Japan is now the 51st state of the U.S.A.
The isle of Neon, located near Japan, is the only place where prostitution and gambling are legal. There, Italian Mafia, Chinese Triad and Yakuza fight each other to gain the control of casinos and brothels.
That’s the MangaUpdates description for Black Joke. Don’t let the title and wackadoo premise fool you, this isn’t a comedy. The biggest clue into that fact is Masayuki Taguchi’s involvement. Once I found out his name was attached I had to check it out for myself.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Masayuki Taguchi is an illustrator who conveys the attractive and grotesque with equal conviction. One of the ways he does this is through super detailed screentoning. His work, especially by the time he began Black Joke 4 years ago, is so studious and dense it often gives the appearance of a fully painted piece of comics art.
Take the image above, in which Dôji Komada rips out an enemy’s spine. Just look at it. The high gloss of both guys’ patent leather shoes, the gentle shading of the planes of Dôji’s face, the crisp shadows on each articulating vertebrae… you have to admit Taguchi knows what he’s doing, even if you can’t respect his focus on carnal excess.
You see these abilities channeled into depicting both the savage and seductive in his previous work as well. Taguchi’s manga adaptation of Battle Royale blends its characters’ gory deaths with a heavy-handed attempt to sex up Koushun Takami’s original story. And once more this tendency permeates Lives (pictured above), a manga where the population of Japan is selectively reincarnated into hideous monsters who struggle with the urge to devour one another, a process which favors buff kung-fu dudes and ladies with torpedo jubblies.
But back to Black Joke.
It evokes a hazy, almost fairy-tale dream world filled with glistening skyscrapers, sports cars, beautiful women, immaculately tailored suits, and violence. Injudicious amounts of violence. I pieced together what I could by importing the first French-language volume (because of course it’s licensed in France), but I couldn’t decode very much. I suppose I could have transcribed all the text, passed it through Google Translate, and read along the manga that way. That’s a lot of work. Plus it was fun to just thumb through the volume wordlessly a couple of times.
I strongly suspect Black Joke is a manga catering to people interested in grisly gangster comics about adults doing adult things no adult should ever actually do.
In other words, it’s catering to me.