Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Youkou's world ends on his fifteenth birthday. That's when his sister, who recently received miraculous new legs from the Amenotori medical group, made a horrible transformation from sweet middle schooler to crazed murderer. It turns out that the change is somehow caused by her new legs, but it's too late for Youkou by the time he figures that out – she's already taken both of his legs and one of his arms. On the verge of death, Youkou encounters a group of people calling themselves Jackalopes: artificially augmented humans who exist to take out those transformed by Amenotori's biotech. Can Youkou make a new life with them? And is it worth living in a world where his only remaining family member is no more?
If you've read Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou's previous work, Deadman Wonderland, you have some idea of what to expect from Smokin' Parade: a dark, bloody, and violent story about a hapless teenage boy whose life takes a turn for the horrific thanks to evil scientists. If you distill both series down to their core elements, that's basically what you'll get, and while Youkou is a very different character than Ganta, there are still enough similarities between the two stories that it's clear that they share creators.
That, of course, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Smokin' Parade is less about the public's thirst for spectacle, instead focusing on the hubris of the medical profession. At an unspecified future date, a company named Amenotori (which translates to “bird rain;” that may be important later) has supposedly perfected artificial body parts, from limbs to internal organs. This has made it so that the handicapped can receive new, working limbs and the terminally ill can have their diseased organs replaced with healthy ones. It sounds too good to be true, and of course it is – a percentage of those who receive Amenotori products suffer a strange transformation, causing them to grow plush mascot heads and go berserk. (I promise the mascot heads are scarier than the concept sounds.) Fifteen-year-old Youkou's younger sister Mirai is one of those unfortunates. She receives new legs from Amenotori which leads to her becoming one of the “spiders” as she's in the midst of preparing a birthday dinner for her brother. Instead she goes on a killing spree, murdering her two friends and amputating three of Youkou's limbs before she is stopped by a mysterious group of augmented individuals who call themselves Jackalopes. They rescue Youkou, but now it's up to him whether or not he wants to keep on living, and, more importantly, how he wants to do so.
This is very much an introductory volume to the story, spending most of its pages in building the world and showing Youkou's internal debate. Mirai was his only remaining family member, and her transformation and take-down by the Jackalopes is a major issue for Youkou. As orphans, the two were very close, and he can't quite reconcile her actions with who she used to be. Because he holds out some hope that someday she will return to normal (or might have without interference), Youkou can't bring himself to commit to the Jackalopes and their slightly-mad-scientist leader. They saved his life, yes, but he can't help but feel that they also cost him his normal life somehow. It's a bit of a change from the standard gung-ho shounen protagonist, although Youkou still largely fits that mold, and it gives him an emotional trigger, so to speak. Even if he accepts the Jackalopes' offer, can he really be trusted to think clearly should Mirai come to factor into a situation? Although the Jackalopes themselves aren't concerned, readers perhaps should be.
As might be expected, this book relies on a lot of gore to help tell its story. It isn't pervasive and really only shows up when needed to further the plot, but more sensitive readers may find it too much at times. On the other hand, if you like gears and clockwork, there are some nice shots of both, as the artificial limbs supplied by the Jackalopes are mechanical. Panels do tend to be very crowded, which is both a statement on the detailed nature of the art and a warning that if you're looking for a visually clean read, this is not it. Page layouts, however are easy to follow, and when there's a larger, full-page image, it's that much more striking for the smaller illustrations that preceded it.
While the whole book is good, the strongest section is towards the end, when we get to see just how ruthless Amenotori truly is. The final chapters of the volume follow a reporter as she tries to piece together the plush-headed killer phenomenon with the Amenotori products, with the intent of exposing the whole thing. Mirai's transformation is pivotal to her investigation (and the later plot of the series), but someone does not want that information to get out. It's a quieter storyline than Youkou's, but that almost makes it have more of an impact on the reader, and ending the volume on its resolution is a good move, both in terms of how the book comes together and in making you want to read the next volume.
Smokin' Parade is setting up to be exciting, bloody, and has the potential to develop its emotional content as well. Its use of the mythological American jackalope (a rabbit with antelope antlers popularized in the 1930s) is a nice nod to the hybrid nature of its members in contrast with Amenotori's more “biological” weaponized humans, and I do hope that the series will explore medical ethics as well, at least a little bit. If subsequent volumes can keep the pace and tone of this one, this could be a series worth keeping an eye on.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Interesting contrasts between jackalopes and spiders, last few chapters are especially good, definitely has potential.
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