Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 19th 2011
Dogs: Bullets & Carnage
For years, Badou has been hunting for his brother's killer—but after finally crossing paths with the culprit, Badou might soon be meeting the same fate as his brother. For not only is the villain a remorseless murderer, but he also commands an entire orchestra of gun-toting assassins. However, old man Mihai is just in time to help Badou out of this mess, as well as get some answers. Meanwhile, in the Underground, ringleader Giovanni is ready to fire the giant cannons aboard his armored train and bring an entire city to its knees. Also helping in the takeover is an army of mutant soldiers—Giovanni's "dogs"—who cannot be stopped by ordinary bullets. Luckily enough, however, Heine Rammsteiner is no ordinary gunman, and Naoto is no ordinary swordswoman. Together, these two remain the last hope in stopping Giovanni's devastating master plan.
With the climax of Dogs: Bullets and Carnage now bearing down on us at full force, Shirow Miwa has all but thrown away any remaining pretenses of "plot." Instead, Volume 5 gives in to the series' true essence: shooting, killing, slicing, exploding, and any combination thereof. Remember that earlier volume that contained over a hundred straight pages of gunslinging action? Well, this one pushes the stakes even higher, expanding to almost two hundred pages of beautifully choreographed violence. For some, this is the ultimate satisfaction; for others, a reminder that the story was never that great in the first place. The characters are mildly interesting, each carrying some kind of grudge that compels them to fight—but they've never been the real stars of the series. Like the title says, it's all about the bullets and carnage.
Still, that doesn't stop others from trying to steal the limelight—it's probably no surprise that a villain proves to be the most engaging personality in this volume. As a swaggering "mad conductor," Beltheim epitomizes Dogs's key aesthetic: being a ruthless killer while looking insanely cool. Or in Beltheim's case, just insane, as his motivation turns out to be rather shallow: he's just here for the thrill of the fight, and cares little about Badou's thirst for revenge. So that particular line of development stops dead in its tracks, leaving this as nothing more than a loud gunfight with Badou and Mihai trying to save themselves from a rain of bullets.
The other, larger set-piece in this volume—Heine's climactic battle with Giovanni to save the people of the Underground—is even thinner in story content. With the history between them having been explained already, there's little left to do but for the two to face each other and say, "Aha! You're here! Let's fight!" followed by several chapters of gunslinging ballet. Miwa tries to pad things out by weaving in several scenes of Naoto fighting to protect the common folk, but this comes off as more of a side quest to avoid collateral damage than any real subplot.
It's only in the last couple of chapters that the story takes a dramatic turn—the true purpose of Giovanni's army is revealed, while the local government finally starts paying attention to the crisis—but even then, it's not so much a stroke of creativity as it is a way to turn up the volume on what's already happening. If everything beforehand was about one-on-one battles and small-to-medium-sized explosions, then the next logical step is to involve a large crowd and a really big explosion. Come on, even entry-level shonen storylines can do that.
Miwa's artistic finesse is the one thing that still makes this series worth reading; few other manga-ka can boast such a talent for fusing savage fight scenes with stylish, high-contrast design. The symmetry between Heine and Giovanni as they battle it out in the middle pages is a particular high point, but even more ordinary moments provide masterful lessons in staging and posing: never use a straight-on view when a 37.5-degree tilt with foreshortening and rule-breaking anatomy will do. But there are also times when these lessons end up backfiring—too often a panel shows up displaying a random shoe or a tuft of hair and somehow that's meant to connect to the rest of the action sequence. It's also hard to get a handle on the environment surrounding the characters when the style is so sparse on backgrounds—sure, there might be an architectural flourish placed in the back for dramatic effect, or puffs of gunsmoke to add atmosphere, but Miwa basically never comes up with a solid picture of what the Underground looks like, or where everything (and everyone) is in relation to each other. All told, these images are fine examples of great illustration, but they stop short of being great comics.
Even the way the characters address each other has a certain poetic beauty to it—Heine's words of encouragement to Naoto, Mihai's gruff nonchalance when he steps in to help Badou—but again, the tone of the dialogue is mostly surface polish, and there's nothing particularly deep about what anyone has to say. After all, everyone's just trying to win a gunfight, so tactical communication, explanations of one's motives, and taunts to the opponent are about as complex as the script gets. Far more impressive is the level of re-touch in converting sound effects from Japanese text to English: Miwa's florid visual style, where even the littlest detail is an essential design element, is one of those things that letterers might deem "untranslatable." Yet the translated sound effects in this edition, presented in many dramatic fonts and sizes, match the mood of Miwa's art and add a particular feel to the visuals.
As Dogs: Bullets and Carnage draws closer to its earth-shattering ending, the lack of substance has never been more evident. With the heroes gearing up for one last great shootout against the villains, the fate of each character ought to be the biggest thing on everyone's minds—but instead it's the mechanics of each fight scene, and seeing who has the slickest moves, that emerge as the driving force in the climax. No wonder, then, that some may find it hard to care about the characters. Far easier to care about who can dodge the most bullets, or who can land the most critical hits, or who has the coolest finishing move, because those are the parts that are illustrated in lavish, eye-popping detail. And the parts with actual heart, soul, and meaning? Those are all drowned out by the gunfire.
Overall : C-
Story : D-
Art : B
+ Continues to be visually impressive with dramatic angles, fluid fight scenes, and a sharp sense of design.
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