IWGP (Ikebukuro West Gate park) vols. 1-2

IWGP (Ikebukuro West Gate park) vols. 1-2
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Author/Artist: Ira Ishida/Sena Aritou
Format: Paperback
Price: $12.99

Whatever one thinks of Digital Manga Publishing’s line of manga, I think we have to give them points for being one of the more fearless companies in terms of the titles they choose to release. With the rare exceptions of mainstream fare such as Hellsing, Trigun, and Berserk, most of their releases are mature-audience titles, shounen ai, or yaoi. Such a high percentage of their titles are yaoi that I originally thought “DMP” stood for something other than Digital Manga Publishing, but that’s a matter for some other time. As one might expect, DMP’s willingness to bring more “mature” manga Stateside has had mixed results – we’ve received the very stylish and very awful Bambi and Her Pink Gun, but we’ve also received titles like Ikebukuro West Gate Park, aka IWGP, which in spite of some storytelling troubles is a most refreshing and different serial.

IWGP is a little hard to summarize, because thus far it’s comprised of two story arcs that don’t have a whole lot to do with each other. It’s about a cool, streetwise older teen/young adult named Makoto, and how he tries to help right wrongs going on in Ikebukuro West Gate Park. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of really unsavory stuff going on in that part of town; in only the first couple of volumes we’ve dealt with murder, drug dealing, prostitution (especially prostitution), gangs, yakuza, and other such things. The first story arc involves Makoto trying to bring justice to the person who killed his girlfriend Rika, and the second arc involves Makoto and company hiding an illegal Iranian immigrant named Kashif from the yakuza while trying to bring down the operation of Heavy E, a rotund drug dealer with an afro and sexual tastes that don’t exactly lean towards the gentle.

After two volumes, IWGP has done a lot right. Ishida is very deft at making colorful characters that have excellent chemistry together. In fact, my favorite part of the entire manga comes in the second arc, which focuses on the protagonists interacting with each other and working together to bring down a drug dealer. While Makoto and Kashif have been the most vivid characterization thus far, even relatively minor players like Yamai are instantly memorable. The manga also has a knack for comedy that many so-called “comedy” titles would be willing to kill for, and it has an engaging undercurrent of youthful exuberance and anger running throughout.

What IWGP does not do so well thus far are pacing and plot. I haven’t read the original IWGP novels so I don’t know if this was a problem in the original, but in the manga version each storyline seems to be in a hurry to resolve itself. The first story arc alone could easily have filled 2 or more whole volumes of manga, but it slides by in 1.25 volumes. As such, there are places in which the stories feel a little too undercooked to be satisfying. The worst of these instances comes at the end of the first arc, where the manga goes for sordid drama at the expense of credibility. I won’t spoil what happens, but the conclusion of the story comes about through a leap of logic, and there’s a Shocking Revelation at the end of the story that feels like it came out of nowhere. The ending is still somewhat effective from a dramatic standpoint, but just barely so. The lack of proper buildup and the unfeasible way it all unfolds limits the power and believability of the ending. It’s almost like they lost confidence in the story at the last moment, rushed into the ending, and tried to pile on the melodrama and sleazy details to heighten the impact.

In fact, at several points it feels like IWGP is trying to pile on the sleaze, either for forced dramatic effect or because it’s afraid the audience will lose interest otherwise. This manga definitely earns the “For Mature Audiences Only” rating that DMP has given it. There isn’t a lot of violence (though one particular incident involving eyelids and a scalpel is cringe-inducing), but there’s a lot of fairly explicit sex scenes that eventually begin to feel routine and boring. There’s just so much of it that I really began to feel as though less would have been more. Yet in spite of this, IWGP is still far better and far less exploitative than other “edgy” works like Bambi and Her Pink Gun or a lot of the “sex and splatter” anime of yesteryear, and there’s a very simple reason why. IWGP is a very human story with a conscience, and its protagonists, even the most debauched or messed-up, seek some form of redemption. This isn’t to say that redemption is always won, or that the characters are angels or even necessarily good people, or that the story is trying to teach us any lessons. It’s simply trying to make the argument that the denizens of Ikebukuro are human beings, whatever their lifestyles or failures may be.

IWGP plays out as a strange cross between a gritty street drama and a teen-detective story. It’s got all the elements of a great drama, but Ishida and Aritou can’t seem to resist turning each arc thus far into an exercise in bringing down the bad guys. That’s where things don’t quite sit so well with me; IWGP has such great characters, such a great setting, so much material to work with, and all it really has to show for it all are a couple of tales centered around Makoto and company trying to right wrongs. I can’t help but think it would have been better if it had remained a street drama instead of a crime-fighter story. The characters are strong enough that fast-paced action isn’t always necessary; IWGP can afford to slow down and just exist once in awhile. We’re left with a thoughtful, entertaining read that could have been deeply thought-provoking and absolutely riveting, but at this point it seems a bit too concerned with trying to justify its own existence to become so. It’s a case of a good manga that could have been great.

Added:  Thursday, October 13, 2005

Related Link:  Digital Manga Press
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