Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 19th 2010
Dogs: Bullets & Carnage
Badou and Heine are gun-toting killers for hire. Naoto is a swordswoman on a quest for revenge. Although their lives are headed in different directions, the three of them cross paths when Naoto follows the two gunslingers to their gangland boss, hoping to find out any information about the assassin who is now her target. Badou and Heine head out on a mission to deal with some low-level thugs, while Naoto picks up a few vital clues, and finds herself drawn to the same firefight that the two guys are involved in. Out of nowhere, a pair of twin child assassins jump into the fray, and their deadly presence brings everything together: Heine's sordid past, the inhuman conspiracy lurking beneath the city's streets, and the identity of the person that Naoto has sworn to kill.
For some readers, Volumes 0 and 1 of Dogs may have left behind an ethereal sense of longing. Longing for an actual plot, that is. Yes, we all got caught up in this world of super-cool dudes getting into super-cool gunfights, and then realized that there wasn't a whole lot of story to hold it together. Fortunately, Shirow Miwa seems to have gotten the memo about that as well, and these next few chapters make an effort at connecting the various plot threads. It's nothing terribly groundbreaking—just the usual urban-noir business about organized crime, psychotic killers, human experimentation, and someone's dark mysterious past—but when the whole point of the series is about people trying to kill each other in the most stylish way possible, having an actual story is a nice little bonus.
To its credit, this nice little bonus isn't simply shoved into the back corner of a chapter somewhere—Miwa actually takes the time and care to weave the story into the action. Some of the details are sketched out in the first few chapters, but the true revelations don't start coming until the big fight where the twins show up. Heine does a lot of the explaining—somehow, he always finds a few seconds to talk while running and gunning—and even the twins' taunts and casual asides are instrumental in advancing the plot. A handful of quick scene changes showing what the bad guys are up to behind the scenes also helps to fill in the gaps; by the end of this volume we understand how Heine's desire to escape his past, Naoto's search for revenge, and the machinations of an underground organization all tie in together.
But just because the story now makes sense doesn't mean that it's a good one: from the mob connection to the human mutation experiments to the unquenchable thirst for vengeance, it's a whole lot of tired old blockbuster-action tropes thrown together in hopes of forming something coherent. Let's not even get started on the killer twins, who seem to have been placed there for the sake of having twin characters. And of course they happen to be little girls. Clearly, Miwa is much happier working on pure action scenes, not having to worry about why these people are here and why they want to kill each other so badly. The finest moments in this volume are the ones where the story drops out completely, turning into an abstract ballet of blades and bullets and the sheer exhilaration that comes with it.
Even the artwork itself borders on the abstract at times, with a number of scenes that run along the lines of "I have no idea what's going on but it sure looks pretty." Fortunately, such scenes are outnumbered by the ones where it is clear what's going on. With clean, sharp lines and a flair for the dramatic, almost every panel in this volume is a framable illustration in itself, but string them together and that's where the magic really happens: these static images combine to create the illusion of motion better than almost any other action series. Being able to understand what's going on also depends a lot on keeping things simple: each of the five major characters has a distinctive look (the twins even fight with different weapons), and backgrounds are left out of the picture unless there's some really important reason to draw in a floor or a wall. After all, we're here to see the action, so that's what we get, with anything unnecessary moved to the sidelines.
Amidst all the gunplay and plot revelations, there's one surprising element that pops up early on in this volume: humor. Sure, the story is supposed to be all about tough-talking badasses who swear a lot and speak in Bruce Willis one-liners, but Badou and Heine's casual chit-chat shows that they're not afraid to poke a little fun at this whole thing. After all, there's nothing worse than an action-thriller spiel that takes itself way too seriously; fortunately, even the twins help to lighten up the situation since they can't help but talk in a childish manner. However, the expository scenes with Naoto are less enjoyable, as she gets saddled with all the melodramatic woe-is-me dialogue about her unhappy past. This translation handles both ends of the spectrum adeptly, with playful colloquialisms and street talk on one side and something akin to teenage goth poetry on the other. Even the sound effects are translated smoothly, with a variety of fonts and thoughtful visual design making it look the English words had been there in the artwork the whole time.
The good thing about Dogs: Bullets and Carnage is that, with this volume, it's finally starting to show other aspects besides just bullets and carnage. The bad thing is, these aspects will look dreadfully familiar to anyone who's read any story or seen any movie where someone with a deadly modern-day weapon has to go and fight someone else with another deadly modern-day weapon. So go ahead and enjoy Dogs for what it is—nonstop urban combat raised to the level of high art—but don't expect it to be something that it's not. It'll never a philosophical piece about the bitter taste of revenge (although it pretends to be). It'll never be a treatise on the scourge of organized crime and unethical science (although it mentions them in passing). It's simply the joy of battle, and rarely has it looked this good.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : B+
+ Raises swordplay and gunplay to the level of art with dramatic action scenes and a frenetic, nonstop pace.
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