Recently Read: "Innocent" by Sakamoto Shinichi

Title: Innocent (イノサン) volume 1
Language: Japanese
Mangaka: Sakamoto Shinichi (坂本眞一)
Publisher / Publication: Shueisha / Young Jump
ISBN:  9784088795652
Purchase: Amazon JP 

Synopsis: This series is the fictionalized story of Charles Henri Sanson who was the fourth generation Royal Executioner of France. He served during the reign of Louis 16th. This first volume covers from when he was expelled from school to his first execution job. It is based on historical events, but the details are fictionalized.

First Impressions: Wow! The artwork is gorgeous! But yeeks! There are a lot of disturbing scenes in this manga. I’m not sure I can handle this.

Artwork A+: Both the color illustration and the black and white illustrations are amazing. The black and white illustration are technically excellent as well as emotive. There’s detail to drool at for days and fantastical scenes of beauty and horror, sometimes in the same image.

There are some scenes of torture which I found unnecessarily erotic considering how upsetting the violence was. But still, the images were lovingly drawn. There is lots of use of light and shadow to make evil people look extra sinister. The drawing styles of the backgrounds shifts throughout the volume.  It’s very different than how the faces in the foreground are drawn. I got used to it quickly though.

Presentation — A: This book is larger than regular Japanese language manga. The dust cover is printed on heavy stock that has a textured matte finish. There are lovely glossy color pages at the beginning and the interior pages are printed on nice feeling heavy stock. The book construction is sound. The binding stood up to my bending when I wanted to see the two-page spreads in all of their glory.  In short, this is a nice book. The text is a little small in places, which hurts readability.
Story — A-: This first volume is a well told coming-of-age tale. Most of it revolves around Charles initial rebellion against his father and his duty to become the Royal Executioner of France. And then the story moves onto Charles’ acceptance of his duty and how he steels himself to perform that duty.
The storytelling relies more on the illustrations to create atmosphere than I’m used to. I know that sounds weird since the drawings are a big part of manga, but as a reader of shoujo manga, I’m used to flower sprays, sparkles, or vague architecture in the background.  In shoujo the backgrounds are more to maintain balance and keep the eye moving than to create a concrete setting. In this manga the settings are very important. They provide context for events and reinforce the decadence and depravity of the times.
The story is told with a mix of little history lessons, drama, and fever dreams. The medical details about torture are interesting, but at the same time chilling. At times, though, the history lessons slow down the story. This is only draw back and it was minor for me. I thought I would be annoyed with Charles because he’s the master of pouting, crying, and saying “I don’t want to”, but once I understood that he’s 14 in this part of the story, I began to sympathize with him. I enjoyed seeing the world through Charles eyes. It’s over-the-top decadent and unbelievably cruel. I also enjoyed going through the emotions necessary to navigate this cruel world with a soul as tender and kind as Charles’. Toward the end, there’s an especially funny dilemma that Charles must overcome involving a lion. The story of his first execution job is woven throughout the volume. The story of the “criminal” he must execute is heartbreaking, and Charles coming to grips with his destiny as an executioner adds more impact to the conclusion. And woven into the overall arc of the first volume are flashbacks about the Sanson ancestors who served as the Royal Executioners for 3 generations. The fever dreamy scenes provide temporary escape from the cruelty of the world. These scenes can be gorgeous, erotic, and terrifying all at the same time.
This story is not for those who are uncomfortable with violence, torture, sexuality, & homosexuality.  The only reason I was able to get through it was because underlying the cruelty and depravity in the world of the story, there was “heart”. I like Charles and I relate to him. He is the modern day reader’s view into this awful world and profession.
Readability — Difficult: Although there are hiragana, I found this volume difficult to get through at times. The names are mostly French, so I couldn’t figure out what pronunciations the Katakana were mimicking for most of the names.  This made it hard to remember who was who in the story. There were also a lot of new words for me, so I spent a lot of time looking words up in my Japanese dictionary app. Compounding this, the text was small in places or mixed into the backgrounds.
Overall — A: If you can read Japanese and can deal with the violence, I recommend this series. If you want to look at pretty pictures even though you can’t read Japanese, I recommend this series. There isn’t one page in this volume that is not worth looking at. I am looking forward to reading the second volume.

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