Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 16th 2008
Every police career has to start somewhere—and for babyfaced Kai Eto, that means teaming up with high-strung officer Hal Kurabayashi in the Greater Kanto Narcotics Control Division. Hal isn't too excited about having to work with "the rookie," but Kai's innocent demeanor has its advantages: he can get friendly with suspects and they won't get suspicious. Hal and Kai's targets come from all walks of life: a deadbeat dad, a street thug, a celebrity burnt out on life ... but catching their suspects is never as easy as it seems, with a rival detective and a deadly syndicate trying to complicate things for them. It's up to Hal and Kai to choose what risks to take, as one wrong move could cost an officer his life.
If there's one good thing about the investigative activities of Switch, it's that it does not involve ghosts and spirits. Goodness knows we've already had enough of that genre. Instead, this buddy-buddy cop series takes on a topic that should be pretty familiar anywhere around the world: drug-related crimes and the people who perpetrate them. An instant recipe for success? Not quite. The two main characters fail to rise above their good cop/bad cop stereotypes (in fact, the most interesting character is the suspect in the latter half of the book), and the stories lumber along at an awkward pace with equally awkward action scenes. Maybe this volume should have spent some time in rehab before making its debut.
The signs of mediocrity come early: the opening pages of Chapter 1 introduce too many characters in a vague first scene where there is little clue of what's going on. Even more maddening is that the next two chapters after that also begin in the exact same way: lots of nameless guys standing around and making things more confusing than they need to be, when all that's really needed is for KAI and Hal to pick up the info on their next case. Fortunately, the stories flow better once the two leads are in the car and positioned for a stakeout, as this is where the real crime-fighting begins. The first chapter culminates in a good old-fashioned brawl, while the second chapter comes with a smart (if perhaps predictable) twist where KAI and Hal use some trickery to outwit their opponent.
Chapters 3 and 4—which together take up the rest of the volume—mark the beginning of a longer story arc, where our heroes try to track down a drug syndicate by secretly monitoring a celebrity client. This setup makes for some great character drama: here's an actor who's on his way to becoming the most famous face in the country, and yet he has to sneak into the bathroom every few hours to cough up blood and get his fix. Add in a childhood flashback, and this guy is already a more developed character than the main duo. However, this is also the point where the pacing starts to get awkward, perhaps bogged down by its own length and ambition. Hal's "hanging out at the bar" scenes never really seem to find the right place in the plot, and a violent confrontation with a druglord seems tacked on to create a cliffhanger situation, when most readers would probably be more interested in finding out if KAI can save the wayward celebrity from his self-destructive ways.
Being a crime series, action scenes are of course essential to every chapter—yet they are often the weakest points in this volume. When things get violent, the visuals lean more toward "stuff that looks cool" rather than showing what's actually going on, which means lots of random limbs and ambiguous close-ups that require a second read-through. A lack of toning and texture also adds to the confusion, as the frequent use of pure black-and-white lineart causes characters and backgrounds to blend into each other. Less busy scenes, however, are laid out beautifully: some of the most striking moments (i.e. any of the troubled actor's bathroom trips) are rendered in wordless, carefully spaced pages that say more than any dialogue could. Stylishly designed characters capture the series' urban feel, although some of the supporting cast are hard to tell apart—once again, the "lots of nameless guys standing around" problem.
Although this is very much a metropolitan crime series, the dialogue thankfully avoids overdoing it with gritty dialogue. The characters talk to each other in a typical conversational style, with occasional slang and police vocabulary sprinkled in as needed. This translation also sees all Japanese sound effects edited out and replaced with English equivalents, but a wide variety of fonts and careful placement help the "clicks" and "whumps" to blend in with the art. Cultural or linguistic notes are nowhere to be found, but there really isn't anything here that counts as a uniquely Japanese oddity anyway.
It may take another volume or so to figure out if Switch is worth getting into or not, as Volume 1 leaves off in the middle of the series' first extended arc. Still, it's hard to find anything here that makes it stand out from other crime stories. The individual cases are average material for the genre, and often lacking in clarity. From time to time, there are some pockets of quality—the excitement of pulling off an arrest, the emotional anguish of a celebrity addict, the effective layouts in no-dialogue scenes—but these are often overshadowed by various rough spots. When the pivotal action scenes are hard to follow, and subplots have an awkward time fitting themselves into the main story, well, that's going to have to be fixed before we can start calling this series good.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ The celebrity junkie story arc and occasional wordless scenes help to create some strong emotional moments.
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