emotional impact on him. Sound familiar? In spite of those similarities Wild Adapter is no copycat. It stands on its own. Whether it will be as emotionally resonant for me as Banana Fish, only time and the completion of the series will tell.
Volume 1 of Wild Adapter, is one of the strongest first volumes of manga I have ever read. Often with a good series, even some of my favorites, like Bleach and even xxxHolic, the first volume piques my interest enough to keep reading, but the series does not really grab hold of me, make me sit bolt upright and stop to reread passages over and over again, until several volumes (and in the case of Tsubasa, sixteen volumes) later. I found myself doing this from the first chapter onward in Wild Adapter, marvelling at various strikes to my emotional radar. This is great, character-driven storytelling from the get-go.
Volume 1 is actually a prologue to the main story, introducing most of the major players and establishing their motivations. We learn of Makoto Kubota’s initiation into the Izumo yakuza, his first encounter with the drug called Wild Adapter, or W.A., the abrupt and violent end to his seven-month stint as leader of the Izumo youth gang, and how he first meets Minoru Tokito, a young man with amnesia and an unusual right hand who may hold the key to solving the mystery of W.A.
Nobuo Komiya, the second in command of the youth gang, is our primary narrator for the first volume. In their first encounter, Kubota’s forced initiation, Komiya witnesses Kubota shoot and kill the former youth gang leader at boss Sanada’s request. Amazed, he remarks that Kubota did this without hesitation and that took guts. Kubota replies, “Not really. It was him or me, and I always choose me.” Komiya is equally frightened of and fascinated by this man, but gradually the two men form a sort of friendship and bits and pieces of Kubota begin to be revealed.
Completely ignored and disavowed by his parents from his birth, Kubota can be as willful and destructive as a child: skipping out on meetings to go to 7-11 for the new ice-cream flavor or breaking a man’s arm for falsely accusing Kubota of bumping into him. He is not particulary interested in people, female or male, but he does have an affinity for animals. He enjoys mahjong, plays video games, and is incredibly competitive, admitting to Komiya, “Unless I’m facing some challenge or contest…I’m not really alive. I disappear. Or something like that.” In one of my favorite early scenes, this statement is followed by Kubota unexpectedly flinging his shoe off into the air, remarking that he can put his laundry out the next day because of how the shoe landed, and hopping off toward the shoe while Komiya looks on, pondering how “this murderer just talks blandly about the weather.”
Wild Adapter is full of moments like this. Or more accurately, Makoto Kubota is. Juxtaposing emotional revelations with mundane or even absurd trivialities to maintain the barriers he has set up around himself. But we begin to see the breakdown of these barriers first through his relationship with Komiya and moreso in the future with Tokito (the young man without a past and a glove covering his right hand, who makes an uncredited mysterious appearance at the very beginning of the volume and gets picked up off the street by Kubota at the end of Volume 1). The mystery of the Wild Adapter drug is crucial to the story, but it is the relationships that people form and how they are forever changed by them that make Wild Adapter such a memorable manga for me.
Kazuya Minekura’s artwork is highly-detailed, uses angles quite effectively, and makes minimal use of screen tones and patterns, her panel layouts are straightforward but striking, and her dialogue – translated by Alexis Kirsch and adapted by Christine Boylan – is snappy and as rough as the characters who utter it. My one complaint about Tokyopop’s translation is the katakana sound effects that are left untranslated. I want a translation to come as close as possible to reflecting the mangaka’s original intentions. And part of what I love about sound effects in manga is the aural layer that is added to the reading experience, not to mention they are often important to the reader’s understanding of what is going on.
That minor complaint aside, I am really enjoying Wild Adapter. My enjoyment of Volume 1 has held up to repeated readings. I have read Volumes 2 through 6 now and feel almost as strongly about those as I do about Volume 1 and I am eagerly awaiting the announcement of a release date for Volume 7. In the meantime, I have been gathering volumes of Kazuya Minekura’s other manga, Saiyuki.
Wild Adapter is rated Mature Ages 18+ for sex, nudity, violence, and language.