Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Purgatory Kabuki – can’t give it away!

Quite a while ago Treasure artist Yasushi Suzuki created a manga called Purgatory Kabuki – rather than being the perfect cross-over between videogames and manga that people dream about, it was awful. So awful, I couldn’t even give it away. For free!

(This blog entry comes with bonus IT Crowd script)

Author: Yasushi Suzuki
ISBN 13: 978-1-59796-070-0
Date Published: 12/27/2007
Format: paperback / B&W
Number of pages: 144
Rating: 13+
Price: $9.95

I recently moved house, and with that I sold off, gave away and threw out most of my surplus clutter – so all the manga I didn’t intend to read again, all the anime I disliked, and the majority of my Dreamcast CD-Rs (man, did I really burn a copy of Memories Off?). Most things sold except for Purgatory Kabuki. I then offered it to a games journalist friend who loves Treasure games and had happily accepted a poster for Gunstar Heroes – signed by the Treasure team – which I’d given him previously (which I’d actually had to rescue from the dustbin of my ex-boss, who’d received the signed posters for use as competition prizes and then simply chucked them out). But even he didn’t want Purgatory Kabuki.

The sad thing is, it is one of the worst manga/graphic novels/comics I have ever read.

Since late 2006 I’d been following its production in Halverson’s PLAY magazine (which, I should add, I think is now on the verge of bankruptcy, seeing as myself and several other European subscribers haven’t received the last 3 issues, plus a whole bunch of other things I’m not at liberty to divulge – but trust me, I’ve seen several publisher bankruptcies in my life, I know the signs. You read it here first!).

Anyway, Purgatory Kabuki was released in America and then proved stupidly difficult to get in the UK due to delayed release dates and suppliers running out. No one seemed to have heard of it anywhere, with only PLAY in America championing it. Not even NEO Magazine covered it, despite the Treasure/videogame/manga crossover connection. Not even my local ‘comic book guy’ had heard of it. This highlights an endemic failure in the media to publicise things, much like Agarest. Even if it is awful, it sets a historical precedent.

So anyway, eventually Waterstones orders it from a different supplier and I pay my £6.99 and wait for it to arrive.

So I get a call one day and go in the following morning. Well, the woman who actually handed it to me was one of the most attractive, intelligent sounding, bubbly, nubile strawberry-blondes I’ve ever seen in my life. All wise smiles and bosom. Geeky guy getting served by a young maiden, buying a manga graphic novel... Sorry, comic book. And suddenly I feel like I'm in the episode of the IT crowd.

I can just imagine myself as Moss...

Moss: You’ll never guess what Roy!

Roy: Oh, hello der Moss. What is it?

Moss: I was speaking to such a lovely young woman this morning!

Roy: Oh really?

Moss: Yes! We spoke about this, and we spoke about that, and she asked how things were, and she was smiling the whole time I made light conversation, Roy!

Roy: Oh, so did you ask her out then?

Moss: No Roy, I was buying the first print volume of the new Purgatory Kabuki graphic novel, by Treasure artist Yasushi Suzuki, who worked on hardcore titles like Ikaruga. Man, those were some great games, weren't they Roy?

Roy: Yes, dey were. I really liked Sin & Punishment which I bought on import, I bet she didn't even know that, huh Moss?

Moss: No Roy, she certainly did not know about Sin & Punishment, or who Yasushi Suzuki is, or Treasure.

Roy: So, did she continue speaking to you after you'd bought the comic?

Moss: It's a graphic novel book, Roy. And no, I quickly left the establishment and then ran off. But I think we had a real connection there.


Anyway, I finally had Volume 1.

And, like I said, it was shit.

I'm not a massive manga fan, since apart from Welcome to the NHK and Genshiken I can’t actually find anything that’s to my taste. Well, maybe Nausicaa, but I digress. I bought Purgatory Kabuki solely because of the videogame crossover and the fact that it’s by the main artist from Treasure. It HAD to be good, plus PLAY raved about it.

Unfortunately, it might be the worst manga EVER made.

There were only two colour pages at the start, despite the quality of monochrome shading making it look as if the whole comic was created in colour then converted to black and white – meaning you lose a lot of detail.

Worse still, it comes across as a piece of work created by someone who has no understanding of the comic medium, or even literature in general. Large panels are used almost exclusively for posing shots, while kinetic fights are displayed in tiny postage stamp squares, making it impossible to work out what’s going on. Worse still, there are several instances of panels taking up both pages, with the key details (as in main characters), being lost in the book’s gutter – this is a schoolboy error. Plus you’re left with panels displaying only empty scenery.

There’s also very little text. Which is no bad thing, I once read a fantastic graphic novel which had nearly no text whatsoever (it was about a lone wanderer venturing into a city of rats to find his lost wife, in some post-apocalyptic future – titled “The City”, it was by James Herbert). But in Purgatory Kabuki this lack of text makes things even more confusing, because the story is an incoherent, poorly written mess; a veritable rotting whale on the beach of narratives.

The story, of what I can understand, is absolute nonsense. Some guy with no name kills demons and takes their swords, until he kills a headless demon, and a child demon comes out of its belly, cuts his arm off, and then makes a deal with the nameless guy. Kill a thousand demons and take their swords, and I'll give you a new body with a working army. He accepts and is suddenly given a name. It's tough working out the rest, since it's like trying to read text fragments through a bowl of shredded wheat.

I didn’t look into buying subsequent volumes. And while I couldn't give away the first volume, I couldn't bring myself to throw it away either. So I've kept it, on my shelf, as a reminder to in future be more careful about what I buy.

Sad too, since I thought we were on to a winner, and I don’t want to criticise Yasushi Suzuki. His artwork is fantastic. The man is an extremely gifted artist, with a diverse range of styles, able to work in various mediums, and his artwork deserves nothing but praise. His other book, The Art of Yasushi Suzuki, in contrast is a fantastic coffee table read since it focuses on what he’s good at: art.

Purgatory Kabuki stands as an example where being skilled in one thing doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be good in related fields.

Insert Credit had a fascinating interview with him, as did the publisher, DRMBooks. Apparently Suzuki-san wanted to make a game based on Purgatory Kabuki.

On a related note, someone else also raised the question pertaining to another videogame artist who attempted to branch out into manga: Anyone know what's become of Junya Inoue’s (Joker Jun, Cave’s artist) manga? It was supposedly translated into English.

After getting burned on Purgatory Kabuki I’m hesitant to investigate further. Taken from Amazon:
Otogi Matsuri 1: Dark Offering

A demon thirsty for human blood, a young girl who can see supernatural beings and a boy who inadvertently promises his future to the god of the south—all combine to give Otogi Matsuri the speed and power of a runaway bullet train. From the first appearance of the bone-crunching "cat-spider" monster, Inoue gives notice that this adventure story is deadly serious. Its teenage heroes are enmeshed in a realm that has it in for any puny humans who get in the way of its gods and demons. Luckily for plucky high school boy protagonist Yousuke Suruga, he's been unwittingly armed with the bow of Suzaku, a weapon with phoenix-like powers. Together with Ryuuichi Ezo, who's similarly armed with the spear of Seiryuu, and Yomogi Inaga, armed with otherworldly vision, he's able to take on the cat-spider and, later, a horde of monstrous dragonflies controlled by a gigantic eyeball—leading to some amusing absurdist dialogue such as "I saw a big eyeball going down the street!" Eventually, the demons are defeated and order is restored, but tantalizing loose ends have been left dangling for the next instalment, making for a good, juicy adventure with evocative graphics and great promise for part two.


  1. I think we've ALL got a burnt copy of Memories Off lying around somewhere...

    It's pretty common for manga to only a few pages to be in color while the rest is B&W. It looks like that Otogi Matsuri was published by CPM, which went belly up earlier this year, and had years of financial troubles before that. I can't even find the first volume listed outside of that one third party seller on Amazon.

  2. OK, stupid comment, I know, but I thought HAN was the main artist for Treasure. Is this the "new" main artist for Treasure after HAN left, or something else?

  3. A worth comment! I should have clarified Treasure's artists before making such a statement.

    Suzuki is the guy who did all the art post Sin & Punishment, though I'm not too au fait with it. He's got that dark ink-brush style that's so recognisable.

    As for the b/w art, I've no problem with it, it's just that it's not easy to see what's happening. Nausicaa looks like it was drawn and inked without any colour being added, and stuff like Sgt Frog, Welcome to the NHK and most things people could mention, look like their shading was done with B/W printing in mind.

    Purgatory Kabuki looks like it was drawn with the intention of colour printing which never happened. Or it could be my imagination, but the art isn't very clear.

  4. PLAY is going out of business huh...I used to read Halverson's magazine, Gamefan, when I was kid and I really missed it when the issues dried up. It sucks his latest magazine is suffering the same fate. I noticed recent issues lacked certain content (like Play Japan) and we didn't even get the Muramasa issue where I live. I think the cover was too racy for the local bookstore.

  5. You still curious about Otogi Zoshi? I read it a while back via online scans, and it is wonderful. It's darker than you'd think from the first two chapters, what with the main characters giving away their "most precious thing" in exchange for their weapons. Plus, the characters relationships are explored in much greater detail than normal for manga. I hesitate to define this as an adult manga--the characters are too well adjusted for that. But the direction the story is moving and the way the characters are growing is nothing like what I had anticipated. It's not "quite" original, but it's the closest thing I've seen to it in manga recently.

    And I have to ask: in all seriousness, is Purgatory Kabuki *that* bad?

  6. Well, Purgatory Kabuki is bad in that I spent £7 and didn't feel I had my money's worth. I'd pay £2 for it, tops. Pushing through to the end was a struggle, despite it being relatively thin.

    My big gripe is, it could and should have been the best thing ever. Suzuki's artwork is normally incredible, but here you lose that. The story is also empty.

    Perhaps I come across as a little harsh, but that's only because I expected so much more from what seemed to be the perfect set-up. I mean, it's like the ultimate nerd cross-over.

  7. I second Purgatory Kabuki being completely terrible, although it's not the inking that bothers me. It's more like I have no bloody clue what's going on since the author apparently has no idea to sequence the panels coherently enough for me to follow along.

    And because of his portfolio, I'm guessing the publisher let that slide. Smart move on their part.