Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dragon Head: We're getting closer to finding out what that's supposed to mean

I'm actually getting caught up on series like this, which is cool. Only two more volumes to go to get caught up with what's been released in the U.S., although volume 8 is supposed to come out in early October. I'm slowly gaining ground.

Dragon Head, volume 5
By Minetaro Mochizuki

When we left our characters at the end of the previous volume, they were in a helicopter, barely escaping a raging firestorm. More bad shit happens to them in this volume, as they struggle to survive in a disaster-ravaged landscape, and maybe even find out what the hell happened. We actually get some hints about the latter, but it's almost irrelevant when the characters are fighting to stay alive in a world gone mad.

For those who aren't familiar with the series, it's a nice ground-level view of the apocalypse, in the style that I like so much. Rather than concentrating on events, this series is all about character; the first two volumes consisted of just three (living) characters inside a collapsed train tunnel, and the madness that began to consume them in a state of perpetual darkness and decay. Interestingly, this volume shifts the main point of view from Teru, the boy, to Ako, the girl. Teru was wounded in the last volume, and now Ako is trying to procure the medicine to save his life. As you can imagine, in a wrecked world like this, pharmaceuticals are not easy to come by. She and the two remaining soldiers manage to put their helicopter down in what seems like a deserted area, and they meet a middle-aged woman who helps them out. She's the first adult we see after the disaster, or the first middle-aged one anyway; the soldiers seem like they're in their early twenties. She relates the story of her experiences during the "events", when she had traveled out of the country and into a nearby fishing town. She saw a sort of bright light in the sky, and then there was a big earthquake; then people noticed that there was no water in the ocean. Apparently, something happened to vaporize all the water nearby, which led to a huge tsunami when the ocean rushed back in to fill the gap. This destroyed most everything, and chaos ensued among those who were left. She witnessed people fighting savagely over supplies:

Like much of the human interaction in this series, these scenes feel "off", like something is just wrong. I still think something is going to be revealed about why this sort of thing is happening. Or maybe Mochizuki is just very cynical, believing that humanity will revert to thier worst natural impulses when faced with a world-ending situation like this, rather than working together for the benefit of all. Who knows, maybe he's right.

The lady also mentions seeing people silently evacuate down the road, in another display of strange behavior. Whether there's a supernatural/psychological/other explanation for this or not, it's still pretty damned creepy.

With the helicopter out of fuel and in need of repair, Ako and the nasty soldier Nimura decide to make the trek to a nearby village on foot, in order to retrieve medicine and supplies. It looks like this trip might take them the next few volumes to finish, since they encounter trouble on the way, along with more freaky stuff that might or might not have to do with the disaster:

I expect this guy will play a major part in the future, since he's the one who utters the series' title. Plus, he's on the cover of the next volume.

It's very a intense book, with near-constant life-threatening situations, and a very effective feeling of a world completely destroyed and gone mad. I had wondered about the lack of dead bodies in the previous volumes, and while we do finally see some graves and evidence of dead people, there still seems to be less of them around than there should be. It makes for a creepy landscape, with the washed-out evidence of the tsunami covering every detail:

Mochizuki delivers another striking moment when Ako and Nimura are traveling through a forest. Unlike the quickly crumbling man-made infrastructure, the trees and plants seem relatively untouched, demonstrating man's relative impermanence in the big view:

It's a beautiful moment, but one that is quickly interrupted by more life-threatening events.

I've really enjoyed this series, and it seems Mochizuki has a plan for what he's doing, rather than just throwing danger at the characters. I don't know how well it will work out when the series is complete (that is, when I've read the complete series), but I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

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