In the 18th century, seeking "freedom and equality," the event that became the starting point of modern French society, the French Revolution, began. There was one more protagonist that lived within the darkness, Charles-Henri Sanson. He was the fourth generation family head of the Sanson Family, and executioner of Paris.
This is the historie of him nobly facing the harsh fate...
"Grandiose et romanesque, ampoulée et pittoresque"
Shinichi Sakamoto is one author of a kind . Pretty discreet, he have been "revealed" with his previous manga "Kokou no hito", that made a lot of fans.
Me too, when I heard about his new project, "Innocent", I was very exited and eager to read it, and that is because Shinichi Sakamoto have a style and way of doing things of his own.
I entered this manga expecting impressive art, lyrism and some exuberant metaphorical and symbolistic drawings along with a story shouldered by a lot of studies from the author for the domain and historical period he was immersing
The result ? I got exactly what I expected.
Maybe not exactly thought, since unlike the synopsis might make it seems, the present manga doesn't cover the event of the french revolution but "before" it happen. For that, we will surely have to wait for the sequel ("Innocent Rouge"), that, as I am writing this, is still publishing.
One other related point: the manga as it is now doesn't offer any satisfying ending on it's own, and that is because it appear clear that the sequel I talked about (and haven't started reading yet) is connected to it directly and will take its follow were this manga ended. So if you enter reading "Innocent" now, you might as well consider that it is still "ongoing" or is just the first part of the "Innocent saga", to not have a bitter taste at the end of volume 9.
Those important things cast aside, now is time to look into the various aspect of this manga for themselves.
The manga being quite interesting and peculiar, there would be a LOT to say, so I hope you won't mind that I will have my own approach to it and won't talk about everything I could have.
The story of Innocent is set in France, before the turning point that will be the French Revolution.
To take a look at this event that is as passionating as it is difficult to handle, our author have chose to show us a very special family, the Sanson family, cursed generation after generation by the title of royal executioners. Which is to say, the duty of ending the lives of criminals in the front of a crowd avid of blood and gruesome "spectacle", in the name of justice.
Inside this lovely family, our "main" protagonist : Charles-Henri Sanson, and taking more importance late, Marie-Joseph Sanson.
It is important to note that all important characters of this manga have really existed, and will be provided a little notice when they first appeart, showing their names, function and destiny.
Which get me to the personal "theory" that I will use to talk and construct my view of the manga for this review : Innocent follow the structure of a theater piece and can be view as one. Innocent is an "opera manga", a theater piece in a manga dress.
Let's take a look at two exemples:
- Charles-Henri is alone in the landscape. Out of nowhere, a beautiful young man he never knew before apear by his side and it's love at first sight. *Poof*, just like that.
- Charles-Henri is alone in his house, lamenting on his knees, in a secret room. A beautiful lady pop up just in front of him, naked. He think it's a divine apparition, but it's not. Two page later, *Poof*, they have sex.
You think it's ridiculous and pretty absurd ? It is.
But Shinichi Sakamoto don't care about that, and it make sense in it's own way: all the characters in this manga are comedian entering the scene when they are sumoned by the author. Each chapters are acts and scenes with specific characters comming from the backstage to recite their line.
At some peculiar points in this manga, Charles-Henri will even, in the middle of a talk, start to... sing.
That's right, out of all realism, this manga can turn into a musical.
It's strange, and you'll be quite surprise and might chuckle, but again: it's an opera you are reading.
As a theater piece, Innocent have a huge list of second characters, all more colorful than the others. This might be one of the point of the manga where I am the most circumspect: some famous characters apearence (like Casanova or Mozart to only name two) seems to have little to no relevence to the plot, and most likely they are just here for the pleasure of the author to draw those mytical human figures. Characters pop up from nowhere and can disapear as fast, but that is because they gravitate around our two executioner Charles-Henri and Marie-Joseph, and also Marie Antoinette, that are like magnets passing through historical events. Attracting and then repulsing second characters in front of the reader's eyes.
I said Marie Antoinette, yes.
She start to take importance in the last half of the manga, and can be view as the third character of the story.
Have you seen "Marie Antoinette", the movie by Sofia Coppola ? If you're like me and you had seen it before reading this manga, you'll find pretty amusing some of the event depicted in later parts of this manga, since it's strictly the same as what you'll see in the movie, but with a completely different mood and view of the characters. If you haven't, I recommend watching it after reading this manga, it should put some other lights on the events and had a very amusing touch to your experience of the two works. Seeing two different artistic view of the same things but with a totaly opposed style is quite an interesting thing.
Now might be the time to talk about the art.
More than anything else in this manga, and most important of all, is the art in this manga. if you had to chose only one aspect about this manga, it would clearly be this.
In one word: Amazing.
Not a single superlative is enought to describe the art that Shinichi Sakamoto is able to pull out of his sleeves.
I didn't said it before, but when it comes to this manga, every quality can be view as downside and every ridiculousness view as genius. Most of the time it's even both.
The biggest point of the author style consist about using very often what I would call graphical metaphore. Explaining it would be difficult for me, but if I had to say something, it is that the author is never afraid of doing too much and being the most lyrical he can.
Over the top, absurd and psychedelic, it's all that.
Other than those absolutely beautiful panels, the drawing of the characters is a feast to the eyes. Curled hairs, piercing eyes, the characters are erected as deity of beauty and refinement.
Marie-Joseph, as a bloody and terrifying beautiful angel of death, is the most impressive of them all.
The author abandon the anatomy of muscular bodies like he drew in "Kokou no Hito" to work this time on the most feminin slenderness he can draw.
By the way, if the idea of two man kissing, two woman kissing ,a man and a young girl in bed, or any depiction of sexual intercourse bother you, you might encounter problems reading this manga.
If you like yuri manga though, it should be all right: just think that the characters are all beautiful girls with long hair. It should be easy.
Also, Marie Antoinette's eyebrows in this manga are out of this world (I should definitly be sorry for those two jokes...)
This is a "libertin" manga.
If Shinichi Sakamoto had been born in France in the past, he would have been a paintor. His skill would have been praised and honored at first.. and then probably cast away because his over the top symbolistic and metaphorical paintings with unbound freedom of visions would have worried the "beaux art" academician and critics.
See the marvelous hommage he do in volume 8 about the wonderful painting of Gustav Klimt named "The Kiss".
The author we have here take his influence and inspirations out of everything and use it to draw is own sensibility and convey what he want to make the reader feel.
Again, one author of a kind.
Let's make a digression to talk about something very significant that surely might stay as completely unnoticed otherwise. Even if you're reading this review after having already read this manga, I'm pretty sure there is a good chance you'll be very surprise by what I'm going to say here:
There is no onomatopoeia in this manga.
That's right. You would have guess that a manga with plenty of sliced neck and choped off heads would have a good amount of *slash* , *splotch* or other things like that. Well, you'll find none.
And there is a good reason to it, it's because Shinichi Sakamoto don't believe in those, he even explained himself about it in a preface of one of his volumes of Kokou no Hito (talking about those introductions, this is another speciality and distinctive aspect of the author. Those little sentence are always strange and filled with his own very serious thoughts and utmost believings. It's something that would be a shame to miss when reading this manga, since it have those too).
His stance might be summed up as this: manga don't need graphical depiction of the sounds, wich at best is only something redundant, and at worst a superfluous element that distract the reader from the narration and what is happening in front of his eyes.
Shinichi Sakamoto believe that if he work hard enought with his drawing, he can reach directly the readers soul and subconscious and make the sound "directly appear in his head", without graphicaly depicting it.
One author of a kind, as I said.
Comming back to the characters. As you may have understanded, the author don't aim to make you feel for them or root for them. Their actions and way of acting are those of a comedian that have a role to fit.
Shinichi Sakamoto is not interested in crafting a continuous story, he willingly make some jump in time of several years, or go back in time to introduce a character the reader had no idea he existed in the life of the protagonist before.
He his interested in the "moments", nothing other than depicting precisely and with the most lyrical and "romanesque" charge what he want to show to the readers eyes.
While reading, you have to accept being throw here and there by the author and just look and read, like an eye looking at events from the side, detached but curious. This is a peculiar way of doing things, and it might have it's problem.
Don't try to hold to much importance in the character evolution and personality of Charle-Henri Sanson for exemple. It's not really what interest the author (or then, his way of doing things is so fragmented that it is difficult to see it that way).
Violence and love, terrors and cries, torture and lust, meanness and vanity, everything is done in an emphatic and exagerated way.
The story of Innocent make some detour, it wander and try to depict the rotten and absurd monarchy France was at the time, and how women were treated as nothing but men's disposable proprieties.
This will lead me to the last point I'd like to talk about in this lenghty review: Marie-Joseph Sanson.
Androgynous, deadly gream reaper and spirit of total freedom, she is the very essence of this fastuous and magnificent opera of a manga.
While all the other characters are handled in the limit of their true existing historical figures, Marie-Joseph Sanson dynamite all likeness and realistic take of the time period to be an utmost modern figure, with no care about gender role or watsohever. It is by her that the author have found the element of trouble to shake all the French society that is show in his story. A rebelious girl, as an avatar of angry uprising that will surely be the embodiment of revolution in the futur, in this theater of mankind that is Innocent. A revolution that will be tainted in rouge.