From the creators of Deadman Wonderland comes a brand new series guaranteed to be a gory, vicious, violent time. Smokin’ Parade Vol. 1–is it good?
Writer: Jinsei Kataoka
Artist: Kazuma Kondou
Translator: Leighann Harvey
Lettering: Abigail Blackman
Publisher: Yen Press
A revolutionary medical company named Amenotori has been able to transplant any and all body parts using super science! The formerly wheelchair bound sister of Youkou Kakujou is one of many people who have been blessed by this technology and things seem to be looking up for the two of them. However, during all of this there are these strange mutilations and serial killings going on in the area, all involving animal costume heads. These siblings are about to be thrust into this insanity soon, along with meeting a cyborg team named the Jackolopes.
The Initial Reaction
Deadman Wonderland was a series I was quite fond of when it first came out and I was excited to read it again when Viz Media picked up the license a few years back. So, with a brand new series from the same creative team out, I was naturally eager to give it a shot and see what the duo had up their sleeves this time around. After reading the first volume, there’s definitely influences of Deadman Wonderland all over this series and a lot of the energy and style of that series can be found here. However, Smokin’ Parade does not start as strongly as the team’s former series, feeling more like flash and gore over substance.
I repeat, why don’t you shoot them then?!
To start things off, story-wise, this volume is pretty much about getting things set up. Within the first chapter, we establish Youkou and his life before what happens, introduce his sister as well as the concept of the Spiders and Amenotori’s influence in the world, and of course the idea of the Jackolopes and their goal of destroying all Spiders. The rest of the volume continues there, pulling Youkou further into the Jackolopes’ world, introducing some members of that team, more of the villains, what the missions are like for the Jackolops, and even a few twists here and there. It’s basic setup to get the audience introduced to the concepts, characters, and tone of the series and what to expect. Outside of some rushed exposition in a few parts, all of this is introduced adequately and it provides enough groundwork to get things started. For those into brutal, violent action series, this should be just up your alley from what you get here.
However, there are problems here that keep this series from immediately clicking. Comparing this to Deadman Wonderland again, I can’t help but find that the main character is not as likable as Ganta was and the setup has issues in and of itself. Starting with the protagonist, he has a sympathetic backstory of taking care of his (former) wheelchair bound sister and trying to set the best example for her. Plus, combined with a flashback and what happens to his sister, there is some sympathy for him. However, he is very annoying at times with this irritating quirk of “family rules” he made up that are there for “comedy,” but they just seem to cause problems for everyone else. He is also rude and kind of a jerk to others, straight up calling the Jackolopes not proper humans to their faces after they save his life. Add in that he really doesn’t do much in this first volume and he’s not off to a strong start that would instantly get you on his side.
As for the setup, there are some problems here that keep nagging the more I read this. There’s all these little details in the plot and setup that keep popping up. For one thing, Amenotori is almost like Umbrella from Resident Evil. They have a perfectly good pharmaceutical business of growing and replacing body parts for people; even if it isn’t on the up and up (getting body parts and such poor and starving people), why go into making the killer animal head monster people? Military applications? World domination? Also, what determines that people will turn into Spiders, since it seems like an inconvenience that it is random and rare for this company. The series also has a lot of familiar elements reminiscent of Deadman Wonderland, which just encourages the audience to keep comparing that series and to this one. Familiar character designs, similar setup, Akuta being almost the spiritual successor to Crow, the evil organization of weirdos with strange powers, and more. While the manga makes a big splash, it doesn’t feel original for those of us who read the creators’ past work.
…but you know how it goes. When you got an arm laser gun, you just got to use it on something!
Character-wise, there’s also work to be done. Most of the cast are not particularly well defined outside of “shocking” or weird character traits, like Matsugo being sexually attracted to her big sister and Kurama being a sadist who bathes in gore. Everyone’s memorable due to these odd traits, but no one feels like a real person with much personality beyond these traits. The villains are shocking and nasty, who make a strong first impression due to their brutality and viciousness. However, that’s really it for them, since they don’t do a whole lot in this first volume. The only characters that are kind of interesting so far are Akuta and this reporter woman, who is already killed off, so that’s not saying much. Akuta is the sort of leader of the Jackolopes, who sacrificed his arm to kill a Spider at one point. He’s very brutal, vicious, and mean… but he also generally seems to have a nice guy element to him. He goes out of his way to save Youtou for instance, even believing in his potential despite the kid calling him less than human, and risks himself to save others. There’s a deal of respect for him from the people around him, so there is something to Akuta that separates him for the other characters we’ve met so far. The reporter is more of a missed opportunity, presenting an individual that’s completely normal and is investigating Amenotori’s illegal practices, putting all the clues together and figuring out the connections. She’s ultimately killed off, but I think she should’ve been around longer to offer a more human side to the story, since no one else in this comic feels or acts like a human being.
The writing on the book so far is alright, but there are parts that could use some work. The pace of the story is very quick, getting through most of the setup and introductions in four chapters. The pacing slows down in the fourth chapter when it focuses its narrative on an outside source with the reporter, but it wasn’t a bad choice at all. It managed to integrate exposition regarding Amenotori pretty well without having to dump it elsewhere. The storytelling and flow are both fine with no issues and to the story’s credit, it never feels boring at any points, having an extremely wild and over the top tone you might see in an Avatar Press comic for better or for worse. Outside of some awkward exposition dropping, the dialogue did its job. The humor was a mixed bag, having some really cringeworthy jokes based on the incest and family rules angles. Though, when the humor worked, it really worked. It got a lot of good laughs out of me, like how the characters declared they could easily overcome two months worth of sedatives through pure willpower, making the doctor character angry and saying that’s not how that works. There are definitely good elements to this manga and hopefully it improves on the not so good elements as time goes on.
If there is one thing that the manga does completely right, it is the artwork, the big highlight of the series without a doubt. This is a visceral, gory, overblown, and wild story and the art by Kazuma Kondou is perfect for the job here, just like it was with Livingstone. There are crazy memorable character designs and outfits in this series–everyone looks incredibly distinct and well thought out. Yes, some of the female designs are… questionable in their practicality (I question why Kurama is allowed to dress like that at work) and some designs are reminiscent of the creative team’s previous series, but they are all well drawn. The animal head monsters and mechanisms powering the Jackolopes are striking and horrifically awe-inspiring, commanding your attention to the horror surrounding them. The action isn’t always smooth and doesn’t flow too well, but it is very stylish and has a lot of good energy to it. The level of detail is incredible, really bringing the characters, their powers, and this world to life. A word of warning: for the squeamish, you are definitely not going to want to read this one. This is somehow even gorier than Deadman Wonderland and with the artist’s level of detail, the graphic violence can be stomach churning at points.
Man, Five Nights at Freddy’s has gotten a lot edgier since the last game.
Smokin’ Parade Vol. 1 is not a bad series, but it’s not without its problems. It has all the right ingredients to be a high-octane, bloody, and gory action series with wild characters and a plot straight out of the sick and twisted horror. However, it lacks the character depth and originality at times to truly be its own beast, while also having some issues with the writing and narrative. If you were a fan of Deadman Wonderland and looking for something even faster than that, then Smokin’ Parade is perfect for you. Hopefully the second volume improves on things now that the groundwork has been laid out.