Opus (75 Books – XXXV)

I imagine all of my readers already know Kon Satoshi, but if you haven’t seen his films (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika) and TV anime (Paranoia Agent), go watch them. Even if you’re not especially interested in anime, they’re excellent and worthwhile for anyone interested in film. Before he started working in animation, though, he did comics, including the unfinished Opus, published late last year by Dark Horse.

The story starts with an artist working on the climax of a comic he’s making, when a character he’s about to kill off manages to break out of the fictional world and drag him from the real world into the comic. From there, it goes back-and-forth between the two worlds, in a style similar to what Kon would later do in Millennium Actress. There are, of course, a lot of stories with similar premises about people finding themselves in the world of movies, games, or fiction generally, so while it’s not totally original, Kon’s treatment is solid throughout, and one gets the feeling that there really is a fully-developed world in both the real world and the comic world, or at least the parts of the comic that the protagonist, Nagai, got around to drawing. Kon uses similar themes in his later work, and though Opus isn’t as fully developed as his animation, it is interesting to see him start thinking about things that will later show up in Millennium Actress, Paprika, or Paranoia Agent.

One problem that emerges from mixing these two worlds is that the tone of the story shifts wildly from scene to scene. For example, near the climax there’s a joke when Nagai is speaking to the protagonist of his story, Satoko, about how he based her design off of his girlfriend. A few pages later, and we get to a scene in his comic about a child-murderer who kidnaps and molests (and quite likely worse – we don’t see everything he does) little girls. Part of the joke in this story is that Nagai is a stereotypical comic artist, slightly nerdy, not especially strong or brave, who doesn’t fit in at all with this dark, gritty setting he’s created. So, the tone goes back-and-forth throughout the book, but the whiplash from at least this moment is too much.

The art is decent, but nothing to write home about, really, and the panel layouts are mostly conventional. Those primarily interested in comics as a visual medium can safely skip this one.

I should also point out that Kon left Opus unfinished when he began work on Perfect Blue, and never did go back to complete it. Dark Horse did include his draft for what seems to be almost the final chapter, which is interesting because the story gets even more meta and goes right through the fourth wall, but there’s still no real conclusion, which makes the story frustrating to read. It’s still worthwhile, though, for those interested in this type of story, and a must-read for those interested in Kon’s work.

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