The story is set in 1949 and follows Japanese-American comic book artist Kevin Yamagata as he draws the popular detective series "Billy Bat" for "Marble Comics." When he learns he may have unconsciously copied the character from an image he saw while serving in occupied Japan, he returns to Japan to get permission to use Billy Bat from its original creator. Upon arriving there, however, he becomes embroiled in a web of murder, cover-ups, and prophecy that all leads back to Billy Bat.
It is soon evident, however, that the truth of Billy Bat's nature is far larger than Kevin could ever guess, spanning millennia and across the world.
The Manga started pretty weird but we all know Naoki Urasawa. He is not just drawing Manga, his works are simply art with a way deeper meaning than it might appear at first glance.
Billy Bat is using historical information, known conspiracy theories and different aspects of life in a way.. it just simply blows your goddamn mind. I read his other works and many other seinen or just manga with deeper meaning but Billy Bat is just something else. And don't lemme start with the ending.
Give it a shot.
You might think it's weird or boring
at time. Maybe you dislike history. But if you understand the deeper context. This is probably the most brilliant piece of "Manga-Art" you can find on this planet. Trust me.
You won't regret reading this Manga and it might inspire you.
Running from 2008 to 2016, Billy Bat is the next mystery-thriller from Naoki Urasawa, though this time written in combination with Takashi Nagasaki. People discussing Urasawa usually tend to solely mention Monster, 20cb, and Pluto, giving Billy Bat a pass. Is this due to a lack of quality? Is it simply too new? Let’s Rock.
PLOT: We begin in 1949, comic artist Kevin Yamagata is semi-successful with his comic “Billy Bat” (which the first chapter and a half simply are). However an investigator looking into some soviet spies drops by his office. The investigator comments that he’s seen the Billy Bat character before as a manga
in Japan. Yamagata, feeling like he may have unintentionally plagiarized the character. sets off to Japan. However what he finds isn’t simply a manga with a bat, but a multi-thousand year conspiracy about prophecy, power, and the icon of god. I say “begin” because the plot will move a lot in both directions, looking into the past, and progressing into the future. It’s intricate and intriguing, and in my opinion one of Urasawa’s greatest plots. Not only does it span a good amount of time, it heavily involves real world conspiracies. To avoid _too many_ spoilers I’ll only mention the JFK Assassination, Disney’s ghost writer, and Nazi spies. I find that the use of reality adds more weight and impact to everything. No matter what it does, it makes it connected and always comes with an interesting twist, being plenty surprising. The ending will be hit or miss depending on the person. I wouldn’t say it’s the most narratively satisfying but it’s incredibly thematically satisfying. Which party you lean towards will decide how you feel about it. I personally enjoyed it. Back to the main plot however, it’s a lot of different conspiracies over time, all involving the bat. They can feel episodic as it’s heavily arc based, but they all build into the larger narrative. Nothing is unimportant, even what seems irrelevant at first.
9/10, it’s crazy cool and uses real world elements for great effect.
CHARACTERS:With that much plot detail something had to give, and that sadly was characters. Kevin Yamagata just isn’t as interesting as some other Urasawa protagonists. I think the epitome of this problem is when Kevin hooks up with a girl in early volume 2. It’s so focused on tying the plot in that the girl is completely devoid of anything interesting and her exit from the story has little impact. There’s not a lot of flesh given to a lot of characters save for some more character focused arcs. I rarely found myself connecting to anyone (notable exceptions were Kiyoshi Kurusu and Diane Goodman, who to the end of both of their arcs had become exceptional). Though there weren’t really any bad characters. Kevin(s) felt like typical leads, thrust into situations they don’t know and largely defined by their abilities and perception being based around those. They were simple, and effective for the plot, but with Urasawa I’ve come to expect more character writing. Takes on historical figures were interesting to see however. Lee Harvey Oswald was quite interesting in contrast to the usual public image of him. Adolf Hitler was also a surprise. A lot of characters were unique in manga for their natural existence in different time periods and locations, but I don’t think any of the characters will stay with me too long.
7/10, there wouldn’t be any real complaints if it weren’t for Urasawa. There’s nothing to write home about without comparison to external knowledge.
VISUALS:The art in Billy Bat is a unique topic, mostly for its varying styles. In being a manga about manga/comics there are many a times that things are told through the comics themselves, switching into the style of whatever in-series artist drew the comic. This keeps the manga visually interesting, and whenever the series focuses more on fiction it becomes quite intriguing to look at. I can still see in my mind Billy Bat walking on a flat plane consisting of his comics, and that’s a cool image. Urasawa’s ability to represent different art styles is also a nice little touch. The real world art is pretty standard Urasawa fare. Like with Monster I found the art to be largely not surpassing functional. All of the characters were visually different and nothing ever looked bad but there were only maybe 3 moments within the 20 volume manga that I ever found myself wowed at the art. After 20th Century Boys I expected to be wowed once more but I never found myself as impressed. Still not being the greatest is by no means bad, and there were still things I found myself quite impressed with. The depiction of JFK and his Wife just wasn’t that.
8/10, there’s a lot of smart design and varied/unique visuals. Just not a lot of uber-frameable moments.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Billy Bat is an interesting manga, a very interesting manga. I can see someone coming off of Monster and being disappointed that it doesn’t have Monster’s level of skilled character writing but it makes up for that in plot. I wouldn’t call myself Billy Bat’s biggest fan but it was an intriguing read that I think I’ll come to find I enjoyed more than I initially thought. For anyone into conspiracy stories and meta-narratives about art I’d definitely recommend Billy Bat. It’s not Urasawa’s best work but I do believe it holds to his standard of quality, and that’s a high standard.
This manga was very suspenseful with a large host of interesting characters. It has a multitude of main characters, who may all begin their stories in different places or in different ways, but that have paths that come to intersect, even across generations. That's part of what makes this story so interesting, that it's being told at such a massive scale, but that it still seems to flow well and seem consistent, with characters coming up again and again in unexpected ways or places. The characters are also interesting, especially as it shows them in all sorts of circumstances as well as a at various points in their life, so it
manages to develop them a great deal. It also shows a large slice of history, primarily from 1950 to about 2015, though it has events outside that as well. Within this period, it manages to tie a number of major world events into the plot, which makes the plot feel even more massive scaled. However, despite all this, there is the major issue that after that crazy ride, the payoff at the end is kind of weak. While at the beginning it starts focusing on smaller stories that slowly connect themselves to a bigger plot, which are interesting stories in their own right, as it goes on the focus on the larger plot becomes more and more important with the smaller stories ultimately never really having much of a conclusion at all. Hence, at this point it feels that all that matters are the main plot, solving the final mystery and reaching the end. How this ultimately happens though felt quite weak for the massive build up to it, and in the end, I was left somewhat dissatisfied. If there was more care given to showing how the main characters ended up and gave them some sort of meaningful conclusion, than it may have been fine. But it goes full speed towards the conclusion for quite a bit, but then just sort of sputters off when it gets there. Still, the journey there was quite an interesting ride. The art isn't a style I'm particularly fond of, and it started out a bit rough, but overall quality wise it was definitely pretty good.
tl;dr: A manga that has a story at a tremendous scale but doesn't really have an ending that does that justice.