animefringe january 2003 / reviews

Chicago Vol.1: Book of Self
Format: Left-Right manga, 194 pages
Production: VIZ / Tamura Yumi
Comments: Chicago is shoujo as you've never seen it before, with plenty of action blended skillfully with an engaging plot. Manga fans of either sex will quickly fall in love with its cinematic storytelling and high-quality illustrations.
Animefringe Reviews:
Chicago Vol.1: Book of Self

When I first spied Chicago, plucking it out from packing peanuts in our back room, I was intrigued. You see, the cover of the first volume is colorful to the point of being pretty, the eyes of the characters on it are huge and detailed, and for all intents and purposes, it appears to be a simple shoujo manga. And then I noticed Rei's huge knife and realized (at the risk of sounding silly) that this is not my little sister's shoujo manga. Sure, it looks like shoujo. It reads like shoujo. It even smells like shoujo. However, there's an uncharacteristically large dose of explosive action and intrigue added into the stew of what would normally be composed of sugar, spice, and everything nice. Chicago features all of the staples of shoujo, but tosses a few grenades into the recipe, and the final result is something uniquely entertaining.

True to shoujo form, Tamura is skilled at creating some beautiful characters. Eyes are especially detailed, but her character designs are equally attractive. This is a plus, for most of the panels in Chicago feature characters rather than backgrounds or objects. Feelings are generated as a result of how the characters look, whether they're enraged, stressed, or just having fun. Every once in a while, Tamura switches to a somewhat super-deformed style, but this is rare and the comedic moments are always welcome. There may not be incredibly well designed machinery like one would see in Fujishima Kosuke's works (Ah! My Goddess or You're Under Arrest to name a couple), but the visuals are nonetheless appealing.

Visual style aside, what truly drew me into this work was the well-written plot. At first, things were a little confusing, but after finishing the entire volume, it became obvious that this installment is merely the beginning of a storyline deep enough to be worthy of shoujo fans. The plot follows the actions of Rei and Uozumi, two rescue workers caught up in some mysterious events following Tokyo's most devastating earthquake of the 21st century. While searching for survivors on a man-made landform, their party was attacked by an unknown force. Only Rei and Uozumi survived, and the attack cost the latter his leg. Then we flash forward to the future, where the two remaining partners are trying to go on with their lives even though the events that transpired were covered up by the government and smoothed over by the press. Some truths, however, are hard to conceal, and soon enough, Rei and Uozumi are working together again. This time, though, they're hoping to discover answers to the questions that have been haunting them since the incident...

The series gets its name, oddly enough, from a Tokyo bar. Of course, this is no ordinary Tokyo bar, but really the front for a low-key private organization devoted to rescuing hostages. The organization contacted Rei and Uozumi, aware of their skills, and hired them with the suggestion that perhaps taking on the job could illuminate the mysteries plaguing the two. With that tempting opportunity, along with the draw of their general good natures to help those in need, the duo takes the organization's offer. Only time will tell if their decision will answer any questions, or simply raise a host of new ones.

Characters in this series are exceedingly well fleshed-out, with each one having plenty of personality quirks. From Rei's rough past to Uozumi's interesting choice for a lover, these are characters that would be interesting in any scenario. I'm also rather impressed that Tamura made both of them abstainers. That is, they don't drink alcohol, which is a refreshing change from most action heroes. I'm not saying that I abhor alcohol and feel that everyone that imbibes the stuff is a vile creature, but it's nice to see characters with a distinct positive trait, rather than a defining character flaw. Plus it's a good message to send to the younger readers in the audience, though with all of the violence, perhaps they won't have a chance to read it in the first place.

Essentially, Chicago is a thrilling, unique read filled with multidimensional characters and a great action storyline. Sort of like shoujo on steroids, it has all of the depth and emotion with none of the frilly lining, and as such this should appeal to the guys as much as the girls out there. It's beautifully illustrated, well translated, and a blast to experience. If only it were unflipped so that it would read from right to left, then it would've scored a few more points. Even in its mirrored incarnation, this is a lovely series that is certain to entertain any action-loving manga fan with a desire for a plot.