Ray vols. 1-2

Ray vols. 1-2
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Author/Artist: Akihito Yoshitomi
Format: Paperback
Price: $9.99

ADV Manga has been the subject of a lot of criticism and skepticism recently, and all things considered, it’s not all that hard to see why. While ADV has released some very fine manga such as Azumanga Daioh, Cromartie High School, and Yotsuba&!, they’ve also licensed a metric ton of manga titles that almost nobody (including me) had ever heard of, presumably on the assumption that manga’s hot, so fans will buy anything you put in front of them. It’s not that all these unknown titles are bad, but for the most part, they’re nondescript, underachieving affairs that simply can’t compete with all the A- and B-List titles coming out almost weekly. Ray is one of these small, relatively unknown titles that really doesn’t have anything wrong with it per se, but it’s not strikingly original or well-executed enough to separate itself from the rest of the ever-growing horde of manga releases.

Ray is a young female doctor who’s out for revenge. She was originally raised as a part of an organ farm – a place that grows children for the purpose of harvesting their organs – and she lost her eyes to these organ farmers. However, she was rescued from the farm and given a new pair of eyes, which allows Ray to see through anything and everything she pleases. Naturally, this ability is ideal for a highly skilled underground doctor (sound familiar?), so that’s the path Ray chooses to take. So, she now serves as a doctor while trying to remember the secrets of her past, and combat the evil organ-farmers.

Well, that’s certainly an interesting premise. It wouldn’t take too much doing to make it work. Personally, I’d hope for a series full of hard medical science, super sleuthing, and heartfelt human drama. Some research clearly went into all the anatomical illustrations, so maybe we’ll also be treated to some well-researched insight on how real doctors and real diseases work…

Oh, wait, the medical conditions in this manga include mind-controlling parasites and tumors that hide in the presence of anaesthesia. So much for that.

That’s part of the problem, I suppose. As seriously as it takes itself, Ray is just too…well, silly to pass for the dark, hard-boiled comic it’s being touted as. It’s got everything from totally implausible diseases, to hospital patients with psychic powers, to fighting doctors and kung-fu nurses, to a clinic head who was evidently a Fist of the North Star character in a past life. Ray almost makes for pretty amusing “trash” reading…almost. You see, Ray has all these elements, but it only utilizes them in the most obvious way possible. The characters almost always say or do the first thing you’d expect, and often seem to act only in order to fulfill the requirements of the plot. And fulfilling the plot is all that seems to be expected of the characters; they certainly don’t give the impression that they could exist outside the story’s circumstances.

That leads to another large part of Ray‘s problem: the characterization, primarily of its protagonist, Ray. Even though the whole manga rides on her shoulders, she’s a very one-dimensional character, and not a particularly engaging one at that. Her entire existence revolves around being a doctor and avenging her past as an involuntary organ donor… and that’s apparently all, because she sure doesn’t ever talk or think about anything else. What’s worse is that even though she’s clearly been heavily wronged and wants revenge, Ray seems awfully impassive about the whole thing. She doesn’t give us any moments of sincere anger or fright; her attitude seems to be one of perpetual disdain or disgust, as though being in an organ farm was more of an inconvenience than a life-determining event. Every character seems to be wrapped in a thick layer of calm detachment, which may be in keeping with the medical profession, but that isn’t something that produces interesting characterization.

Ray is being touted as a “dark thriller,” but thus far it’s neither very dark nor very thrilling. Darkness is a matter of approach, not content. Given its subject matter, I’m sure Ray could have been a very dark, harrowing manga had it really tried to be. As it stands, however, its execution is too artificial, and its tone too deadpan and matter-of-fact to even build up a good head of dramatic tension. The characters are too one-dimensional to inspire reader sympathy or concern, and the plot is too full of convenient coincidences to ever allow tension to develop. Whenever something happens, there’s always a convenient solution. Ray is a very competent doctor – too competent, in fact, because she almost always saves the day somehow or other. By the end of the second volume, in spite of all the fighting and “intrigue,” Ray really felt less like reading a compelling thriller and more like watching someone simply doing her job. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a comic that had this much going on that all seemed this mundane.

Even though I’ve spent the whole review complaining about it, Ray is a tolerable read. Its biggest crime is probably its total and utter lack of distinction. Unique premise aside, there just isn’t anything happening in this manga that hasn’t been done to greater effect elsewhere. Instead of being gripped by the action or swept away from reality for awhile, I spent the entire reading session thinking about all the ways this comic could have been done better, or at least uniquely. The story seems too hung-up on how cool its own premise is to humanize the characters or develop the action. It takes more than a good premise to produce a good story. It’s possible that things might turn around later; it’s pretty obvious that Ray wants to go somewhere, but thus far it’s taking its sweet time. I’ve read through two volumes of manga already, and thus far it’s been mostly episodic action that has yet to go anywhere special. Call me impatient, but I can’t see any way to justify recommending a manga that might start to pick up after you’ve spent $20 just to watch some lady cut holes in other people.

Added:  Monday, July 25, 2005

Related Link:  ADV Manga
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