Jan 19, 2008
I must confess to being one of those impatient readers – if a story doesn’t grab me quickly, I tend to lose interest. That said, the opening of Anne Freaks not only grabbed me, it gave me a good shaking by the metaphorical scruff of the neck. It’s clear from watching Yuri dispose of his mother’s body that he’s not the most mentally balanced person you’re likely to meet and within a few more pages, we realise that young Anna herself is about as sane – and dangerous – as a bag full of wasps on LSD. Admittedly, given that there’s only 24 chapters to
tell what becomes a fairly convoluted tale, there isn’t really much time to fanny around, and apart from a brief wobble halfway through, the story doesn’t let up the pace, nor does it lose its focus.
Equally impressive are the number of layers surrounding the basic plot. Yes, it’s essentially a tale of revenge, except you’re rooting for some rather poisonous anti-heroes (in typical Bonnie and Clyde style, I guess). Even when the police become involved (and we are faced with a rather clichéd good cop / bad cop team at this point, although they are both female, so score one for Women’s Lib), you’d rather they didn’t catch the young killers… well, at least not until revenge has been had.
In a strange and slightly twisted way, it’s also a love story – albeit a very one-sided love story. Mentally broken from years of abuse and the recent trauma, Yuri becomes besotted with Anna, seeing her as a kind of redeemer who saved him from his past life. She exploits this to the maximum, ensuring his slavish loyalty. When a rival appears on the scene, who not only witnessed Yuri with his mother’s body, but wants to use that to blackmail him into going out with her (didn’t her mother warn her about boys like that?), Anna is pretty quick in making sure she won’t bother Yuri again… ever. It’s round about this point that I started to realise that calling Anna a cold-blooded killer, would give other cold-blooded killers a bad name. That said, the characters are not merely portrayed as ruthless killing machines. Kotegawa gives us glimpses of their human side too, one of the funnier examples being Anna muttering jealously (as many adolescent girls might) about the size of the female detective’s chest. It’s simple, but effective – if they were simply mindless killing machines, I doubt the story would be able to sustain our sympathy for very long.
When Mitsuba, another troubled youth, is drawn into the fold, it adds another dimension to the dynamic of the team. Soon she’s playing the two boys off against each other, making each prove their loyalty to her (even if it just be via a shopping trip, or cooking supper), whilst being equally careful not to let the rivalry escalate into jealousy. She’s just happy knowing that they’ll do whatever it takes to please her. It might be stretching the metaphor a bit far, but you have the impression that if she rang a bell, they’d both start drooling. Certainly, it’s a performance that would have Svengali nodding and taking notes. Therefore, you could also add that it’s a tale about people and their interactions. It would have been nice to see some more ink used on character development, but it is interesting to watch what we can of the developing relationship between Anna, Yuri, and Mitsuba.
Finally, underlying all this is a very subtle steak of very dark humour. I don’t think it’ll have you laughing aloud, but it’ll wring a wry smile from you occasionally.
The central cast of characters is kept small, apart from a small army of expendable cult members, which gives us time to get to know them and their back-story, even if the story doesn’t allow much time for character development. Maybe character deconstruction would be a better phrase as we first watch Yuri and Mitsuba fall under Anna’s spell (not to mention watching Yuri lose touch with reality, illustrated by his frequent flashbacks to his mother), then realise that Anna herself as been carefully moulded to fulfil this role by people I’ll call her mentors (to avoid any potential spoilers).
The artwork is crisp and clear with good attention to backgrounds and little details that might just as easily pass unnoticed. Even the crowd scenes are filled with individuals (well, within reason anyway), not faceless blobs. It’s nice to see Kotegawa giving the character design a feminine touch, making everybody variously pretty or handsome – but not overly so.
It might even be borderline shoujo-esque. I don’t mean this in a bad way - after all, there’s something to be said about pretty girls with guns… sorry, I thought I heard an angry buzzing sound just then.
It’s also not afraid to occasionally switch to chibi mode for a couple of frames – normally just before something nasty happens. It might be a cheap attempt at shock value, but used in moderation, it does work. In addition, Kotegawa also scores points for her attention to detail when it comes to weaponry. I’m no expert on guns, but I’m guessing any fancier worth his salt wouldn’t have trouble identifying those used in the manga.
The real skill of the mangaka comes through in the action scenes. Firstly (much like Aida Yu of Gunslinger Girl fame), the frames aren’t cluttered with unnecessary sound effects, or action lines, yet still manage to convey the impression of motion and force. Secondly, much of the violence (and don’t get me wrong, although this is a fairly violent manga, it does pause to take a breath now and again) is implied rather than shown.
Taking a leaf from Hitchcock you’ll be shown a before and after frame, and maybe a hint of what’s happening in between (one of the nastiest involves a glimpse of bloody scissors). Just how much violence is actually happening is left up to you and the size of your own personal bag of wasps. A picture might paint a thousand words, but the imagination makes movies…
Take all that, then add a plot that twists and turns on itself, a cast that straddles that fine line between the perception of good and evil, a climax that covers the better part of the last 2 volumes (including a bit that will hopefully have you going “I can’t believe he did that…” and stir vigourously. The result is a pretty decent, fast-paced action tale, that doesn’t really pretend to be anything else. Even its conclusion, which might be described as “open-ended” and probably not as “happy” should leave you satisfied.
If you’re looking for a fairly quick read, that’s not too taxing on the mind and if you don’t mind a spot (or a splash, in this case) of violence, Anne Freaks is worth looking at. Now, if only they’d make the live action version…
What did you think of this review?