The GeeksverseREVIEW | Seraphim 266613336 Wings (Dark Horse Manga)

REVIEW | Seraphim 266613336 Wings (Dark Horse Manga)
Published on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by
[UPDATED] Seraphim 266613336 Wings by acclaimed filmmakers Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade) and the late Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers) is an uncommon, incomplete masterpiece.

  • serwingsp0Story: Mamoru Oshii with Satoshi Kon
  • Art: Satoshi Kon
  • Cover: Satoshi Kon
  • Afterword: Carl Gustav Horn
  • Translation by: Zack Davisson
  • Format: 248 pages, black & white, trade paperback (oriented in right-to-left reading format); collects the Seraphim: 266613336 Wings serial originally published in Japanese in Animage magazine from May 1994 to November 1995.
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 25 February 2015
  • Publisher’s description: Two of the most acclaimed anime directors of all time, Ghost in the Shell’s Mamoru Oshii and Perfect Blue’s Satoshi Kon, came together to create a manga: Seraphim: 266613336 Wings.Seraphim is the story of a future earth devastated by the “Angel Plague,” a pandemic that induces apocalyptic visions in the afflicted, even as it ossifies their bodies into dead, seraphic forms.

With perhaps the exception of Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, no single filmmaker has done more to popularize the full-length anime film with contemporary mainstream Western audiences (mainstream North American audiences, to be specific) than Mamoru Oshii.

Oshii, of course, is best known outside of Japan for directing the universally-acclaimed animated film adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga. No, he wasn’t the first filmmaker to bring a truly cinematic sensibility to animated features—creators such as Miyazaki, Clyde Geronimi, Sam Armstrong, Wolfgang Reitherman, Don Bluth, and Katsuhiro Otomo had been doing so years before Oshii’s 1995 breakthrough—nor was he the first to create “cartoons for grown-ups.” What Oshii did with Ghost in the Shell, however, was definitively punctuate the argument that feature-length animated films are just as worthy of critical consideration and discourse as their live-action counterparts. Ghost in the Shell, with its top-flight animation and direction, masterful editing, and a screenplay emphasizing philosophical themes of identity, free will, and selfhood, ultimately signed the death warrant for the hoary misconception that animated films are just for kids and showed an entire generation of young filmmakers that animation is as robust a medium as live-action film for telling all manner of complex narratives.

NOTE: Preview pages are arranged and oriented in right-to-left reading format.

It would be difficult to overstate, then, the historical significance of Seraphim 266613336 Wings, Oshii’s mid-1990s manga collaboration with the late Satoshi Kon, at the time a young animator and mangaka years away from being hailed as “the next Mamoru Oshii” for his work directing the award-winning animated feature films Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika.

There’s a surrealist bent to Seraphim 266613336 Wings, which features a dystopian future setting where an incurable disease dubbed the “Angel Plague” has decimated the earth. The Plague not only kills its victims, it drives them mad and transfigures them: The ill spend their final months paralyzed, transfixed by visions of heaven while they develop bony growths on their shoulder blades that look nothing less than angel’s wings. On top of this premise is a complex web of political intrigue involving the World Health Organization (which has developed into a paramilitary cult in Seraphim‘s future), a China that has fragmented into a mess of warring states, and the enigmatic Magi, a secret society that may or may not be interested in finding a cure for the Angel Plague.

That cure for the Plague may be held by the mysterious Sera, a seemingly mute, unaging child who is immune to the disease. The Magi have tasked what it calls its “Three Wise Men”—Yakob (code name: Melchior), a former Angel Plague research facility director; the elderly Professor Erasmus (code name: Balthazar ), a scholar and Sera’s unofficial guardian; and a preternaturally intelligent and strong basset hound (code name: Caspar)—to bring Sera back to her home in Mongolia, where they believe she will fulfill her as-yet unrevealed destiny. It’s obvious that Oshii and Kon are playing around with various Judeo-Christian motifs and themes in the service of none-too-subtle commentary on religion, but the cast and narrative structure also hark back to Wu Cheng’en’s classic 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, with Sera playing the role of the monk Xuanzang and the Three Wise Men representing Xuanzang’s three companions.

The East-meets-West thematic conflation also extends to Oshii’s curious insistence on paralleling the Jewish struggle against anti-Semitism with the history of Hakka people taking prominent parts in China’s many pre-Communist era upheavals. It’s an imperfect analogy bordering on the absurd (or offensive, even), but it does work within the decidedly bizarre alternative history context of the book.

The draw for many readers however, will likely be Satoshi Kon’s artwork. Kon, who passed away in 2010 shortly after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, is known primarily for his stellar filmography but his skills as a manga artist are no less impressive. Seraphim 266613336 Wings‘ visuals will remind many of the detailed, dynamic art of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, which should not be a surprise: A young Kon served as one of Otomo’s lead art assistants on the series. Kon’s figures aren’t as stylized as some might expect from manga and the props and environments are impressive in their amount of detail—the commitment to naturalism actually gives off a slightly European vibe (think Enki Bilal or Juan Gimenez), which should make the book accessible to readers more used to the Western comics art tradition.

NOTE: Preview pages are arranged and oriented in right-to-left reading format.

Given its many layers—the book is as thematically dense as any of the British Invasion’s “mad ideas” comics from the 1980s and 1990s—and the brilliant art, it is doubly disappointing that Oshii and Kon never completed Seraphim 266613336 Wings: the two had a creative falling out a year-and-a-half into its serialization in Animage magazine, allegedly over Kon’s increasing role in the writing of the story. As editor Carl Gustav Horn notes in his excellent, in-depth afterword, the credits for the serial evolved from separate writer and artist credits for Oshii and Kon, respectively, to a joint “created by” credit in the serial’s later installments. Still, what is collected in this volume is definitely worth seeking out. Seraphim 266613336 Wings might be an unfinished masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece nonetheless.

Mamoru Oshii built [the world of Seraphim 266613336 Wings] as a logical construction, one which Satoshi Kon then expanded and evolved with his art. Seraphim is like a dream—a transient moment, a fragment half-remembered—but one that was real nonetheless.

- Takashi Watanabe, editor of the original Japanese-language Seraphim 266613336 Wings serial

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