ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Ryuko,’ Vol. 1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ryuko Vol.1, written and drawn by Eldo Yoshimizu. It is a crime thriller manga that tells the gritty, bloody, and beautiful story of a powerful and fearsome Yakuza princess, Ryuko. Ryuko took over her family’s gang after she was forced to kill her father and now seeks revenge for people that kidnapped her mother. Ryuko is published by Titan Comics through their Hard Case Crime imprint and marks the first time the manga is translated into English. 

Volume 1 is made up of six chapters, with each one covering parts of the criminal underworld that intertwine throughout Ryuko’s past, her father’s legacy, and now connected to her present. The volume opens with a flashback to eighteen years ago in a Middle-Eastern kingdom that is about to fall due to a military coup. The ruler, King Jibril, knowing that his kingdom is moments from collapsing, is desperate to save his only daughter, Valer. With little no allies left to turn to, he begs Ryuko to take and raise his daughter in secret so that she won’t meet the same fate as her father. 

Ryuko accepts and promises to raise the baby in secret from her father who, still alive at the time, would not have hesitated to kill the baby. As the story goes on to the present day, where Ryuko has taken her father’s place as the gang’s leader and continues to protect  Valer and her companion Sasori, another orphaned girl that Ryuko saves and trains them in the ways of the criminal underworld. We learn that three women share something in common; their pasts are unclear and are not what they always seemed. They learn that the terrible events from their pasts are not so black and white.

First, off one of the things I loved about this manga is the creator’s artistic style. Eldo Yoshimizu is a very well-known sculptor in Japan, whose work has been in galleries around the world in places such as Italy, France, and New York. Before making her debut in the manga, Yoshimizu’s character Ryuko first premiered in art galleries around Japan and Europe. I feel that the artistic choices he makes add something special to the story and reading experience overall. For example, the manga’s art style, specifically in the action sequences, may feel a little obscure and too fast-paced to take in all the action at first.

However, I think these things are done intentionally to capture the tone of violence and frenzy in the scenes. It also makes the reader have to slow down to truly take in what’s happening in the scene. Yoshimizu also does a fantastic job illustrating the tone of these scenes with his use of black lines and shadowing. From a character’s quick fluid movements while they fight to the spraying of bullets in a shootout. He perfectly captures and conveys the level of danger and violence characters are facing to the readers.

Another thing I enjoyed was how the manga and its characters, specifically the female characters pay homage to elements of Film Noir. The term film noir means ”dark film” in French and is used as a cinematic term to describe the classic Hollywood thrillers and crime fiction plot lines. These films typically had an anti-hero and emphasized on the wicked, taking the audience through sordid storylines that featured themes of adultery, murder, conspiracy, and crime dramas. 

And nearly all of these are present in Ryuko. For example, Ryuko fits the role of the anti-hero this story. She’s a young woman turned Yakuza boss, who’s family’s dark and mysterious past takes her down a path of destruction and revenge. And while to some, she may come off as hard-hitting, relentless, and ruthless, she has a strong sense of justice and honor.

Something else I found interesting in this volume was how the creator tells the story. Instead of having the reader follow the story through a linear storyline, the story jumps back and forth between flashbacks to the present day from different perspectives of different characters. Then we see how their pasts are interwoven with other characters and how they play a role in their current situations.

Lastly, I enjoyed how Yoshimizu’s focuses on the moral complexities of “good” and “evil” through different characters and give them depth. In a story that follows international crimelords, military coups, and terrorist groups, it is pretty easy to make assumptions that most of the people committing the crimes are “bad.”  For example, Ryuko only saw her father, Garyu, as a cruel and heartless crimelord that chose money and power over her mother. We later learn that Garyu was forced to leave his wife behind and had to pay a hefty ransom to keep her safe and alive. So when the truth behind Ryuko’s father’s actions is revealed, it doesn’t make him wholly redeemable or absolve him of his crimes, but rather give his character more depth. And shows the reader the moral complexities that motivated him to commit those crimes. 

Overall, Ryuko is a fast-paced crime thriller filled with gritty action, beautiful illustrations, and complex characters that make the reader question who is truly ”good” or ”evil.”  Volume one does a great job setting the tone for the series and leaving the reader hungry for more and what’s to come in volume two. 

Ryuko Vol. 1 is available August 6, 2019.

Ryuko Vol. 1
5

TL;DR

Ryuko is a fast-paced crime thriller filled with gritty action, beautiful illustrations, and complex characters that make the reader question who is truly ”good” or ”evil.”  Volume one does a great job setting the tone for the series and leaving the reader hungry for more and what’s to come in volume two.