Steam Detectives

By | Friday, March 16, 2007 Leave a Comment
I finally picked up a copy of Steam Detectives Vol. 1 yesterday. I'd been looking for it some manga in the steampunk genre, and this falls pretty squarely under that heading.

It follows some fairly standard detective story motifs, with the major difference being the backdrop of a steam-driven technological society. The first volume has four stories to it, each one fairly succinct and self-contained. With the exception of the first story, which sets up the characters and their relationships, continuity seems fairly absent. (Which I say without judgement. Too often today, comic book fans use a cry of poor continuity to rally against various Marvel and DC stories. Lack of continuity is not necessarily a bad thing.)

The stories were solid, but I didn't find them particularly striking. Surprisingly typical detective stories in my opinion. The storytelling was a little more interesting, but I have to wonder if part of that is my relative unfamiliarity with manga. For all I know, some of the storytelling techniques seen here are perfectly typical of most manga.

I did find the character designs rather striking. The characters each had a "look" that I found appealling in some way; the villains particularly were visually interesting. The technology, too, was well developed -- although the stories focused less directly on them than the characters.

I understand that these stories were built off the ideas presented in the original Steam Detectives animated series, and that may have something to do with my assessments in the previous two paragraphs. Animation is a medium that tends to focus on the visuals over the story, so it should not be surprising that the comics reflect that preference. I'm not certain yet if I'm interested enough to continue reading the comic, but I am curious to see how this might have been executed in anime form.

I'll also make a note here about the publisher, Viz Communications. I'm not sure how the book was physically put together, but I had more trouble opening the book wide enough to read anything towards the center spine. Two page spreads lost quite a bit in the pages' natural gutter and were hard to read as a single image. I didn't seem to have that issue with Alice 19th (also published by Viz) nor any of the iD_eNTITY (published by Tokyopop) I've read so far. I don't know if that is due in part to Steam Detectives being one of the earlier manga that Viz published or if it has to do with how the original pages were actually drawn, but it was somewhat problematic from time to time.

Overall, I thought Steam Detectives was okay. I don't think I'd mind reading more, but I'm definitely more interested in continuing to read the story in iD_eNTITY. Given the relative difficulty I had in tracking down the first volume of Steam Detectives (which, to be honest, wasn't all that difficult -- although it might be for a newer comic reader) I'm not sure I'll be picking up the second book too quickly.
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