Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Time Killers: Kazue Kato Short Story Collection
In this collection of early works by Kazue Kato, an assassin and a doctor become friends, a young Native American learns about the cycle of life, a thief is startled out of his lifestyle, and a nerd deals with aliens, among other stories spanning ten years of the Blue Exorcist author's career.
If you only know Kazue Kato from Blue Exorcist – and really, there's not much reason why that wouldn't be your one and only association – prepare to see the full breadth of her talent as a mangaka. Time Killers, a title she says is meant to evoke a way to pass the time, is a collection of stories more bitter than sweet and varied in its subject matter. Printed on glossy paper and with two stories in full color, it is a great read for fans of both the author and short story collections in general, to say nothing of an interesting trip through one author's evolving style.
As might reasonably be expected, the two strongest, and longest, stories are those closest to when Kato began writing Blue Exorcist. Both “Astronerd” and “The Miyama-Uguisu Mansion Incident” feature heroes who look like either Rin or Yukio, and the latter story has a storyline that is quite similar to Blue Exorcist's, with a sword functioning as a binding spell and an exorcism theme. It is also the more serious of the two, although not necessarily the stronger. In fact, “Astronerd” stands out as one of the best stories in the collection. It follows Yoshio Fujiko, a newly-minted high school student who spend middle school being bullied for his love of astronomy. (Hence the title astronerd.) Now that he's in high school, he's determined to start over anew and to hide his love of the stars in hopes of both not being bullied and also of getting the girl. The female in question is Tezuka, and as it turns out, being himself might just be the way to go. But first he has to deal with the pesky little aliens who have suddenly invaded and are under orders to destroy the earth while taking Yoshio home as a sample of human life. It's a strange mishmosh of coming-of-age drama and goofy science fiction, and Kato makes it work, giving the aliens a sort of Vogon quality (the rule-abiding aliens from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker series) that allows Yoshio to outwit them. There's a sense of real danger to the story as well, which also works far better than you might at first assume.
This idea of having to change something about either yourself or the world in order to be happy is a theme that pervades the entire book. Sometimes, as in “The Miyama-Uguisu Mansion Incident,” this means a major physical change that still won't necessarily bring you what you want. This permutation of the theme is also present in the short but fascinating “A Warrior Born of the Red Earth,” one of the few manga stories to feature Native American characters. A full-color story of only five pages and featuring no dialog between the characters, “Red Earth” examines the consequences of a war-like culture and how being strong does not always bring you either happiness or the ability to protect the ones you love. It's one of the more bitter tales and certainly takes a bit more processing time than the others, but it is also one of the stories the book is worth buying for. That Kato did some research also seems highly likely, as the characters' clothing looks very similar to historical images from several nations.
The opening story, “The Rabbit and Me,” although clearly the roughest in terms of both art and writing, is still one of the most interesting. The protagonist of the tale, Shuri Todo, grew up watching his assassin father carry out his work until he was forced to kill him. Taken in by the owner of a public bath, Shuri continues the family killing business, one night running into another student. The boy patches up Shuri's injured arm before letting him go, which leads to a strange friendship that soon becomes threatened by both of their goals for the future. While parts of the story are clumsily handled, the idea of following in one's father's footsteps, or what you think those footsteps are, is well done and makes it clear why this was a second-place winner of the Tezuka Award.
Time Killers isn't a fast read (although the hilarious one-page “A Guide to Princess Clothes” and the short “Usaboy!!” certainly are), but it is well worth reading. Whether you are looking to see where Blue Exorcist began, are interested in watching a mangaka's evolution across ten years, or just enjoy short stories, Time Killers is worth picking up.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Each story is different but linked thematically to the others, watching Kato's style change is interesting. Several stories are really strong.
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