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DOGS (manga), vols. 0-7

In a futuristic dystopian world, it's always winter. The government seems to have no interest in anything but the basic utilities and transportation. Rival crime organizations war in the streets and in tunnels underground, and genetic manipulation is common enough that random citizens in the street won't blink at seeing a person with cat ears or a pig's snout.

Four characters - Mihai Mihaeroff, an oddly compassionate middle-aged assassin; Badou Nails, a red-headed young information broker with a missing eye and a dangerous addiction to nicotine; Naoto Fuyumine, a young swordswoman with a tragic past and a horrific scar on her chest; and Heine Rammsteiner, an hyperviolent albino gunman with an inhuman ability to recover almost instantaneously from physical injuries - form the core cast. Their attempts to find missing information about their pasts and what is currently going on in their world are the strands of this extremely violent and occasionally very grisly seinen series.


DOGS manga (review)

It's clear early on that Heine is, at the very least, an experiment in surgery. What's behind his mixed fear and hatred of women? How did Badou lose his eye, and what actually happened to his older brother? Who was Naoto's mentor, and who actually killed her parents? How did Mihai get mixed up in all this? What's the deal with the homicidal but adorable little twin girls, Luki and Noki? Where does Bishop, the blind clergyman whose church is a refuge for the main cast, fit in? And what exactly are the evil masterminds behind the scenes - sinister Angelika Einstürzen, enigmatic Campanella Frühling, and suavely smarmy Giovanni - really up to? (OK, they seem to be taking over the world ... but that also seems to be the least of it.)

The artwork in the series is bold and rather bizarre: lots of black and white, relatively little shading, and distorted anatomy. The deformations don't seem to be used in the usual manga fashion to show reactions but instead give the impression of a distorted lens, as though the reader was suffering an attack of vertigo. The violence level is up there with Black Lagoon, and Miwa is a bit more graphic in his depictions of the aftermath: Heine snaps back from grave injuries, but his backstory in vol. 6 is not for the weak of stomach. And there's plenty of humor. Lots of it is pretty sick, but (especially when Badou is involved) I often find myself grinning .

The series is a mixed bag in its female characters. Einstürzen and Frühling are impressive villains, but - they're villains. Naoto is pretty awesome, but she's very much the "broken bird" archetype. She's implied to be deadly with her sword, but she gets few action scenes (thus far, anyway), and she doesn't get to crack wise and swagger like Heine and Badou (unlike Revy and Eda in Black Lagoon, for example, or even Meguro and Tampopo in Blade of the Immortal). Luki and Noki are mostly played as ghastly comic relief. There are a number of female characters among the supporting cast, although they mainly serve as information sources, foils, and relief for the guys: canny old Granny Liza, the mutants' titular leader; little Nill with her vestigial bird wings (I heard she's going to be on the cover of vol. 8); Mimi, Badou's fellow information broker; Kiri, the restaurant owner who's also Mihai's current lover; and some nameless women warriors among the mutants. I was actually really glad to see these last: this is one of the roles in which a lot of authors, from conventional SF to manga, could easily have more female characters, but they usually don't.

So yes, I ship Badou and Heine, even though Badou says, quite explicitly, "I'm only going to say this once: our relationship isn't like that." Of course, it helps that Badou could be Sha Gojyo's brother (Saiyuki). On the other hand, there are a number of hints of Heine/Naoto. I actually really like Mihai, and I think it's awesome for the series to have such a character at all: the casts of most action-oriented manga are awfully youthful. (Although, hmmm, I bet Mihai and Dutch from Black Lagoon could have a blast drinking and trading stories together.)

Heine is clearly the star of this series, which somewhat annoys me: the other three are more interesting characters, IMO. I appreciate that Miwa can confound my expectations, though: Magato's oddly big brotherly protectiveness toward Naoto in the latest volume wasn't something I had imagined, and the connection between him and Einstürzen's experiments wasn't something I had anticipated, either.

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