RJ isn’t cut out for a farmer’s life. Despite the urgings of his sister and pregnant wife to give up his dreams of becoming a bluesman, he still finds himself drawn to the local juke joint, where folks of ill repute gather to listen to the blues. His own efforts to master the guitar aren’t going well, though, and after a particularly poor reception to his playing, one of the denizens jokingly suggests that he sell his soul to the devil to obtain the skill he lacks.
The desperate RJ goes through with the deal, and returns to wow the crowd with his incredible newfound ability. All this is not without a price, though, as he learns he’s actually been gone for six months and that his wife and baby have died in the interim, part of the devil’s deal to enable him to know the blues. He sets out on the road and before too long encounters Clyde Barrow, a white man and a criminal, who involves RJ in his schemes, one of which threatens to cost RJ his life.
I can honestly say that Me and the Devil Blues is unlike any manga I’ve ever read before. In fact, I think the closest thing to it in terms of tone and feel would be The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. There are parts that I really love and parts that I still don’t quite get, and through it all there is an unstinting depiction of the brutality and ignorance of which the human race is capable. Uplifting it is not.
The art—truly excellent throughout—also reminds me of American comics to some degree, but with more consistent quality than that medium usually manages. The resemblance is particularly striking in the first few chapters, where much of the action takes place at the juke joint in RJ’s rural town. Panels have no free space, and instead reflect a darkened interior crowded with people dancing, drinking, and socializing. It’s not hard to imagine it in gritty color.
Hiramoto also does great things with the character of Clyde Barrow, managing to visually convey the man’s potential to be charming, confident, scheming, rattled, and dangerous. I particularly like the mannerisms he’s been given; I’m not sure I’ve seen a mangaka bother to give someone a recognizable tic like Clyde’s habitual hair smoothing before. The time period of the story (early 1930s) is also well-rendered, with hairstyles, clothing, cars, and attitudes all doing their part to contribute to a feel of historical accuracy.
While certainly not the sunniest option one might have for reading material, Me and the Devil Blues is not one to miss. It may also be just the thing for that comics-loving pal of yours who is absolutely convinced there’s no manga that would appeal to them.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.