My favorite film of all time is Paprika, a really trippy, complex, vivid, and unique film from Japan about dreams. The director of that film was Satoshi Kon (who also directed Perfect Blue as well as the series Paranoia Agent), who sadly passed away in 2010. He left behind one hell of a legacy and not just with his films and shows. Before even directing, he wrote and drew manga. OPUS is one them, his very last manga he wrote way back in the 90’s. It’s now just being released here in the states, so let’s take a look at it.
Satoshi Kon’s OPUS (Dark Horse Comics)
Written & Drawn by: Satoshi Kon
Translated by: Zack Davisson
Writer Chikara Nagai is about to wrap up his big series, Resonance, soon and with quite a bang: He’s going to end up having the big baddie of the series, Masque, kill the main character, Lin, and that’s guaranteed to shock some people. However, he’s starting to feel a lot of strain, pressure, and stress from working on it late into the night and it’s starting to affect his mind. At least, that’s what he thinks is happening until he ends up trapped, somehow, in his own manga. Now he’s stuck there and he’s not sure how to even escape this madness or how the story will end now, especially with the characters becoming self-aware of the world.
Having experienced a lot of Kon’s previous works in the past, it’s rather interesting and a bit surprising to read this manga. It’s both similar and very different from his movies and anime. His stories, while good and fascinating to experience, have always had challenging narratives or complex writing. They are normally the kind of movies or shows that would require extra watching to fully grasp everything, even if the material spells it out to the audience in the end. This series is sort of similar, but much easier to follow and grasp the commentary and metafiction on one read-through instead of several. There are complex ideas and discussion on the role of writers, stories, characters, and other ideas, but they are talked about or glanced at subtly. It’s very well done metafiction that most people could get and enjoy.
As for the story in general, it was very well done and engrossing from start to finish. It’s been a while since I found a book that I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the end. Even beyond the ideas and themes it introduced and hovered over the series: the plot development, directions the story took, and the twists and turns were expertly handled and never felt cheap. It made you want to keep on reading and find out what happens next with each scene and interaction between the characters. It’s hard to fully describe this story without diving into too many spoilers and getting deep into explaining everything; so it’s best just left that if you are a fan of metafiction, stories with a more intellectual narrative and experience, or if you just like the writer in general, you will definitely enjoy the story presented here. There was only one thing that didn’t make much sense, but it might have been explained away if not for what happened…
The last thing to note about the story is the ending and while I won’t spoil what happens, I’m going to have explain something about it. Unfortunately, OPUS was never actually finished due to multiple reasons and the story concludes with a non-ending in actuality. This sadly, and depressingly, hurts this manga quite a bit. The buildup, the execution, and payoffs we were getting up until what happens were just amazing and so engaging and just hyping you up to see how it will all conclude and tie-together. Then after such a heavy and shocking cliffhanger, the manga abruptly ends and the story is over. This, of course, cannot be helped and Kon is not to be blamed (things just happen in life unfortunately), but with such an epic build-up and truly thrilling experience to not pay off at all… it really makes it hard to want to return to this book and reread it knowing that we’ll be disappointed this much. If you want to buy this book, keep this fact in mind.
Character wise, the book is also pretty strong. We don’t get much payoff or conclusion to everyone’s character arcs because of how the series ended, but what we did get was pretty decent. Chikara Nagai is a good lead character, starting off just viewing his manga and his work as his job and something to entertain the masses. As time goes on, he learns to better appreciate the manga he has created and how his characters actually feel about what he has done to them in the series. Given how his character was changing, it really makes you wonder what the actual ending for his series would have been. Satoko is the lead character of Resonance and does undergo a lot of character development throughout the series, going from someone who is simply just following the script to fully grasping the scale and making her own real decisions and coming to terms with who she really is. She is the most sympathetic character in the book, making you really feel for her through all of the heartache and hell she experiencing both in her story and watching her realize what her world truly is.
Lin is the second main character of Resonance and is the first person to break away from the script. He’s very rash, impatient, and constantly looking to avoid his fate and destiny that Nagai has set, no matter the consequences. You can really understand what he is going through and what he is trying to avoid, though towards the second half of this collection, he becomes too much of a jerk to really like. Masque, our main villain, is sadly not nearly as developed…there just isn’t much to him as a character. He wants to become a god and even after he realizes his fictional existence, he doesn’t really stray from that path (he’ll still try to be a god by taking control of the story). I think if we got the conclusion for the series, he would have had a good payoff, but we’ll never know. The same goes with other supporting characters, like Nagai’s girlfriend, Lin’s sister, etc.; we’ll never know what happens to them and what their arc would fully be like.
Now, with the rest of the writing on the book, it holds up decently. The pacing and story structure are very nice and well put together. Every scene serves a purpose in some way, contributing to the growth of the character or to the themes in the story, and they never feel like they go on too long or for too little. The dialogue and exposition are pretty solid, never feeling boring or dry like you might think a book like this would have. All of the character development and interactions in the story feel genuine and feel earned, with nothing feeling like it came out of nowhere. The emotion and humanity displayed all work, really adding to how much you feel for the characters and the troubles they encounter. It’s a really well constructed and put together book.
Finally, there is the artwork and it’s pretty solid overall. The characters are look great, very expressive in their faces and bodies. The layouts are well done and flow easily from one to another. The action and fantasy based elements look solid, but the true highlight of the artwork is how Kon is able to depict the more metafiction elements. The cracks in “reality,” the cityscape fight, the depiction of the voids, and so much more. It’s incredible, making for some of the more eye-catching imagery and clever takes on art in metafiction I’ve ever seen.
Satoshi Kon’s OPUS is a truly magnificent metafictional story that really has interesting and fascinating commentary on the roles of characters and creators. The writing is just incredible, along its characters and wonderful artwork. The only thing that really hurts the book is the lack of a true ending to the series and the fact that this comic will never be finished. It’s definitely a manga to read, but due to the big buildup and lack of payoff, it’s hard to recommend owning it.