Mayo is the five dollar assassin who asks only five dollars for a killing. He is asked to kill the mother of a 12 year old prostitute, Shion, but leaves her alive out of pity. This event starts a chain of events which will shake the Asian economies to the core.
Strain was published in English by VIZ Media, first in the monthly manga anothology Pulp: Manga for Grownups, from December 1997 (premiere issue) to March 2001 (issue vol. 5, no. #3), for a total of 40 issues, later as standard volumes from January 5, 1999 to January 9, 2003. It has also been published in German by Schreiber & Leser, and in French by Seebd.
From the duo that gave the world the classic Sanctuary, Strain is like that epic political/gangster thriller on a micro scale.
Author Yoshiyuki Okamura aka Sho Fumimura aka Buronson (so named after Charles Bronson, which makes a lot of sense) delves into socio-economics this time, and brightens the story with viscous violence courtesy of the backstreets of late 90's Malaysia.
His skill is in blending topical insight of Asia's standing in the world; the criminal underworld’s relationship with legitimate business, along with more compelling conflicts in the form of friendship and family, and how politics can send people hurtling towards each other violently.
Strain concerns itself with Japanese
mega-corporation Kusaka and its attempts to solidify Asia's role in the oil industry. Buronson gives us a quick lesson in business: there are two main tiers to the oil industry: upstream (production of oil) and downstream (distribution), with westerners sitting pretty at the top in the lucrative upstream position, while Asia as ever is trailing behind the west. Just like Sanctuary, the main characters in this tale seek to usurp the established system and give Asia a chance to unshackle itself from its bindings.
So while Kusaka corp is trying to consolidate power by looking for oil in Asia to get into an upstream position, our main protagonist Mayo is going about his seedy life in Malaysia bumping into loveable maniacs like Angel, a bisexual homicidal cop with a tragic past.
Without going too much into the plot, what we ultimately get in this manga is a pretty break-neck paced thriller about corporations seeking power, offspring demanding answers for their reason for existing, unlikely brotherhoods forming while others disintegrate, spontaneous violence from psychopaths, history and economics lessons, and lots of excellent quotes as usual from Buronson aka Sho Fumimura aka Yoshiyuki Okamura. (Stop confusing us man, just pick one!)
Ryoichi Ikegami's art also deserves a mention; the artist continues his brilliant realist depiction of landscapes, characters and action. Everything just looks classy and mature, but even more importantly it’s staged very well. His pay-offs are superb, they don’t need double page spreads to make impact; he can pull satisfying panels out from nowhere.
Strain is a great thriller that occasionally rises above its pulpy nature, with great story and action. It enlightens the reader while satisfying them with drama. Although some of its twists and turns might be too much for some readers, you have to focus on the actions of the characters not the logistics; it’s all thematically consistent, and just very entertaining. It keeps the narrative fresh and lively, there's no point at all where the manga lulls, it’s consistently hitting you with engrossing content.
Strain speeds along to an ending that feels too soon but awash in poetic justice. Five volumes are good for pace, but this manga could have been on the level of Sanctuary if it were similar in length, such is the mastery of the duo behind these brilliant stories.
You must ask yourself... What in the hell is this? Who read this series? There are like 300 other people on this website who've apparently read this. [There are thousands of people reading Naruto and One Piece and Bleach -- almost hundreds of thousands]
Strain brings together the writer behind Fist of the Northern Star and an artist who's brought his realistic [but stylized] and gritty art to other manga I can't correctly name [If you read the manga, you might see various "Meet the Author" things]. Does the combination do this Seinen manga a favor?
It does. The best way to describe this manga is that
it's pretty close to the pulp cop/crime drama it wants to be. It plays out like an ambitious crime movie from the 80s. It's full of serious moments and the unintentionally funny moments that are endemic to B movies that try really, really hard [or don't try].
The synopsis will provide the set up for the story, but to summarize it a second time; mysterious Malaysian hitman Mayo [not short for Mayonnaise] -- who draws horses in his free time -- is willing to kill anyone for five dollars. You could buy a burger, soda, and fries for that. [Apparently all he needs is to bang a hoe for sustenance.] [Ma, with a certain pronunciation, is Chinese for Horse]
The story proceeds to throw a host of evil doers with unique quirks, intrigue, and plot twist as our dear protagonist tries to make sense of it all, firing his own fair share of bullets along the way.
Since the manga is only 5 volumes [40 chapters in all], it's pretty brief. The manga rarely ever takes a breather, constantly throwing new developments at the reader.
It's a blast to read and it attains an awkward balance of cool/silly while boasting a bundle of nude scenes. For those who care, penises are apparently invisible, save for 2-3 panels.
It really is a violent and vulgar manga, though I find it to be worth it. Please consider investing some time into the first couple of chapters and see if you like it. I can't promise a perfect manga but I can guarantee a pretty positive experience if you give it a chance.
Nowhere near as good as it's predecessor, 'Sanctuary', 'Strain' had put the writer to shame.
Our story begins when a cold-blooded assassin gets a job to kill a twelve-year-old prostitute and her mother, first mistake the writer made was that we were not familiar with the main character... At all. And at this point it is very dangerous to add a new character which does not benefit the main character and doesn't have a legitimate reason to be in the story, and so the writer in this way, gambled...
It was almost shoujo-ey manga-ish from the fact that through incredible odds the main character meets the
twelve-year-old prostitute three times in around two days. She falls for him, and then we find out that they are both from a rich, famous family. Can it get anymore shoujo manga?
At one point, the characters call the not-yet-teenage whore 'Kitten', seriously?
What kind of crap is that?
The hardcore main character meets her three times and he goes from 'just kill me and get it over with' to 'I wanna LIVE!', it's WAY too much and what's with everyone being obsessed with the KID, the not-yet-teenager KID, how come she became the focus of the story.
Because of her, even a 'true yakuza' turns into a coward?
What is this?
A cheesy sitcom?
The sad thing is, it's the same author as 'Sanctuary' that wrote this but it's nowhere near as good, NOWHERE NEAR.
The stories are very similar, almost parallel but 'Sanctuary' is out of this story's league.
If you even think you like this story, you better pass this up for 'Sanctuary'.
Even the art in 'Sanctuary' is much better then the art in this story.
You can see the difference in the effort put into the stories.