Portus Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Translated by:Kenichiro Yagi
Adapted by:Kelly Sue DeConnick
What They Say
Asami's best friend Chiharu has stopped coming to school and isn't answering her phone. It seems she's found something that's a little more addictive than the school art club. But when Chiharu mysteriously commits suicide, all Asami finds in her room is a strange video game called Portus. With the help of two of her teachers, Asami hopes to solve the mystery behind her friend's macabre death and the bizarre game itself. But is she prepared for the horrors of entering the twisted world of Portus, a game where, if you lose, there is no option to continue? A frightening vision of modern manga horror, Jun Abe's Portus might put you off video games for the rest of your life.
In spite of Abe's artistic chops, Portus is likely to only satisfy genre fans.
Portus's cover features a collage of colored artwork and photographs that replicate the manga's urban setting. Viz makes it clear from the outset that Portus is not for younger readers: apart from shrinkwrapping the entire volume, Viz has printed a Parental Advisory emblem on the back cover, a second facetious warning label on the back cover, and a "Rated M for Mature" rating icon. While I appreciate Viz wanting to keep inappropriate material out of the hands of younger readers, these redundant warnings combined with an unnecessary banner reading "NEW HORROR MANGA" give the cover a crowded and tacky look. (We'll see if Viz changes this banner to read "OLD HORROR MANGA" for the second printing.)
Moving inside the book, the print quality is really no different from what we've grown to expect as readers from the $8-10 paperback manga market. There are copious ads at the front and back of the book -- hell, there's even an ad printed on the reverse side of the front cover -- but no extras.
In keeping with Portus's horror theme, the artwork here is exceptionally dark and gritty. Rather than using a stereotypical "manga style" that would likely have felt out of place in the context of the story, Abe wisely chooses to populate his story with realistic character designs and settings. Facial expressions and backdrops are heavy on shading and detail, giving the whole manga an appropriately gloomy tone.
Disappointingly, one of the panels is blatantly censored, with a mosaic effect used to obscure a violent scene. This edit is a little perplexing, considering the excessive measures that Viz takes to warn readers about the book's contents -- not to mention the fact that other, equally-graphic panels are left untouched. Viz owns up in the backmatter that “[s]ome scenes have been modified from the original Japanese version”, but this information isn't much help to potential buyers of a shrinkwrapped book.
The dialog in Portus is sparse, but what's there reads naturally. Japanese SFX and lettering are replaced with their English equivalents, with the exception of one panel where the Japanese lettering is left intact but explained in the dialog. Viz has crammed a couple of cultural notes in the whitespace between panels; I appreciate the effort, but I wish they'd printed them in a more legible way.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
According to a popular urban legend, the video game Portus had a deadly secret embedded in it: unlocking a secret level would summon a little boy who would offer to take player over to "his side", and then kill all who accepted his offer. So when sophomore Asami Kawakami discovers that her friend Chiharu has been skipping class to play Portus, she's naturally a little upset. Despite assurances from her art teacher Keigo Sawa that Portus is perfectly harmless, Asami becomes suspicious when Chiharu is found the next day lying dead next to her TV in an apparent act of suicide.
Keigo, troubled by Asami's sudden obsession with the game, pays a visit to Portus's publisher to see if there is any truth to the rumors. A contractor directs him to Satoru Sugano, president of Tune-Up Soft and co-developer of Portus. Satoru reveals that his brother Satoshi did in fact embed a primitive mini-game within the Portus code as a sort of prank. Upon defeating the mini-game, players were directed to the address of an abandoned house where Satoshi had buried a cursed figurine. After Satoshi committed suicide, his brother permanently deactivated the code that would invoke the hidden mini-game. Nevertheless, intrepid players eventually unearthed a bug that could reactivate the code, and this knowledge spread like wildfire across the Internet.
Unsurprisingly, Asami has decided in the meantime to investigate the legend for herself, and soon unlocks the hidden mini-game. For her efforts, Asami is greeted by an emaciated ghost who goes by the name of Takashi. Takashi draws Asami into a nightmarish view of the past, where she is haunted by morbid apparitions and forced to witness Takashi's father brutally slaughtering an entire ancient village.
On the surface, Portus sounds like a psychological horror title in the vein of The Ring or Serial Experiments Lain. But before long, it's apparent that these basic plot elements are just a vehicle to dump Asami in the violent world exposed to her by the hidden mini-game. Once Asami encounters Takashi, she effectively turns entirely passive to the events that are unfolding around her, giving Abe an open invitation to let loose with the blood and gore. And boy, does he ever capitalize on this opportunity: the second half of Portus is filled with long strings of violence as Takashi's father unleashes his brutal wrath on the villagers.
Unfortunately, for my own tastes, too much of Portus simply feels like gore for gore's sake. The basic plot structure is threadbare and unoriginal, having essentially been constructed by injecting familiar ghost stories into a real-world scandal surrounding the controversial PlayStation 2 game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. (Abe even seems to acknowledge this connection in Portus itself, by outfitting a Tune-Up Soft contractor with a T-shirt bearing the letters "GTA".) Now, I'm not exactly squeamish when it comes to violence on the page; but violent imagery in and of itself doesn't do a whole lot for me, and frankly there's not much left to Portus if you take that element away.
On the other hand, it's hard to argue that Portus is a bad title in absolute terms, especially in light of the artwork's quality. My basic beef with it is that Abe substitutes plot for gore -- and Portus will undoubtedly fit the bill for many horror manga fans for precisely the same reasons that I disliked it. Readers who are interested in something more substantial in terms of story and characterization, though, will want to look elsewhere.
Mania Grade: C+
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
Orientation: Right to Left