Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 8th 2007
Dolis (Die Todliche Dolis)
Kishi is a bookstore clerk who falls in love with Mitsu, an art student and one of the store's regular customers. As Kishi gets to know her, however, he discovers that he may be getting more than he bargained for: Mitsu's self-destructive tendencies are an emotional hazard that even Kishi's infatuation can't fix. Together, they lose themselves in a world of intense love, drama, and going to the occasional party. But when Mitsu's former lover gives Kishi a warning about her and the meaning of "Dolis," it may already be too late to save her.
Dolis is a weird comic. Well, not so much weird as just different. So different, in fact, that one's first instinct might be to call it a "comic" because it lacks the typical surface traits of "manga." The story spans just one slim volume, the pages are in color (albeit no more than two at a time) and abstraction rules the day, from the drifting patches of text to the surreal plot itself. Suffice to say, if it were entered in Tokyopop's notorious "Rising Stars of Manga" contest, it would probably lose. So why, then, is this unusual work being published by a house better known for catering to the lowest fandom denominator? Then you remember that every now and then, Tokyopop likes to try out new things that no one else would dare. If mature and challenging works like Dolis are part of those new things, then let's hope they continue in that direction.
Step into this world of twisted love and your first reaction might be: what exactly is going on? The story clings to real-world events by the thinnest of threads, giving just enough context to understand how Kishi and Mitsu meet but quickly delving into the psychological. Theirs is clearly a doomed romance, but those expecting the machinations of mainstream manga will soon learn that there are other ways to doom a romance. This is not about external events like cheating boyfriends and misunderstood intentions; it's about two damaged minds seeking comfort within each other. This unique viewpoint, along with vague but thought-provoking monologue, helps to trigger some unexpected emotions. Instead of having flat, stereotyped feelings shoved in their faces, readers are free to interpret the nuances of what these characters are going through—and that's what makes it so effective.
As the story goes on, Kishi and Mitsu do lapse back into the real world at times, but the whole thing still feels like a dream. Reality and imagination have no boundary lines in this world, which is perhaps Dolis' most enduring effect. But as it draws to its ill-fated close, the flaws become apparent as well—these hundred-or-so pages don't have much plot substance to them, and the closing arc isn't as climactic as it could be. Imagine if, with double the page count, Kishi and Mitsu's romance could have been built up for an even more dramatic fall. And imagine if they could have reached an ending with a better twist than the one given. This is, ultimately, a very typical sort of romance, but the dreamlike storytelling and ultra-modernist art pushes it to heights that most other manga never aspire to.
Oh yes. About the art. This is where all comparisons go out the window; the two-toned color schemes and minimalist layouts look more like high-concept design sketches than anything else. And that's a good thing—the visual abstraction is an ideal fit for the story's meandering, figure-it-out-yourself overtones. Even the design of the pages itself conveys some kind of feeling; each panel and line of text is laid down for maximum effect. Those who speak the language of josei manga should have no problem following the wide, sprawling panels and free-floating text bubbles. Swishy-haired, big-lipped character designs are part of the idiom as well; everything about them says stylish, although it's something of an acquired taste. Most important, however, is the artwork's ability to deliver an emotional punch: whether it's a thoughtful silence or an intense moment of self-mutilation, everything comes together as a flowing, bittersweet portrait of love on the rocks.
With the story's emphasis on emotionally charged dialogue and internal monologue, there could have been many ways for the translation to go wrong—but fortunately, Tokyopop's staff does a fine job of keeping the script toned down. "Verbal impressionism" would be one way of describing the text, which successfully brings out various shades of emotion. Some sequences might need a second reading, but that's just to grasp the full meaning, especially with feelings so deep and ambiguous. Sound effects are left alone and untranslated, but there are so few that it's not an issue. Production values are quite respectable on this volume—a very clean and readable text font, and slightly oversized paper stock that's strong enough to hold the colored inks. (Unfortunately, the color also drives the price tag up to $15). The linework comes out a little blurry, but only for those who look at the page really closely to check. Otherwise, it's a smooth reading experience.
In a world of ninja and samurai adventures, fantasy epics, and high school romps, it's something of a miracle that Dolis has reached English-speaking readers. Experiencing this volume is like reading manga for the first time all over again—discovering whole new worlds of expression and depth that you never could have imagined. It's easy to get lost in the story's haunting colors and emotions, and then wonder why there isn't more stuff like this. How about it, Tokyopop? How about it, manga publishers? When are you going to give us something artistically unique and challenging? People always say that English speakers have barely begun to explore what manga has to offer—and if Dolis is what's hiding under the surface, we can only hope that there's plenty more like it.
Overall : A-
Story : C+
Art : A+
+ Powerful, thought-provoking emotions and minimalist artwork unlike any other.
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