A well-worn but stylish political thriller from the mangaka of Otomen.
Writer/Artist: Aya Kanno
Translation: John Werry
Adaptation: Carla Sinclair
What They Say
What does it take to find your true inner self? Zen's memory has been wiped, and he can't remember if he's a killer or a hero. And a lot of people will do anything they can to keep it that way.
Questions: Zen's unearthly calm attracts a veritable rogue's gallery. A bounty hunter becomes obsessed enough to become his new partner, while the daughter of a general treats him like some sort of guru. But when he meets a mysterious doctor who may know him from the past, Zen learns that the secret of his lost memory is definitely more sinister than saintly.
Technical: A fairly standard release from Viz's Shojo Beat line, one of the last with a shiny, slick cover rather than the new matte style. Cover is attractive, but offers little detail about what the manga is about. It features a small portrait of Zen posing with a gun, with two more copies of his face in the background and foreground. Is it a yaoi? A horror story? A spy thriller? All of the above? It seems to have a lot of wasted space with a red and black pattern, but the Japanese edition looks even worse, with a generic white shojo tankoubon with the same small portrait. Those who bother to pick the volume up will find the synopsis on the back, along with a picture of co-star Doctor Hakka and an automatic weapon. Like with the Japanese tankoubon, the original first chapter from serialization has been replaced with one of the later bonus stories to improve series continuity. Mangaka Aya Kanno explains these changes in the four sidebar notes found in this volume, with one appearing in each chapter. The volume concludes with a small author biography, a few ads, and a mail-in Shojo Beat Magazine subscription card. Alas.
Those familiar with Aya Kanno's art from Otomen will find that she uses a much grittier, darker style for this neo-noir story. Pretty boys still abound, but instead of gentle use of screen tone, characters and backgrounds are shaded with black ink to give it a stark, grim look. It's attractive, if not exceptional, as is the manga itself. One of the most striking things to notice is how an action thriller written for girls has a very different focus to it. Zen will sometimes take down a room full of people, but the violence is never the focus. Gunshots go off, and there may be small splashes of blood, but the "camera" is often on the shocked expressions on people's faces rather than on the gore itself. Therefore, it should be noted that Blank Slate is less successful as an action manga than as a character study and political thriller, as the focus remains on Kanno's characters. Translation flows nicely, but doesn't stand out as exceptional.
"Flows nicely but doesn't stand out as exceptional," is a good way to sum up Blank Slate as well. It's a rather short, two volume series from Aya Kanno, recently famous for Otomen. In her liner notes, she states she wanted to write a series with the villain as a main character, and Blank Slate was the result. Our protagonist is Zen, an amoral killer who does what he wants, and has a reputation as being less of a criminal than a demonic presence. We're introduced to him in a first chapter, originally a side story, that stars a bounty hunter named Russo. Russo enjoys killing people, but he's one of the types who likes to work within the system for his own comfort, so he's become a bounty hunter. He accepts a contract on Zen, because there's absolutely nothing more thrilling to him than the idea of killing one of the greatest killers of all. He quickly tracks Zen down, but as Zen is less of a human and more of a force of nature, Russo soon finds himself caught up following Zen on a crime spree, unsure of whether he should team up with Zen or strike while Zen might not be expecting betrayal. Of course, he finds Zen to be more than he ever could have bargained for. While this isn't a yaoi or boy's love title, there's some chemistry here to be exploited for those so inclined. The first chapter ends on a rather clever note, and then it's on to the main story of Blank Slate, that will comprise the rest of the work.
We learn of a war between two governments, the Galay and the Amata. Under the pretense of overthrowing a cruel government, Galay invades Amata and takes over. Galay sets up an apartheid-like system where the Amatan people live almost as refugees in their own countries, reliant on foreign aid because their economic and political opportunities are limited. Resentment grows, and Amata starts breeding resistance fighters and terrorists. A group plans on kidnapping the young daughter of a powerful general, and Zen finds himself caught up in the middle of it. As in the first chapter, Zen is completely amoral and doesn't care either way about political disputes, but the political actors care about him, and thus he finds himself unable to extricate himself from the situation. After he meets a scientist in a military base who seems to know him from before, Zen begins to fear he's no longer in control of his own destiny, and decides to find out more about his past.
While the politics of this volume are rather generic, what's interesting is how other characters relate to Zen. Unused to seeing such an amoral person, others come to envy the ease of his way of life. The resistance fighters, especially the more idealistic ones, want to see the Galayan government punished, but refuse to hurt innocents who are not involved in their oppression. The fact that a man like Zen exists is a threat to their idealism, and they begin to wonder if they shouldn't embrace some of his nihilism in order to achieve the results they believe to be just. While Blank Slate will conclude in the second volume, it does manage to raise some interesting questions, even if the series' length doesn't allow the issues to be fully explored. Kanno fans may want to check this out to see more of her range.