In a post apocalyptic world devoid of seasons, where man's "golden age of technology" ruined earth and caused science to run amok, there live four individuals looking for a door to the hell far below the surface. Through a series of coincidences, the ex-hitman-now-bartender Mihai, the deranged and psychopathic Haine, the vengeful yet kind Naoto, and the freelancer Badou meet one another.
Four wayward characters are brought together by chance and circumstance...the beginnings of the next grand epic or just a bunch of short stories?
STORY - This first volume of DOGS is difficult to judge storywise because it presents itself as a collection of loosely-related oneshots while still functioning as the foundations to a much larger story. There are four main protagonists, and the volume is split accordingly into four sections. The storytelling varies from section to section, with some seeped in flashback and others taking place entirely in the present. It's occasionally a little choppy, but generally things are pretty straightforward. The stories themselves aren't excitingly
unique or new for the most part, but they're heavy with potential. They leave the reader curious about the pasts and lives of the characters; you'll want to know more about all the details missing from the pages.
As oneshots, each segment is fun and interesting in itself, and they each do have something resembling a conclusion. As a starting point for a larger project, the volume does well in introducing characters and leaves you asking questions.
CHARACTERS - In a limited number of pages, each of the four characters present themselves as having a lot of potential. Mihai's chapter focuses mostly on his past, but it feels like that's just one story out of dozens that might also be back there. His present life seems to only be disguised in (relative) peace, and there seem to be a lot of things for him to do from there. His personality is charming, but not without the quirks that make him more unique and believable. Badou is a gigantic idiot with some really hilarious qualities. His dialogue is some of the best, and he's just an all-around fun character to read about. Original? Probably not, but engaging? Definitely. And even in all his silliness, Shirow manages to inject small panels here and there that give him a more introspective side. Potential? I think so.
Naoto I found to be the least interesting of the four. Her past was the most generic and the twist thrown in seemed a bit too contrived. With very few speaking lines, her personality was also the least expanded upon. She doesn't work that well as a oneshot, but knowing that there's more to her story, I wouldn't mind reading more about her. In contrast, I am most interested in Haine -- chalk it up to my affinity towards genetic experimentations gone wrong. With his superhuman capabilities, he's easily the most mysterious and his severe reactions towards certain situations only provides more intrigue on the subject of his past and his origins. All of these characters are just at their beginnings; in this volume, they're still in that stage at the beginning of the series when you aren't quite sure what to think of them. Most characters sound unoriginal when you describe their story in a sentence or two, and that's what DOGS feels like a lot of time. The more you think about the characters, the harder it is to see DOGS as just a bunch of oneshots. Potential! There's a lot of it.
ART - Miwa Shirow's art is nothing short of amazing. His characters are highly detailed and incredibly expressive. He doesn't shy away from anything. He has crazy perspective in his crazy gunfights and crazy chase scenes involving complicated poses. His pages are so, so dynamic that it's hard to flip through them slowly because you're so caught up in the action. His backgrounds and environments are outstanding, and for the most part, his sense of space and anatomy is also top notch. Occasionally, there will be some wonkiness where proportions or perspective doesn't really make sense; it kind of reminds me of the way many doujinshi artists distort their figures, but this only happens once or twice every twenty pages, so it isn't that big of a deal.
If nothing else, I would say DOGS is worth picking up for the artwork alone. The character and stories are interesting certainly, but if DOGS can only have one selling point, then it'll be in the artwork. It is beautiful.
OTHER - Viz has the license to this manga and finally released this volume in April 2009. The packaging is beautiful for the most part and it comes with a pull-out poster. Honestly, the translation looks really great, and for the most part, the slang/localization details that they do put in flow seamlessly and naturally. (Some word choices kind of puzzled me though, like a one-time use of "fag" for "cigarette" -- it's all well and good, but I'm not sure most Americans know that that's what it means.) The sound effects have also been edited and translated in English, but though this usually really bothers me, I found myself actually not minding that much -- there were a lot of sound effects that were much more creative than just WHAM and BANG though those do also show up. All in all, I'm extremely happy with the way Viz treated this and am looking forward to their release of Bullets&Carnage as well.
OVERALL - Clearly, the thing I like the most about DOGS is its potential. As a collection of oneshots, I do still like the stories and the whole theme of interconnecting plots and characters, but it isn't an amazing collection of oneshots by any means. At least two of the four stories are obviously incomplete, and there's so much more that can happen. If DOGS did not eventually continue to into its sequel, Bullets and Carnage, I probably wouldn't like it nearly as much, but knowing that it does, I see it as a pretty damn awesome introductory package. Conclusion: DOGS is worth checking out regardless of whether you're looking for some nice short stories or the beginnings of a grand epic. Post-apocalyptic and gun-toting bounty hunter fans should be particularly pleased, but even if you end up not particularly interested in the stories here, you'll at least have gotten some fantastic artwork out of it.