Note: Won the 25th Japan Media Art Festival New Face Award for Manga in 2022.
It’s Christmas in London but university student Al Adley has no plans to go home to his adoptive parents for the holidays. It’s not that they don’t get on well, it’s just he’s doing his best to lead an independent life. But instead of enjoying a quiet time on his own in the flat he shares with fellow student Callum, he’s horrified to find a bloody knife in the pocket of his jacket. While he’s wondering how and why it got there, there’s a knock at the front door. It’s a police detective. The mayor of London has been found stabbed to death in a tube train – and Al was one of the passengers on the same train. But when Al tells the detective about the knife, Inspector Ellis doesn’t jump to any conclusions or arrest him on the spot. Yet as more tragic and inexplicable events unfold close to Al, there’s only one conclusion that the detective can come to. “It’s no coincidence you got dragged into this,” he tells Al. “Which means that somewhere in your life, there’s a reason you were targeted.”
A murder mystery manga in which the mayor of London is found stabbed to death on a tube train? Readers in the UK (especially Londoners) will do a double take on reading this, especially when we remember who the London mayor-before-last happens to be! How familiar, we wonder, can the mangaka be with life in London today? Well, Shima Shinya must be very familiar, as their manga is full of little authentic touches that will help to convince even the most sceptical of British readers – so we just can relax and enjoy the story. The very distinctive, untypical (even un-mangalike?) art style that Shima Shinya uses is another bonus, giving a unique feel and look to this intriguing story of murder and deception which has more of the flavour of a gritty TV drama than the usual travellers’ London clichés often employed in other manga. Thankfully, there’s no glimpses of Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus or Buckingham Palace, just the occasional offhand reference to, say, supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco which betrays some genuine local knowledge. And the mention of the murder of MP Jo Cox brings a grim relevance to the narrative that will help to dispel any lingering concerns among UK readers about the authenticity of Shima Shinya’s research. It also must be said that this manga shows all the signs of being tightly plotted, so any little detail or seemingly offhand remark is worth making a mental note – although it’s done with such a light and skilful touch by the mangaka that you might only catch the implied significance on a second or third read.
Above all, it’s the characters that convince and draw the reader into the dark mystery at the heart of the manga. First of all, the world-weary cop: Detective Inspector Ellis is near retirement age; currently injured and on crutches, he seems to be accident-prone, as if he’s not been paying proper attention to his own personal safety or well-being. Student Al is a quiet and unassuming young man of South Asian heritage who obviously has a good relationship with his adoptive parents as when he asks for information about his birth mother, they’re ready to share her name so he can go and look for her. But much of the pleasure in reading this murder mystery comes from the interactions between Detective Inspector Ellis and Al as the sinister web that’s being woven around Al, implicating him as the murderer, slowly tightens. Ellis’s instincts are still as keen as ever, even if his battered body (he’s horrendously accident-prone) is letting him down – and we get glimpses that he’s haunted by a case that didn’t go well in his past, with tragic results. Of course, everything we’ve been shown so far may turn out to be smoke and mirrors – and in the next volume or the third and final one, the mangaka could have a trick or two to play on the reader, with unexpected reveals.
The translation for Lost Lad London is by Eleanor Ruth Summers and conveys the dialogue (which has a certain dry humour in several of the exchanges) in a convincing way. The handsome trade paperback edition from Yen Press (with a striking cover design) has six colour pages at the front and a double-page trailer for Book 2 at the end.
Lost Lad London will appeal to all readers who enjoy a taut and twisty murder mystery with an art style that looks more like a Western graphic novel (appropriate for a story set in 21st century London?) and compelling characters. Volume 2 is scheduled for August 2022 – and I can’t wait to see what Shima Shinya has up her sleeve as the plot thickens!