Choujin X Vol. 2
Written and illustrated by Sui Ishida.
Translated by Jan Mitsuko Cash.
Lettered by Evan Waldinger and Snir Aharon.
Published by VizMedia.
The second volume of Choujin X almost feels like reading a whole different manga. The series started out jumping from one idea to the next, a comics buffet. Sui Ishida has preserved the pertinent details of the dual origin story. A slice o’ life story in a post-collapse world, where demons wreak perpetual havoc but you’ve still got to go to school and get a job. A secret story of demon lore that goes on behind the curtain, one with superheroes and villains, is revealed as the heroes become demons themselves. He’s still an awkward kid. She’s still an optimist. Doesn’t matter how they met, I guess, because now, in Choujin X‘s second volume, what counts is how they work together.
So now the story is about a nerd, Tokio, and a hayseed, Ely, taking part in some kind of middle ground between Witch Hat Atelier and the Mutant Registration Act. There’s a secret, let’s call it a school, keeping everybody with demon powers in check. Student rivalry bubbles up from the contrast between believing the education agency’s good-and-evil rhetoric and being naturally kind. The intrigue factor increases with teachers within the school, and teachers er rivals from without. The second volume is an explosion of new characters. The oragami choujin (very Dededede aesthetic) and the octopus face choujin are gangsters. Tough girl, the strength choujin, a fairly straightforward indulgence that totally works on me. The choujin who can manifest swords is stone cold wicked.
Book two of Choujin X does resemble the first book’s better side: comics as the transportation rather than the destination. The reader is given some solid information about the rules of the game- how the powers work, some clues into the conflict between the secret school and unlawfully unregistered choujin groups, possible tidbits related to the transformation crimes that empowered Tokio. New ongoing antagonist (the baseball choujin), new third-party criminals entering the mix for unknown reasons, as well as the new allies made from embracing the hero side. Volume two doesn’t follow a plot so much as bear witness to countless ideas generating and colliding.
I really responded to the contradiction in an unpredictable read with a feeling of constant familiarity. Author’s riffing on a cultural lexicon, pulling ideas from anywhere: life, social science, manga tropes. The generative process of writing. Last time I was feeling John Waters and this go Choujin X is like a Christopher Guest film. There’s enough structure so that the story moves forward, but instead of acting out an idea that’s already been formed, it’s allowed to define its own boundaries.
There’s so much going on, the perpetual chaos of creation. A seamless and swirling cauldron of badass action, fantabulous information dumps, and unscheduled dips into total absurdity. The hundred plot points all blossoming at once are navigable because they serve as backdrop to what really propels Choujin X. Fate puts Ely and Tokio together to help people.
What makes a real hero is a little bit of what they got. Unabashed idealism. Tokio’s crushed out obsession over boys is more like worship than his reaction smooching to snake girl. He clearly feels something for Ely, rooted in admiration. Tokio is the superfan. Ely’s bumpkin sincerity is the book’s moral compass. Her earnestness and his tenderness forms a dynamic that puts the two of them at odds with the secret school as well as the criminal choujin.
It’s also what makes the baseball “sinker” choujin an ongoing character instead of skewered snakemeat. The imagery in this book is absolutely bonkers. The range of intensity runs from grotesque powers going superspeed amok to hyper simple children’s drawings aesthetics. Instead of a jarring collage, they blend like Max Ernst surrealist experiments. Ishida unifies conflicting imagery with an overall aesthetic, fast paced physical combat comics. Choujin X whips from dangerous to silly- a baseball game fight, c’mon, but then the threads of the ball rip loose and inside, all those eyes.
How do you beat that but with some good sportsmanship?
Anyway I am enjoying the look as much as I am the story. Very cartoony, wildly ranging choices united through an overlying filter of seriousness. Fighting rips. Monster aesthetics are bananas. Serious as a heart attack, the violence and the empathy. But also inescapably funny. The weird Slan thing where choujins and great minds are one and the same means every single hero and villain has a distinct, nuanced personality. They are the statistically most likely people to see the irreverent side of life with wit and soul and they do. Just, uh, some of them are driven to mass produce monsters. And others to police them.
Denser, more wild, more heart. The idea of one’s mutation power manifesting and the event killing people, knocking your life into the toilet, that’s pretty Chris Claremont X-Men feeling. As is the circus of characters, the weird sexual tension between flippin’ everybody, the baseball. That said, the book doesn’t feel particularly like a superhero comic. The imagery is out of a horror movie, and the great powers and great responsibility are more a crash test that utterly demolishes the vehicle. Choujin X zeroes in on intense moments of doubt, follows them down into the pit, the experience of total emotional despair. Ishida finds superheroes there.
The second volume of Choujin X (as well as the first) can be found from VizMedia and wherever better books, comics, and manga are sold.