Thursday, April 03, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #92: Triage X Vol. 1-5 by Shouji Sato

A serialized work is rarely well served by a review of the very first piece. Oh, sure, TV critics are happy to jump on pilots and first episodes -- and much more reticent to talk deeply about the middle of Season Six -- but a big episodic creative work has a particular rhythm, and a critic really has to experience enough of those episodes to understand the rhythm and engage with the work seriously.

So reviews of the first volumes of a manga series -- something I'm doing quite a bit in this stretch of Book-A-Day -- is faintly disreputable, an exercise in reading tea leaves and making value judgements based in large part of prediction and wild guesses. Reviewing a bunch of episodes seems like a better example, when possible, to smooth out the wild hairs and get a better sense of what a work is really about. And I hope to do that a few times this year, as part of the voracious maw of content that Book-A-Day always becomes.

So I've read the first five volumes of Shouji Sato's mature-rated Triage X series over the past several days, to get a deeper understanding of what it's really about. And so I can now say, without fear of contradiction, that Triage X is about boobies.

Oh, and guns, too. Lots of guns: shooting people, making explosions. Some blood spatter. There's some wicked cool motorcycles, as well. But mostly boobies.

I say "boobies" rather than "breasts" because that's the level Triage X engages with them: besides a number of scenes of the female characters all bathing together, which are like an '80s Cinemax late evening put onto the page, there's a goofy, silly obsession with boobs that bubbles up even among the female characters. I find it difficult to be offended by this, though I might not be trying very hard: I am a straight man, so I don't mind cartoon boobs, even if they're the very definition of gratuitous. And the boobies here are very gratuitous; we even get a run-down of the measurements of all of the female characters (male characters are only given ages; women get age and the canonical three curvy bits).

This is a story for boys -- possibly overgrown boys, given the mature rating, though I think it's originally aimed right at Japanese teens -- about the things boys care most about: hot girls, fast action, revenge, fighting, secret societies, and utter moral certainty. This particular secret group calls itself Black Label and works out of the renowned Mochizuki General Hospital, under the steely leadership of the aged but still steely namesake of that hospital, a brilliant surgeon who, we will come to learn, personally saved the lives of every single member of his organization with his flashing scalpel. (I do wonder if Triage X is some disreputable grandson of Tezuka's Black Jack, or if stories of mysterious super-surgeons are much more common in Japan than I expect.) Black Label exercises its triage on society in general, deciding which criminals will "receive the black label" and be marked for death.

There's already one assassination team of gorgeous twenty-something women in Black Label, codenamed Ampoule Zero: Sayo, the heavy weapons expert and nurse, Miki, anesthesiologist and sniper, and Yuukio, "a genius surgeon with big breasts." But Sensei Mochizuki is training a second team to be Ampoule One, and -- because every shonen story must be about highschool students, or the world will end -- that team is all seventeen and under.

The leader-in-training, and the only male on active duty, is Arashi Mikami, who Mochizuki put back together after a horrific terrorist bombing nine years before -- using body parts of his own son, Arashi's best friend, who died in the blast! His partner (and probably eventual love interest) is Mikoto Kiba, also 17 but one grade ahead of Arashi, who is a motorcycle whiz. Rounding out their team is kid genius Oiriha Nashida, who is not only their team's explosives expert but also secretly a top idol singer.

The main stories tend to start at the hospital and then head out to the usual dingy industrial sites and luxury highrises where evil criminal masterminds and the heads of gangs lurk -- though there's often an interlude in the showers or baths so the female characters can show off their mammary development, and sometimes grope each other pseudo-comically. But there are also side stories set at the highschool, with a comic-relief girl pining after Arashi and the inevitable strange club, who I am sorry to say is called the Big Titty Club. I should also mention the tough detective -- the obligatory One Honest Cop -- who keeps getting involved in Black Label's cases, and his young female assistant, who has the second-largest breasts in the series (and a point or two of character development besides that).

Sato has a clean, crisp art style that lavishes loving attention on all of the details of this very boyish story -- from motorcycles to guns, from breasts to faces, and he has the knack of building kinetic pages that contain lots of action but still read clearly. And each of these books has a bunch of color pages up front; this was clearly A Big Deal in Japan and is expected to be pretty popular here as well. The stories are pulp action with no pretensions to anything more, though the dialogue can get a bit much -- particularly when our heroic vigilantes argue heatedly with a different vigilante about the morality of killing people on the say-so of their vigilante bosses. (Seriously, the two are exactly parallel, and I don't think Sato is playing it that straight.)

Triage X is a big action movie on the page, with hissable villains, stalwart heroes, and bouncing boobies. (So maybe, from a US perspective, it's more of a 1970s action movie.) Anyone who goes in looking for those things will be entirely satisfied. But anyone thinking the M-rating means Triage X is a seinen manga with possibly a more nuanced view of morality should seriously rethink that premise.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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