Manga Review: Ichi The Killer

Ichi might be a killer, but at the end of the day, he's just another lost figure, I'm just trying to give you the mangakas picture. Ichi the Killer has been sitting in my read later category for a long time, years. After seeing a screenshot of a man sitting inside a television and rambling I had to finally pick it up.

Ichi the Killer comes to us courtesy of Hideo Yamamoto who was mostly known for some, unique works prior. Okama Report followed a straight man, who worked at an Okama bar where he would dress in drag as he attempts to date a woman that looks like him, in drag. Most notable he spent five years writing a series called Voyeur and the spinoff Voyeur Inc which followed a cast of characters who were into voyeurism; it became a film and television series. It goes without saying Ichi was a left turn out of nowhere for Yamamoto.

Jii-san, who never gets a real name appears to be an old man who abuses steroids has a grudge against the yakuza. He plans to destroy their organizations and doesn't care much for casualties. His main weapon is a psychologically stunted man named Ichi. On many levels Ichi is a child still, he cries in confrontations, is still afraid of bullies, doesn't really seem to understand sex or even drive. Despite that Jii-san has turned him into a killing machine. Ichi kills using his martial arts abilities and blades hidden in his shoes, the crime scenes are usually filled with blood and semen because Ichi tends to ejaculate after a murder. The murders lead to direct conflict with Kakihara Masao, a Yakuza boss who happens to be a sadist. Kakihara has multiple body modifications, most notably his mouth which has been altered to open like a snake. Jii-san has manipulated Ichi into believing he is killing the people who ruthlessly bullied him as a child while Kakihara wants to feel fear, the two are destined to meet.

I think the story is great, but simple enough that it doesn't need to do anything extra. By the end there are still some unanswered questions such as how Jii-san found Ichi to begin with. However, I think the characters are more interesting. Ichi visits a prostitute named Seila, he's her only visitor. Selia works in the dark because she usually has bruises and other injuries from her abusive boyfriend who is also her pimp. Ichi visits her because he's attracted to the bruises, despite wanting them to stop. Again, Ichi is a child in many ways, believing that Seila would fall in love with him if her boyfriend was gone. He murders her boyfriend after stalking her, and is confused why she didn't run into his arms. Despite being a murderer and completely insane, Ichi is great with children. Takeshi often sees Ichi crying after murders, but Ichi is always kind to him. Ichi even takes time to help a kid named Norio who was being bullied.

An interesting relationship is that of Ichi and Kaneko. Kaneko works for Kakihara and is the designated gun carrier of the group. The thing about Kaneko is that he's just like Ichi. While Ichi cries during confrontations due to a childlike fear, Kaneko is prone to passing out. The two build up a friendship without knowing they're on opposite sides. Kaneko finally feels like there's someone in worse mental shape than he is, and Ichi has an older brother figure to guide him through things. There's a scene where Kaneko has to explain love versus prostitution to Ichi as well as how to do laundry properly. Takeshi, the boy who witnesses Ichi escaping murder scenes is also Kaneko's son which adds another layer. Kaneko is determined to go to jail for the crime family, as it will bring his family into wealth and asks Ichi to take care of his son on one occasion without knowing Ichi has been the one hunting everyone down

The thing about Ichi's insanity and memories is we don't know what's real and what was planted by Jii-san. When Ichi was younger, there was a girl who was gang raped, for trying to protect him. He was forced to watch, and she called out to him for help, but he couldn't. However, in his mind there's a false memory where she was calling out because she wanted him to join. There's a third alternative left open where Ichi might have been the one who was raped and called out to her, not the other way around. We know for a fact that he was bullied, but many of the memories have alternate versions depicted as well, and others he's only "reminded," of by Jii-san. We have no idea how much of Ichi's PTSD is real, and how much is implanted. The only thing we know for sure is who he killed during the span of the manga.

The artwork is great throughout. Detailed cities, vast and beautiful landscapes, sense of speed and motion, Yamamoto seems to excel in each category. One thing that I'd like to point out is the level of detail on some of the images. The man in the TV depicted in the screenshot I saw is named Inoue, he's a tech expert, and a heroin addict. The scene is question sees him disassemble a TV while high, and hide in it as if he were his own television show. During this scene Kakihara's men, and women, burst into his room. The random detail of various screws, tools and expressions covering the chapter make it extremely memorable. 

I don't think Ichi is the perfect manga, but I think it perfectly does what it set out to do, no matter what you might thing the goal is. In my opinion, I believe the goal was to show that there are always cracks to a killer, no matter how well they're put together. People always say, "I never expected it," and many don't expect Ichi, actually nobody does. But, there are visible cracks, nearly crying at work because the boss scolded him for being late, loud arguments with his erection because he didn't understand it, failing to hide in the corners of society. Alternatively, we could just be focusing on people who were guided in the wrong way by supposed mentors. Everyone Jii took under his wing, lost everything, except Ichi who was driven further into insanity. There's a lot left for us to interpret on our own as readers. It's worth a read, but it isn't for the feint of heart.

You can check out some of my short stories at 12 AM Fiction or if you like vampires follow my web serial Exsanguinate and of course hear me on the Powerbomb Jutsu podcast if you enjoy pro wrestling.

Manga Review: Ichi The Killer Manga Review: Ichi The Killer Reviewed by Darrell S. on Friday, April 16, 2021 Rating: 5

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