Manga-ka: Aya Kanno
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: October 2008
Synopsis: “Zen’s memory has been wiped and a lot of people will do anything they can to keep it that way. Zen’s unearthly charm attracts a veritable rogues gallery. A bounty hunter becomes obsessed enough to become his new partner, while the daughter of a general 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.”
After reading the synopsis of Blank Slate and seeing it sport the Shoujo Beat Manga logo, I had to pick up this first volume and see what it was. I’ve long since associated Shoujo Beat’s line-up as ones that tend to focus on romance and subsequent drama so finding a series that was clearly of a darker vein, and starred an amnesiac assassin, I knew this was something that would intrigue me. Seems I was right!
The premise is a simple one. Zen is a man with no memory of the past twenty years. Regardless, he’s racked himself up a hefty bounty on his head and is reknowned all over as one of the worst criminals in history. Living up to his reputation beautifully, he robs banks, kidnaps and shoots anything and anyone who gets in his way with little, if any, remorse. Destruction and death is an urge he can’t ignore and he executes them both with cold, unfeeling skill.
The first story in the book was originally meant to be a standalone before Aya Kanno began working on this as a full series. It introduces readers to Zen, less a character and a more a force at work, as he’s hunted down by police and bounty hunters alike. One such bounty hunter takes a particular interest in Zen but upon confrontation finds himself infatuated with the surreal freedom from morality that his target lives by. With a strong start and finish, it definitely worked as its own stand alone and sets up the following chapters nicely.
In the first story following the standalone prequel, Zen kidnaps a blind girl as a last minute escape plan from a hindered bank job. Sheltered and yearning for more in her life, the girl is immediately taken with the man despite the dangers he’s put her in. Following their story, Zen drags his then injured self to a nearby town to seek help from a doctor known for treating patients regardless of their legal status. The doctor, an honest and likeable man, is pulled into Zen’s world and is set in place as a recurring character in Zen’s search for clues to his past and ultimately the discovery of what truely controls him.
I really love the interaction, sparse as it is, between the doctor Hakka and Zen. Hakka has strong morals but his willingness to bend them interests Zen, who wants to watch an innocent corrupted into evil. You certainly couldn’t call them friends, barely even acquaintances, but none the less a dangerous bond has formed between them and no matter it’s brittle nature, I definitely look forward to seeing where this dark road takes them.
Aya Kanno’s art is definitely a large part of what allows Blank Slate to fit in the Shoujo Beat line-up. The style is fairly delicate with thin lines and attractive character designs that are certainly catering more to female readers. There were some really well rendered scenes, from a sudden spur into action, to a more low-key interaction scene, allowing the artist to illustrate each scene appropriately. Matching the tone of the story, the art itself has a darker feeling to it as well and it played a key role in the dynamic mood the story sets up.
Come the end of this first volume of Blank Slate, I’ve definitely gotten attached to this intriguing series thanks to its appealingly unique tone, dark, and kind of creepy in a delicately surreal way. The art compliments it well and it all comes together as a very entertaining package. Zen, though the lead, remains to the end more of an enigma than a character but that’s fine with me (and I’d say quite intended) because watching the world interact with him instead of vice-versa makes for a much more interesting experience. I definitely look forward to volume two.