Strain: Crime Drama Perfection.
(AfroGamers.com) When it comes to manga there are only two three teams I truly enjoy: Tetsuo Hara and Buronson (Fist of the North Star), Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima (Lone Wolf and Cub), and Buronson and Ryoichi Ikegami (Strain). Its that last pairing we’re going to get into with the hardboiled crime drama manga Strain.
Originally Strain was published in one of Japan’s seinen (men’s) magazines, Big Comic Superior. When it reached stateside in 1997s, it was part of Viz Media’s Pulp Magazine which featured mature manga such as Banana Fish and Dance Till Tomorrow. Of the few titles that ran in Pulp, it was Strain that stood out to me.
I was already familiar with Buronson’s writing being a big fan of Fist of the North Star but Ikegami’s artwork was truly something else. Having seen the large-eye and spiky hair of shonen manga for years before I even learned the term, Ikegami’s style was more realistic and nothing was overly exaggerated. Combined with Buronson’s often violent, bleak writing and it was like reading a John Woo film.
The shortest explanation of Strain comes from Pulp’s description of series: “Mayo is an assassin who will kill anyone for five dollars.” In 1999, that was more than enough to catch my attention and get a raised eyebrow. “Life must be cheap to him, huh?” I thought. When I finally got the graphic novels, the main character Mayo himself confirmed that yes, life was cheap to him.
Strain takes place on the streets of Malaysia where crime is an everyday occurrence during the day and downright awful at night. No one puts the police in check, the seedy underbelly can’t be distinguished from legit business, and Mayo is somehow able to make a living charging five dollars for his services.
Mayo is a former painter who loved horses and is originally from Japan. An incident happened that forced him to fake his death and “disappear” in Malaysia. Here, he found work as a contract killer for a far-reaching organization that has its hands in pots both illicit and legal. In his time here, he has become indifferent towards the value of life–that is until he meets a child sex worker named Shion.
Forced to take to the streets because her ailing mother’s health, Shion runs into Mayo by chance. It turns out that he was hired to kill her and her mother by the organization. Something prevents him and it becomes the first time he has failed a contract. Because of this, he ends up with a price on his head but Mayo isn’t one to go down so easy.
As Mayo’s story progresses, its revealed that he and Shion are bound not just by fate and the contract on both of them becomes clearer as new, dangerous players enter the game.
Check It Out
Strain is a series I can’t recommend enough. It blends action, drama, intrigue, and romance very well without either of those elements utterly overpowering it the other. Make no mistake, this is definitely a drama manga, but it doesn’t have the often slow pace of a drama series. That said, it doesn’t go into the fast paced territory of Buronson’s trademark series Fist of the North Star.
If I were rating this series, it would get perfect marks but since I’m not, I’ll just say check it out. You can find Strain online, but if you prefer something of the paper and cover persuasion, it can be found on Amazon or Ebay. It might also be possible to find it at your local library.
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.