People familiar with the works of Shuzo Oshimi will know that his series can be rather creepy.
If you have read what is probably his most famous work, The Flowers of Evil, you will see similar themes of an everyday life being turned on its head. In The Flowers of Evil, things fall apart for the main character when he is caught stealing the gym clothes from a girl he has a crush on. In Oshimi’s latest title, the cause of the tragedy is not someone with a romantic relationship, but a family one.
In Blood on the Tracks – the title is presumably a reference to the Bob Dylan album of the same name, although in the original Japanese the manga’s title is translated as A Trail of Blood – we follow a typical schoolboy named Seiichi Osabe. On the surface, things appear to be perfectly normal, although as his visiting cousin Shige points out, Seiichi’s mother Seiko appears to be somewhat controlling. At kindergarten, she used to stand at the back of the class to keep an eye on him all the time. Seiichi reacts unfavourably to this idea, but Seiko says he is just joking.
Later, Seiichi goes on a hiking holiday with the rest of his family, including Seiko and Shige. At one point Shige jokingly pushes Seiichi when he is near a cliff edge, leading to Seiko to quickly grab hold of her son to protect him from falling. However, the next time Seiko is standing on a cliff edge, possibly to do the same trick, a horrific incident occurs that changes Seiichi’s life forever.
The storytelling is the main appeal of this work. Oshimi is able to create a seemingly normal world where one incident sparks an entire series of events, wanting you to read what will happen next. In the case the aftermath of what happened on the cliff, we know that Seiichi is planning to invite a girl over to the house, which may cause problems with the overprotective Seiko. Even then, while it seems for certain that we know what has happened on the cliff, the complete conclusion has yet to be revealed in this first volume.
Oshimi combines the storytelling with some great artwork. If your only experience of his work is with the anime version of The Flowers of Evil and its controversial use of rotoscoping, you may be pleasantly surprised to see just how good his artwork is. From detailed and sometimes disturbing close-ups to great views of the wilderness, he has a wide talent. This volume also comes with some colour pages at the start, as well as a “photo album”, which is actually drawings of Seiichi when he was younger.
While I don’t see any direct problems with Daniel Komen’s translation of the work, I still don’t quite understand the change in the name of the title. However, if you we going to reference a piece of music I can’t help feeling that something from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in which the narrator has issues with his domineering mother, would be somewhat more fitting.
As it stands however, Blood on the Tracks has been thrilling reading so far, and it will be interesting to see where Oshimi takes the story.