Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Dogs: Bullets & Carnage
In a city where cruel genetic experiments take place, and artificially enhanced soliders prowl the streets, Naoto Fuyumine has been fending for herself armed with a katana. But Naoto's blade also holds a link to her troubled past, which is revealed when she runs into Magato, a dangerous figure from her childhood. After an unexpected villain emerges with more revelations, Naoto is left to wonder who, and what, she is. Meanwhile, Naoto's gun-toting companion Heine is still struggling with his own dark past, and Magato has taken an unhealthy interest in trying to awaken Heine's hidden killer instinct. Finally, Naoto and Heine's two other comrades—Mihai and Badou—have checked out of hospital after recovering from a violent fight. However, the two run into some complications while trying to get home. It seems the citywide turf war has escalated to new heights...
Volume 7 of Dogs: Bullets and Carnage is caught up in an eternal conflict: the tricky balancing act between action and plot. Sometimes it seems as if the characters could shoot their guns and throw punches at each other all day; other times the series heads down the deep, dark path of unearthing everyone's tragic back-stories. This installment tries to split the difference between those extremes, with mixed results.
The finest moments of this volume come in the first half, when the missing details of Naoto's past are unveiled. Antagonist Magato does most of the explaining—after being greeted with blades and bullets, of course—but what really kicks the plot into high gear is when dreaded villain Frühling shows up and reveals some jaw-droppers of her own. (What, you thought she was just a scheming mastermind last seen several chapters ago?) Although not as involved as the flashbacks into Heine's childhood, these revelations are complex enough, and dramatic enough, to alter everything we know about Naoto. Up to this point in the series, she had basically been "the girl with a katana and a troubled past," but her role in the story takes on new weight now that she has a clear connection to the main storyline.
After that, the series splinters off, trying to describe what all the other characters are up to—a tactic that isn't nearly as effective as focusing on one protagonist. The second half of this volume is inconsistent in tone, sometimes dabbling in light comedy (starring the "killer twins" Luki and Noki), other times dealing out intense action sequences (Mihai and Badou's encounters in the underground), and occasionally rolling out those much-hated scenes where the villains are plotting something but accomplish nothing. Magato trying to set off Heine's inner madman is probably the closest there is to a major story development, but even that is left unresolved for now. The problem with all of this is how haphazard it is—there seems to be no roadmap for the series after the Naoto arc, at least not until an ominous figure shows up on the last page. In short, that means about a hundred pages were wasted on flipping randomly from one character to another.
Even if the story kind of comes apart in the later chapters, at least there's the stylish artwork to keep readers interested. More than anything else, Shirow Miwa loves drawing fancy combat poses, and working out scenarios like what would happen if a guy armed with hunting knives fought someone armed with a pistol. (That one happens pretty early on.) Miwa may not always be dead-on accurate with anatomy, but the dynamic quality of his lines make up for it—the characters' movements aren't exactly realistic, but the feel of motion is there. Dramatic paneling is another visual strength: fight scenes are allowed to take up as much space as they need, flowing effortlessly across the page rather than being confined by geometry. Even dialogue scenes buzz with tension, often because of the characters' intense expressions and the asymmetrical layouts. But this striking art style comes with a downside: backgrounds are practically nonexistent most of the time, with all the emphasis placed on the characters instead. As a result, it can be hard to get a grasp of the story's setting, or even where the characters are at any moment—everything just happens in this nebulous mass of white space.
As if that level of abstraction weren't confusing enough, the dialogue itself can be vague as well—the characters often talk in short sentences and fragments, or refer to things that may take a little memory-jogging to recall. (Because of the series' pacing, events that happened "not too long ago" in Dogs time have been spread out over years for normal humans.) The script fares better when people are simply being witty with each other, or going into concrete details about important plot points. The translated text takes a straightforward tone, though it isn't afraid to turn up the angst and attitude when the conversation gets heated. As expected, the action scenes feature various sound effects that are reworked in English, removing any traces of the original Japanese. The rough-edged lettering suits the mood, and it fits in with the artwork easily because of all the white space—but that kind of editing takes away at least one aspect of the unique visual style.
The trouble with Dogs is that it comes across as one of those "all fighting, no storyline" series. But in this volume, as well as the previous one, it's clear that there is a story driving everything forward—it's just that the author often struggles to convey what that story is. At its best, Dogs reveals the story through moderate-sized chunks, like having Naoto in the spotlight for several chapters as she learns about her her past. But at its worst, Dogs is a random collection of fight scenes, jumping from one subplot to the next like in the second half of this volume. A distinctive (if flawed) art style holds it all together, and maybe someday this series will have a storyline solid enough to accompany that art. For now, the eternal conflict between action and plot rages on.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B+
+ Major revelations about Naoto, and consistently stylish artwork, make at least the first half highly enjoyable.
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