Wild Adapter 1-6 by Kazuya Minekura: A-

wildadapter1I’ve heard a lot about the works of Kazuya Minekura over the years—mostly in praise of Saiyuki and Saiyuki Reload—but was never particularly tempted to see what all the fuss was about. That changed when Melinda Beasi, who has uniformly good taste, raved about Wild Adapter on her blog back in June, and was immediately greeted with a chorus of agreement from other trustworthy sources. The time had come, it seemed, for me to have a look for myself.

On its surface, Wild Adapter is the story of Makoto Kubota, a former leader of a yakuza youth gang who is looking into a string of gruesome deaths, victims transformed into beasts by overdosing on a drug known as Wild Adapter. He takes in a “stray cat,” Minoru Tokito, with no memory of his past and a bestial right hand that indicates he’s had at least some exposure to the drug. Together, they attempt to unravel the mystery while Tokito strives to regain his memories and rival yakuza groups pursue Kubota for various reasons. Delving deeper, Wild Adapter is about two broken men who care for each other deeply but are so damaged that their affection manifests in unusual ways.

wildadapter2The first volume of the series serves as a prologue, introducing Kubota as he was before he met Tokito. He joins the Izumo syndicate on a whim and spends seven months as a youth gang leader, forming a close relationship with his second-in-command, Komiya. It’s primarily through Komiya’s eyes that we see Kubota, who seems to shirk his duties and is underestimated by many until he single-handedly administers violent payback to a rival organization. This Kubota trusts only himself, and says things like, “It was him or me, and I only choose me.” After Komiya is killed for investigating Wild Adapter, Kubota quits Izumo and takes in his new houseguest.

Beginning with volume two, which picks up a year later, the series features Kubota and Tokito together, following various leads on Wild Adapter and getting into dangerous predicaments. Each volume is self-contained and introduces a new character who gives an outsider’s perspective on the leads and their relationship. This storytelling approach is fascinating, because by never really allowing us into Kubota’s head, he’s able to come across to the reader the same way he does to the characters who encounter him, like “a wildadapter3 mysterious, untouchable man who seemed to float on air.” Tokito is much more openly expressive—as Kubota notes, “he can only tell the truth”—and though his past is unknown, who he is now is not nearly so difficult to ascertain.

Kubota has never cared for anyone before meeting Tokito, and is gradually changed by the relationship. Throughout the series there are quite a few poignant moments where he demonstrates how much he cares for and even needs Tokito and by the end of volume six, he has evolved from someone who only chooses himself into someone who will unhesitatingly risk his own death in order to rescue his kidnapped friend. We probably get the most insight into how Kubota feels about Tokito in volume five, where our point-of-view character is Shouta, an elementary school kid and aspiring manga artist who lives next door. Shouta finds his neighbors cool and exciting and is drawing a manga based on them. He confides to Kubota that he’s having trouble with the character based on him, and in a rare moment of candor, Kubota suggests that the character was searching for something to make him feel alive, but didn’t know what to do once he got it.

wildadapter4We begin to see that Kubota wanted to feel a connection like others do, but the only person he’s ever been able to rely on is himself, so it’s difficult to trust in someone else. “He really cares about Tokito,” the observant Shouta concludes. “He just doesn’t know how to express it.” Interestingly, these insights and the undoubtedly positive influence Kubota and Tokito have on Shouta can lull one into thinking Kubota is a good guy, an impression thoroughly tested by the Kill Bill-esque levels of vengeance on display in volume six.

Tokito, on the other hand, immediately trusts Kubota and gets petulant a couple of times when details of Kubota’s past of which he was not aware come to light. Although he’s by far the more endearing of the two, I find I have less to say about Tokito, perhaps because his origins are still shrouded in mystery and therefore all we have to gauge him by is the present. Readers receive a small tidbit of information about his past in volume six, and he’s had a few flashes of memory, but one can only assume that further development for Tokito will come later.

wildadapter5In addition to possessing fantastic, nuanced characters and a well thought-out approach to storytelling, Wild Adapter also boasts terrific art. In a word, it’s best described as “dark,” with black margins on every page and a gritty and shadowy feel that befits the subject matter. Kubota, in particular, has a knack for appearing distressingly cool while committing heinous acts. Despite the darkness, the art is seldom hard to follow and can also be much brighter, especially when the leads are enjoying some pleasant time together in their apartment, as well as versatile, like when Minekura draws the characters in the style of Shouta’s obviously shounen manga. I’m also impressed by the covers, each of which depicts the characters with a barrier of some kind, be it barbed wire, prison bars, or police tape. The cover on which they are the least obscured is for volume five, which just so happens to be the volume in which their missing first year together is finally revealed. Coincidence? I think not.

wildadapter6About the only complaints I could make is that the Wild Adapter plotline is occasionally sidelined for volumes at a time—volumes four and five, specifically, though these are also my favorites, so make of that what you will—and that there isn’t more! I’m sure Saiyuki fans are thrilled by announcements of new spin-offs, but I’d much rather Minekura work on this series instead!

Wild Adapter balances action, mystery, suspense, and strong character development while being downright addictive and capable of inspiring passionate devotion. In my quest to have more Minekura to read, I might even defect and check out Saiyuki, but in my heart I’ll really be wondering, “How long until volume seven?”

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Comments

  1. Oh, Michelle. I am torn between feeling gleeful and guilty that you like this series so much, considering that you are now stuck waiting for the next volume with the rest of us. This is one of those series that I suppose could be considered a guilty pleasure, with its violence, pretty boys, and mob drama, but I have a hard time feeling guilty for loving something *so* beautifully written. I read fiction because I want to be emotionally engaged, and the characters in Wild Adapter are so completely realized in all their broken complexity, it is impossible not to be moved. How could I ever feel guilty about loving that?

    Wonderful review. *heart*

    • Thank you! I think I feel a little guilty for loving something so violent—hence my comment about Kubota looking “distressingly cool” in such scenes—but it’s undeniably true that it is very well-crafted and not violent for its own sake.

  2. Yay! Another member added to the ranks!

    I too struggled with the fact that I loved Wild Adapter so much and so quickly when Kubota is such a frightening protagonist. I’m tempted to compare (or perhaps more accurately contrast) it with Death Note and its sociopath protagonist Light, whom I could never root for. And I suppose I already know that the reason I find Kubota compelling is because he DOES still possess humanity and a heart, while Light Yagami never exhibited either.

  3. Ooh, this sounds very much as if it has all the virtues and vices of Saiyuki indeed (sinewy pretty boys, terminal coolness, twisty backstories and meandering plot)! Must get my greedy hands on it asap :-).

  4. Minekura is one of my very favorite creators, and one of the nice things about Wild Adapter is that her art and storytelling is pretty polished right from the beginning. I still prefer Saiyuki overall, but its early volumes can be a bit uneven on both levels.

    • Oh yes, I agree! From the very beginning, it feels like all the choices made are deliberate. I love knowing that a creator knows exactly where she wants a story to go.


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