SOIL

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Among the current Japanese production, Kaneko Atsushi is one of the few authors that one can identify right away — whether because of his distinctive line, obviously very much inspired by American illustrators, or by his unexpected choices in terms of printing colors. Difficult also to ignore the hysteric Japan fleshed out in his magnus opus, the essential Bambi — but that would mean leaving out a whole panel of his production, published in short stories collections[1] where he cultivates the art of the unsettling and the frightening.
His new series, SOIL, follows this vein, and leaves the “punk, sex & rock’n roll” approach of the pink-haired girl to explore the swarming underbelly of human society, building an oppressing story which should eventually spawn seven or eight volumes.[2]

“SOIL new town” is a model-estate, “the city that knows no shadow”, where flowers grace balconies and streets are immaculate. And among the families living in “SOIL new town”, there is none more exemplary than the Suzushiro family — appreciated by all, presenting well and respectable in all ways, as their portrait on the cover of the first volume clearly shows. The emotion outbreak in the city is then understandable, when during a power outage, the whole family disappears without leaving a trace except for a lone column of salt in the room of the daughter Mizuki.
From this starting point, Kaneko Atsushi slowly builds up a lynchian mystery, where the quirks and twitches of the police officers detached there (Chief Yokoi and his obsession with his own body odors, Onoda messy and emotional, or Tamura and his habit of prodding and poking everything he comes across) end up being rather harmless in the light of what the reader is going to discover in this model-estate. Because as Chief Yokoi likes to repeat, “there is no such thing as normal people”. And behind the welcoming smiles roam envy, jealousy or even worse, and it does not take much for all this to go awry and end up terribly wrong.
The reader shivers, but as if fascinated by the crawling mass a rather ordinary rock reveals once overturned, the desire to know what happens next remains stronger. And indeed, the author controls masterfully the rhythm at which this story unfolds, exploring each narrative thread issuing from the fateful night, building a complex puzzle with numerous ramifications, supported by an impeccable drawing style. In this book, Kaneko Atsushi’s work reminds of Charles Burns’ — sharing with him this ability to bring out the monstruous from those too perfect faces, from this oh-so-neat line, but which always manages to avoid feeling stiff.

Honestly, at the end of the fourth volume of SOIL, things have not gotten any clearer regarding the disappearance of the Suzushiro family. Quite the contrary, as the picture gets darker ad the story progresses and reveals a “SOIL new town” pulled between many strange and alien forces, bringing back to the surface events dating back half a century, and leaving some doubts about the possibility of supernatural implications.
The X-Files might come to mind, but a comparison with Twin Peaks would be more fitting, sharing with David Lynch’s series the heavy atmosphere of a small country town with its load of resentment and strifes, where tragedy is never too far. Let’s hope then that, after such a good start, Kaneko Atushi will bring a satisfying conclusion to this investigation on the brink of bad dreams.

Notes

  1. I am thinking of R or Atomic in particular.
  2. The series publication picked up again recently after a year-long hiatus, during which Kaneko Atsushi directed Mushi, one of four Edogawa Rampô adapted for the silver screen in the movie Rampô Jigoku (“Rampô’s Hell”), released in November 2005.
Chroniqué par en avril 2007