Manga-ka: Yoshiro Tatsumi
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: March 2010
Synopsis: “Susumu Yamaji, a 24-year-old pianist, is arrested for murder and ends up handcuffed to a career criminal on the train that will take them to prison. An avalanche derails the train and the criminal takes the opportunity to escape, dragging a reluctant Susumu with him into the blizzard raging outside. They flee into the mountains to an abandoned ranger station where they take shelter from the storm. As they sit around the fire they built Susumu relates how love drove him to murder.”
Black Blizzard is an important work in manga cannon, but luckily it’s more than just a dusty piece of history. Even today it is still an engaging thriller worth reading. Susumu is a piano player who’s down on his luck. When he falls in love with a circus performer named Saeko, it leads to a series of events which end with Susumu killing a man while in a drunken rage. When the manga starts he has been arrested by the police and is on a train, handcuffed to a fellow prisoner.
When the train goes off the tracks, Susumu’s seatmate sees it as his chance to escape. Well, more like ‘their’ chance to escape, seeing as the two men are handcuffed together. Susumu and the rough criminal escape into a snowstorm where they have to hide from the police while finding shelter from the storm. While there are many dangers in the mountains, the biggest danger to Susumu is the stranger chained to him. The convict figures that the only way either of them will avoid the police is by getting rid of the handcuffs, and the only way to do that is for one of them to lose a hand.
I became interested in Black Blizzard after reading about it in the manga-ka’s autobiography, A Drifting Life (in that manga it’s called ‘Black Snowstorm’, but I like Drawn & Quarterly’s alterative title better). Tatsumi was trying his hand at something new with Black Blizzard, not just for himself but with manga in general. While the behind the scenes info gives the reader a different perspective, in the end the reader doesn’t need to know what Black Blizzard meant to Tatsumi or even to the manga world at large. It’s a good story that stands up on its own merits, not merely because of its contributions to the medium.
Though still entertaining, Black Blizzard does look dated. The character designs are all very cartoony, which is at odds with the serious story. Most of the layouts consist of grids of equal sized squares, with large gutters between them. Yet even though the style of the book is old-fashioned, there’s still clearly a lot of innovation going on within. I don’t generally think of Yoshiro Tatsumi as being a master of suspense, but here there are several sequences which are amazingly suspenseful.
The story has plenty of twists and turns. A ton of them come all at once at the end, which left me feeling a little bushwhacked by all the revelations. Everything ties up a little too neatly, but at the same time the manga-ka does plant clues throughout the book so the end doesn’t feel like a total cheat (though it still seems unbelievable).
This being a Drawn & Quarterly book, there’s no question about the quality. It’s great. Adrian Tomie, a famous comic book artist and writer in his own right, did the script adaptation as well as book design and lettering. This really shows not only in the dialogue, but in the redrawn sound effects. Usually I hate it when the sound effects are redrawn, but they look so natural here that I didn’t mind. Tomie also conducts an interview with Tatsumi, which is included in the back of the book. For anyone who has read A Drifting Life, there’s nothing really new, but for those who haven’t it offers a look at Tatsumi’s influences and mindset at the time of creating Black Blizzard.
If you like modern suspense manga like Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, than Black Blizzard is worth checking out. I’d also recommend it not only to manga fans, but anyone who likes Hitchcock movies, hardboiled crime novels, or just suspenseful, well told stories.