Grim_Noir Takes One Last, Long, Strange Trip With Satoshi Kon’s OPUS Manga

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Title: Opus

Story and Art: Satoshi Kon

Editor: Carl Gustav Horn

Lettering and Retouch: IHL

Translation: Zack Davisson

Publisher: Tokuma Shoten Publishing Company, Ltd

Licensed by: Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by Grim_Noir


“OPUS (noun): 1. a piece of music written by a major composer; 2. an important work done by a writer, painter, etc.; 3. a musical composition or set of compositions usually numbered in the order of its issue”

from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

The biggest problem reviewing a Satoshi Kon work is the very real danger of running out of superlatives. This isn’t normally a situation that reviewers face, but one that is definitely earned by Mr. Kon.

In the pantheon of visionary film directors, Satoshi Kon often gets short-shriff in America because he is thought to simply direct “cartoons.” This is a real shame because Kon is an artist who examines the world around us, how we perceive it and the relationship between dreams and reality. Most of his anime leave the viewer with enough talking points to fuel a book club for an entire month.

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So, with his last posthumous film (The Dreaming Machine) currently stalled in production, it feels appropriate that our last exposures to the Master of the mind-screw are in printed form. Dark Horse Comics’ complete collection of Satoshi Kon’s 1995-1996 OPUS does not disappoint.

The metafictional OPUS begins with manga creator Chikara Nagai showing the finale of his latest series, Resonance, to his editor. We see several prototypical manga pages that get us into Nagai’s manga world and the dilemma of his heroine, Satoko. Nagai plans to shock his audience by having Satoko’s self-appointed psychic protector, Lin, sacrifice himself to kill the incredibly over-powered vilian, The Masque. Nagai’s editor agrees it is “a hell of an ending,” but points out that many readers (including himself) will be sorry to see Lin go out like that.

“I’m sure Lin hates to go like that, too,” Nagai retorts.

And THAT is where the trouble begins. Lin doesn’t like the idea of having to die for anyone and confronts his creator about the situation by dragging Nagai INTO the world of Resonance. When events spiral out of Lin’s control, he abandons his creator in the world of Resonance and completely leaves the manga.

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At this point, most readers are thinking, “we’ve seen this before in everything from Tron, to Delirious, to Kool World, to Inception…” However, Kon has clearly spent A LOT of time thinking about the repercussions of this scenario, leading every twist to feel fresh and exciting, even ten years after it was written. You are in the hands of an absolute expert and the narrative thrust pulls you along at an intoxicating pace.

Kon’s artwork is terrific: Facial expressions truly emote, action scenes are reality-bending (in the best possible way), and backgrounds are wonderfully detailed (unless they are deliberately NOT detailed). Many people are not aware that Satoshi Kon began his career by winning an amateur dojinshi contest and, for a short while, worked as an assistant artist on the Akira manga. All of this experience positively glows in OPUS.

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Kon has a lot to say about Religion, Creativity, and the relationship between Creator and Creation. When an artist’s creations “take on a life of their own,” should he/she worry? Is a creator “God” to his creations? Does he or she have as many obligations to his creations as to his/her readers?

We also get a hearty glimpse into the nuts-and-bolts business world of Japanese comics. Ironically, in 1996, Reality reflected Kon’s surreal world: Sadly, the comic anthology series that published OPUS went out of business. Kon estimated he could wrap up all his story points with just another three chapters. Unfortunately (for us, not him), Kon’s film career would take off at this time and he would never compose those three chapters. But Kon never stopped thinking about OPUS. After Kon’s death in 2010, an Afterward manga chapter for OPUS was discovered among his things. While not the whiz-bang finale the original readers may have hoped for, this chapter serves to thematically conclude the story most satisfactorily.

It just took me three days to digest all 365 pages of OPUS, yet the only thing preventing me from immediately re-reading it all, from the beginning, is writing this review. I cannot stress enough just how good this manga is.

And not just because I’m looking for a book club to discuss OPUS with…

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* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet is a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or Friend on Good Reads or Facebook to end his self-delusions.

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