Dragon Head Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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  • Art Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 232
  • ISBN: 1-59532-914-5
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Dragon Head Vol. #01

By Jarred Pine     January 24, 2006
Release Date: January 10, 2006

Dragon Head Vol.#01

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Minetaro Mochizuki
Translated by:Alexis Kirsch
Adapted by:

What They Say
The end of everyone was just the beginning... Returning home by train after a class trip, Teru Aoki takes a most frightening ride inside a mountain tunnel. When the train derails, nearly everyone aboard is killed. Amidst the bloody carnage, Teru discovers two survivors--but salvation is far from their grasp. As they try to dig out from the wreck in order to come up with a plan to stay alive, the lack of light and food, combined with the stench of death and decay, will lead one member of the group down a dark and demented path. And with sudden, violent earthquakes shaking the tunnel, escaping to the outside world may lead them to an even greater danger...

The Review
The New Year kicks off with another new seinen title from TOKYOPOP; this time a slower paced, psychological horror that will probably give all claustrophobics the chills and cold sweats.

As seems to be more common with TOKYOPOP these days, the front and back covers were completely created in-house by coloring in artwork from inside the book. It’s not quite as appealing as BECK, feeling overly chaotic with a logo that dominates too much of the cover. I very much prefer the original Japanese tankoubon covers that were much simpler and more surreal.

The print reproduction is on par with other TOKYOPOP releases, with some pages looking sharp and others a little rough. Being a horror title with a dark setting, the overall colors are very bleak and TOKYOPOP kept the printing very clean without letting the tones get too muddy. There are no chapter inserts, as the chapters just flow into each other with title markers. There is a 2 page preview for the next volume, but no other extras are in the book.

Being a horror title, what you really want to look for is how well the manga-ka creates the mood, tight perspectives, and how the emotions are presented with the characters. For the most part, I think Minetaro Mochizuki does a great job with presenting a tense, closed-in setting that allows his characters to unravel. There may not be a lot of variety in facial expressions, but the stress and fright comes across very well. The setting is also illustrated nicely with very dark tones and an almost tunnel vision perspective, getting across the point that light and visibility is quite low. There is a good amount of blood and carnage, but it’s presented in a nice way to highlight the extraordinary circumstances the characters are in without becoming shock value. When Teru is remarking about the heat and stench of bodies after being trapped for days, I was able to feel the same. Overall there is just a nice amount of detail as well.

If you are going to publish a thriller or horror manga, the absolute first thing you must do is translate those SFX! With some titles this is not as big of a concern, but a lot of the appeal of the title is lost when the reader does not know what sounds there are in the background. It’s part of the suspense! There are a couple instances where the SFX are subbed, both in the panel and margins, but the vast majority are left as is with no translation.

The translation reads pretty smoothly. There is a good amount of foul language here that feels quite appropriate for the adaptation. The dialog also does a good job with fitting with the characters’ personalities.

Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The thought of being trapped in a confined space, for a long period of time, with limited light, food, and water is enough to terrify most people. Add in the rotting corpses of your classmates, a burgeoning psychopath, and a dwindling hope of rescue and that chill quickly becomes bona fide terror. Minetaro Mochizuki’s tale of psychological horror is less about shock value, the supernatural, or the grotesque, but rather relies on the power of the readers’ imaginations, while presenting a realistic situation that many will find to be quite scary.

Dazed and confused, Teru Aoki comes to his senses while trapped under a seat from the train he was riding on with his classmates, which has crashed inside of a tunnel collapse. Scrambling on the broken glass to get free, it’s immediately apparent that something has gone horribly wrong, as the bodies of classmates lay still all around him. Struggling to see in the darkness, Teru grabs the lighter off one of the dead, beginning the test for his survival. Along with Teru are two other survivors: Seto Ako, a girl who is rendered unconscious for a couple days, and Takahashi Nobuo, a bullied boy who is losing his mind. The three of them are trapped inside of a tunnel for days with no signs of rescue, the strain on their sanity beginning to take their toll. The question then becomes not only can they survive the current elements, but also from each other.

There is a good mix of things here that makes for a good suspenseful read and has the potential to really hook the reader, which in the case of this type of psychological horror is usually up to the imagination of the reader. Besides just the scary moments that come with being trapped, there is also an unknown element happening outside of the tunnel that we find out more and more about in tiny little chunks as the volume progresses. Through Teru’s last memorable visions of the outside world before entering the tunnel and the little broken bits of emergency broadcast signals over the radio that Teru finds after the crash, we come to learn that something possibly catastrophic has happened. This bit of info begins to take its toll on the three survivors, knowing that help might not make it to them if events are that bad outside (let alone be found in a tunnel collapse).

As the stress continues to build, the dark side of the human condition begins to reveal itself amongst the survivors (albeit mostly in Nobuo). The characters for the most part are very paper thin caricatures and not really all that likeable, but perhaps that is the point for now. Nobuo is the typical bullied weakling that is now getting a rise (literally) out of torturing his former bullies’ dead bodies. Seto is the weak girl who sits in a corner and mostly cries, which is an acceptable response to this sort of situation. Teru is a bit of a whiney brat, as we find out through flashbacks of him interacting rudely with his parents, but he actually begins to change a bit and take charge of the predicament they are in. They aren’t all that likeable, but their blunt characterizations feel as though Mochizuki is trying to possibly make a statement here about disconnected, spoiled youth. It’s hard to tell, and with not a lot of ground covered in the slow paced first volume, there is really not much to go on at this point. The slow burning pace, however, is what makes the horror aspect sink in, allowing the reader to get into the head of each of the survivors.

When it comes to horror, I’ve always been quite fond of the more reality, psychologically based ones. It seems to take a lot more effort on the creator’s part to put together something that is tense and scary without relying on cheap shock violence and overly gory visuals. That said, it is also much more risky, as the effect of the story is now partly left up to the imagination of the reader. Dragon Head so far is a close quarters, slow burning psychological horror tale that has a few bumps but shows a lot of promise with this debut volume.

The terror comes from watching three train wreck survivors (out of hundreds) do their best to deal with the stresses of being trapped inside a tunnel collapse with barely any light and a train full of corpses rotting beside them. Not the most likeable cast of characters, the three survivors begin to slowly change as time goes on, some for the other better while others turn a bit crazy, with the likely chance for a rescue gets slimmer. Not just contained within their immediate surroundings, there are also unknown elements outside of the tunnel that slowly reveal themselves as the volume progresses--adding another nice layer of suspense.

Dragon Head has a lot to work with here to become a very interesting story. The characters are fairly shallow, making it hard to connect with them on a personal level, but the story so far is more about trying to figure out what these characters are going to do next, as well as wonder who will survive and what will become of them. The slow pace works quite well for this scenario, but I couldn’t help but feel I just got done watching the first 10 minutes of a 3 hour Peter Jackson blockbuster. Intrigued and interested, yes, but I hope the wait for that next volume (currently Apr 2006) won’t kill off the momentum this title currently has. In any case, I’m glad that TOKYOPOP took the chance on another seinen title to their growing library.


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