November 26, 2014

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Opus by Satoshi Kon


Written and drawn by Satoshi Kon
Published by Dark Horse

Fiction is a part of us. The life lessons we learn from the stories we are exposed to can not only define our personalities, but change our world views. Reading the right book, watching the right movie at the right time can truly change the course of one’s entire life. Satoshi Kon takes this a step further with his uncanny ability to seamlessly blend fantasy and reality – combining the sleeping world and the waking in ways that are almost always perfectly natural and never jarring. His work is often (if not always) an exercise in the application of dream logic to everyday life. Opus is Kon’s final, unfinished manga, created right before he began his career in animation and never completed before his death, and is metafictional proof that fictional worlds can be just as real as ours. Dark Horse’s newly translated version is an excellent example of Kon’s genius, and does much to gain Kon more much deserved recognition on this side of the Pacific.

Opus follows a seasoned mangaka as he finishes a long running work. The final page is drawn, a main character is killed off, and the story is finished. However, the creator gets sucked into the manga as the character breaks the fourth wall (as well as the walls of the universe he lives in) and steals the final page - voiding the ending and essentially introducing God into the world he created. As was stated before, Kon was never able to finish this story after putting it on hiatus in 1996 to concentrate on Perfect Blue (and launch his career in anime) before his death in 2010. However, he had planned out an ending, and Dark Horse was able to get a hold of and print the final chapters he had created. Mostly uninked, and with pencils that grow rougher with each page, it brings Opus from mind bending manga to full blown metafiction, and though it does not truly conclude the story, it makes for a perfectly satisfactory open ending that blows your mind and leaves you reeling.

There are a lot of things to say about Satoshi Kon’s work. His surreal originality made him a name in anime, and his animation style is both easily recognizable and rarely confusing (very important, considering the nature of the things Kon created). Before he did anime, though, he created manga, and it is easy to see in Opus why his transition was so successful. His style is filmic, every static image feels animated, every panel feels composed as if being viewed through a lens or on a screen. Opus in particular, being his final manga, carries these qualities well. The art is never boring, and keeps up a high and exciting pace. The dialogue is engaging, the translation never feels unnatural or strange. The story, in general, is excellent, a wonderful example of the kind of strangeness Satoshi Kon brought us, as well as the power of comics and how well they can be applied to mind bending metafiction.

If you have not yet experienced Kon’s work, this may not be the best for your first time (I would recommend Paprika for that). However, if you have even a passing familiarity with the man, this edition of Opus is everything you didn’t know you wanted (or maybe you did, I don’t know your life). It is full of all the things we have come to expect from Kon, from a time where things were rapidly changing in his life. The metafictional qualities of the book blew me away, which for me is reason enough to tell you to read it. However, it was also full of everything I want in manga, and I cannot recommend this book enough.