Akira Hiramoto – Del Rey – 2009 – 2+ volumes
This series is AMAZING. The second volume was not quite as gripping as the first, but it would be hard to top the section in the first volume where reality unhinges in the bar and then snaps back in place to reveal that R.J. has been missing for months. This volume was more plot-driven that the last one as well, and it moves at a pretty slow pace, but it’s still easy to appreciate everything that’s going on.
The slow pace is due in part to the way the series has of stalling on really tense scenes. There’s a few good ones with Clyde where he’s waiting out a blind man’s rage, or trying to figure out what’s going on in a room full of candy, or just napping on a porch. Some of these are more interesting than others, and the action scenes have a similar way of stretching themselves out for dramatic effect. The scene where R.J. and Clyde are being chased by hellhounds at the end of the volume is the best example, where the scene with Clyde breaking into the sheriff’s office is probably an example of a scene which lasted a bit too long. In all cases, the art really carries the day. This series gets away with a lot of things I wouldn’t stand for elsewhere simply because it looks really, really good doing it.
I was a bit disappointed that music played absolutely no part in this volume. I was even more disappointed when R.J. got his hands on a guitar at the end and was getting ready to play on the very last page… especially since I think the series has pretty much stopped and we’ll never see any more of it.
This is also disappointing because the plot built pretty slowly throughout this gigantic volume and was just beginning to pay off towards the end. The beginning is actually maddeningly slow, because Clyde is investigating the blind man that runs the town and R.J. is in prison awaiting death. Aside from the men that get thrown in with him and a chat with Ike, very little happens for him until later, though the talk with Ike is significant since Ike raises the issue of R.J.’s desires and what they ultimately cost him, whose fault his current situation is, and even a significant discussion on race relations.
There’s also an annoying loose thread about the ultimate fate of a little boy that the blind man keeps close to him. Clyde has trouble trying to figure out if he’d be able to save both the little boy and R.J., then decides to save R.J. when he goes to meet the little boy’s family. I’m not sure how a bad home life changed his mind, or if it did, or if they completely disregarded this problem (they may have, given how events turn out). I’m curious to see whether or not the blind man catches them in the end. The ruthless dogs are apparently also still after them, which was one of the most… I don’t know, outrageous chase scenes I’ve ever seen, including the totally badass way R.J. takes one of them out (which didn’t make me feel as bad as it sounds like it should have, since these are literally monster-dogs).
It may sound like I’m complaining a lot, but mostly I’m cranky because I’m pretty sure no more of this series will ever come out and I’m disappointed that it left off on such a cliffhanger. It’s an awesome series though, and both of the 600-page volumes are well worth picking up. They are by far the nicest thing that Del Rey has thus far published, which is saying a lot since I’m also quite fond of Faust and things like Parasyte.
I can’t believe this got published in America. It’s such an unusual story, I’m extremely glad Del Rey decided to take a risk with it. I’m not sure how many people will read it (sadly, probably not as many as Negima), but this is exactly the kind of story I would love to see more of. I just talked about Red-Colored Elegy, which is an extremely unusual experimental one-shot, but Me and the Devil Blues is an experimental series, and unlike Red-Colored Elegy, I really dig the plot.
Actually, I worship the ground this plot walks on. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, and in being translated into English, the story has been removed from America and then put back in, so it’s… just weird and awesome. The story is sort of about the legend of Robert Johnson, which is mainly about how the man sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in order to learn to play guitar. This story expands on that and makes it way better.
It starts out with RJ as a farm worker who’s more of a dreamer than a worker. His sister constantly chastises him for not working hard enough, and she pressures him to be more serious since his wife is expecting their first child. He escapes from this pressure one night a week to go to the local blues club, where he admires the players and tries to pick up the blues himself. Someone introduces him to the legend of the crossroad, where if you sit and play anything, the devil will come and play it right back, then you’ll be able to play like no other. At this point, the narrative breaks down and becomes almost nightmarish, with scattered scenes playing out and snippets of everyday events confusing the timeline until… things snap back to normal and we find out RJ has been AWOL for six months, has basically lost his place in the world, and has gained himself a new friend.
The Del Rey edition is two volumes in one. The first volume sets the story up, while the second volume has RJ joining up with yet another new person and ends on a cliffhanger.
The art does an excellent job of complimenting the nightmare in the first story. There are all sorts of awesome angles, heavy lines, and weirdness where the art is concerned. Things spiral out of control and the art twists, turns, and gets darker right along with it. One thing that impressed me a great deal were the expressions on people’s faces, which could look downright evil at some points.
The second story in this volume seems like it sets the pace for the rest of the series. RJ encounters an unlikely character from history and lots of weird and amazing things happen. It also gets pretty serious in that it also looks at racial tensions in the US during that time period. The volume actually ends with RJ in prison waiting to be lynched, which is pretty shocking.
The art also does an excellent job of conveying sound. The blues are integral to the plot, and if we just saw panel after panel of people playing the guitar, it wouldn’t quite work the same way that panels looking down the neck of the guitar, or explanations on why the guitar is played with a bottleneck, or seeing someone play the guitar with ten fingers does. The panels are drawn so that you can see the sounds as they are being played… it works the same way that Swan works for dancing, except they use totally different techniques and are for opposite audiences.
In short: I was totally blown away by this. I haven’t been this impressed by the first volume of a series in a long, long time.