Chad Clayton rates it:
Author/Artist: D.J. Milky/Makoto Nakatsuka
When TOKYOPOP first announced that they were going to start publishing titles from young artists from the English-speaking world, I approached the news with guarded optimism. The irritating use of the word “manga” to describe non-Japanese comics aside, I thought it might be another small step towards the diversification of the American comics market, and breaking the perceived stranglehold that superhero comics hold on the medium. Watching these possibilities play out have left me with mixed feelings. Excellent releases like Dramacon have left me feeling quite optimistic, the more average, well-meaning releases have left me hoping for bigger and brighter things from their respective artists in the future, and comics like Juror 13 have been depressing as all hell. Juror 13 isn’t another entry into the OEL line so much as it is a catalogue of things that are wrong with OEL, and reasons why it’s so poorly thought of by so many people. It’s almost defiant in how poorly done it is, and no matter how I look at it, I can’t bring myself to believe that anyone spent more than an evening or two taking this story from brainstorming to final draft.
Despite what its title might lead you to believe, Juror 13 is not a courtroom drama. Jury duty actually has very little to do with the story, other than serve as a vague hint towards the story’s very contrived, clichéd twist ending. Most of the story is about Jeremy Rosen, an insurance adjuster who finds himself framed for fraud in a story that’s more glaringly obvious than even the worst Hollywood movies.
Juror 13 would like to be thought of as a mystery/suspense thriller, but it’s so transparent, you can look into one end and see all the way through to the other side. Unless you’ve never read a mystery before, are well under the recommended age group for this manga (16+), or are simply not very bright, you will know exactly who the villains are before the story is even half over. It would be difficult to make it any more obvious without coming right out and saying, “hey, these are the bad guys, please remember that!” Seriously, if you’re trying to create any kind of doubt as to whether or not someone’s conspiring against our hero, wouldn’t it help to not give him a decadent manner, and even an evil smirk as he’s assuring the protagonist that he’s a friend? If you’re trying to make the audience doubt the hero’s sanity, don’t you need to provide some evidence other than having everyone tell him stuff to the effect of, “look, you’re under a lot of stress lately, are you sure you really saw that?” In fact, all of the dialogue is stiff, lecture-like, and never feels as though the characters are really speaking to each other, as opposed to speaking for the audience’s benefit. It’s almost as though the comic is screaming to the audience “have you figured it out yet?! No?! Here’s another hint then!” It plays out like a pageant of contempt for the audience’s intelligence.
But then, the above observations attempt to apply logic to a story that willfully spurns it. Can you really expect anything more from a story where the hero, wearing no helmet or anything more protective than business-casual wear, drives a motorcycle through a glass door and comes away unscratched, instead of cut to ribbons like any other human being would be? Or where the hero consistently makes the dumbest possible decision in any given situation, because the story has no way to move forward otherwise? Familiarity and implausibility are death to suspense stories, and Juror 13 seems to deal primarily in both.
Since the only notable part about Juror 13 is the ending, it has to be addressed. I won’t say exactly what happens, but I will say that the ending feels as though it was the result of a passing fit of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” rather than a well-planned conclusion. Usage of the worn-out “waking up” ending aside, any judge, jury, or person capable of constructing that apparatus would be intelligent enough to know that the information it collects would be useless for the purpose it’s used for in the story, because even if two people share similar backgrounds, temperaments, et al, it most certainly does not mean that two people would react the same way if placed in the same situation. It’s illogical to the point that it doesn’t make any sense. Granted, this ending could be trying to make some kind of point – such as the now-tired cliché of the pursuit of science eclipsing our compassion, sense of ethics, or common sense – but even if this were the case (which, given the lack of the idea’s development, is doubtful), it’s handled so ham-handedly that it’s more annoying than interesting or convicting. Just like everything that came before it.
I think it’s kind of amusing that Juror 13 is rated Older Teens (16+), yet the content of the story would be hard-pressed to challenge anyone older than 12. It’s a young teen-level story with a clumsy one-panel sex scene, and several instances of the characters dropping the F-Bomb, for no real reason other than to try to fill its quota of “edgy” content. I’ve always been of the belief that a story written for mature audiences should respect the presumed maturity of its readers. Titles like Short Program, Memories, or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex are intended for mature audiences, and their writing reflects respect for the intelligence of their audience. Titles like Juror 13 hide behind the “for mature audiences” label because, ironically, they lack the maturity to differentiate between complex, compelling fiction and stories that just happen to contain unnecessary amounts of salacious content. There’s nothing mature about spouting four-letter words in some attempt to create the illusion that what you’re writing is more serious, thoughtful, or mature than any given issue of Dragonball Z.
Added: Monday, March 27, 2006
Related Link: TOKYOPOP