Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 8th 2006
Everyone who lives in the shadows knows the name Golgo 13, from criminals to masters of espionage. Golgo 13 is the name of a world-renowned assassin, the most reliable in the business. So it's no surprise that, when in need of an outsider for an important job, even the President of the United States turns to him for help. It's 1975 and a damaged top-secret satellite is threatening the oncoming detente, so the top brass send for Golgo 13 to clean up the mess. His job? Just a little sniping. In space. Later, in 1997, a mysteriously unaged Golgo 13 is hired to kill Princess Diana's beau. He makes his move in Paris, only to find out that he's not alone...
Golgo 13 is sometimes referred to as a Japanese James Bond. While it's easy to see why this comparison is made based on his dark, square-jawed good looks and eternally youthful appearance, it really isn't all that apt. Other than appearance, Golgo bears little resemblance to the flippant, girl-loving bon-vivant of the bloated cinematic spectacles that Bond is best known for. Perhaps he is more closely related to Ian Fleming's original creation (as opposed to his filmic representation), but the stories he is written into have more in common with the cold-war era works of the likes of John LeCarre and Frederick Forsyth. Dark, meticulously constructed, painstakingly realistic, and more concerned with world politics than acts of derring-do, the Golgo 13 stories presented in this volume have all the earmarks of quality espionage fiction.
The Viz Signature edition of Golgo 13 opts for a "best of" approach, collecting unrelated Golgo 13 tales from different eras into single volumes. This is entirely understandable given the sheer volume of Golgo 13 that is out there (130 volumes!), and the standalone nature of the tales makes Golgo 13 perfectly suited to this style of release. Indeed the two stories in volume 4 are separated by almost 20 years, yet are so alike in tone and style that they could have been written mere weeks apart. Those familiar with the franchise will know what they're getting in this volume, but others can just as easily jump in, and without even a pause, follow these two tales of an unflappable and (very) taciturn assassin whose internal monologue is even more terse than his conversation.
The first story, The Orbital Hit, is a well orchestrated little thriller. Despite the tight plotting, there is a lot of political maneuvering, making it hard to tell who is using who, and obscuring motivations just enough to make difficult to predict what actions any given character will take and, by extension, what fate they will suffer. That none of the characters are particularly likable does remove some of the tension, but that's part and parcel of the spy thriller experience, and there is still a certain dry pleasure to be had simply from watching events as they unfold and as characters suffer the inevitable consequences of their actions. So much focus is placed on the build-up and background that the actual orbital hit is allotted a mere ten pages of space. A thriller this may be, but an action title it is not. The English Rose story, on the other hand, suffers in comparison to the Orbital Hit arc; knowing the ultimate outcome of the events in the tunnel drains much of the suspense, and the story-telling is distinctly lower in quality. Gone are the political context and interpersonal relations that made the Orbital Hit engrossing. There is still considerable enjoyment to be had from watching the outcome of each character's actions, and the fates of the villains are all quite justified, but it's still a little unsatisfying. Perhaps it's the slight bad taste left by the way that the story uses a tragedy still fresh in the minds of many as the basis for its tale of clashing assassins.
The artwork is quite staid. Detail levels are high, but there's no visual grandstanding to be had here; the art of Golgo 13 is meant to support the story-telling, not the other way around. Characters are all fairly distinctive, but are far from attractive, resembling slightly simplified, beetle-browed rejects from Judge Parker rather than typical manga characters. Background are also competently, if not spectacularly, well drawn, and are used effectively build the settings for different scenes. Action is implied with multiple stills of progressive movements rather than speed lines or panel variations. Paneling is as stoic as the artwork, rarely varying from simple rectangular compositions.
This is part of Viz' Signature line, but other than the shrink-wrap and the Mature rating, this is standard Viz. Binding, paper and print quality are all standard. Sound effects, where present (which isn't often), are translated and replaced with English sound effects. The one extra included is a fairly extensive catalogue of weapons and equipment used in Golgo 13, complete with descriptions of the weapons and their occurrences in the manga.
It may be manga, and like good ol' James Bond, Golgo may never age, but this book still has more in common with works of cold war espionage fiction than anything else. From the political trappings, to the fearless use of real-life personages, this is a tasty nostalgic tidbit for all the spy novel fans out there.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Mature storytelling, nostalgia value for spy fans.
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