Hiyama Volume 1 & 2
London 2019. Violent crime is out of control, the gangs rule the city, the prisons are full, the law favours the criminal and most of the police are corrupt. But one man, one highly trained martial artist, takes a stand, links up with one good cop and takes on the gangs, dealing out justice wherever they can. This is exactly the sort of future the editors of The Daily Mail want us to imagine.
Time passes and the mantle of their mission passes to their sons, one is the assistant police commissioner, the other is Chen Hiyama; the cop provides the cases, Hiyama meets out vigilante justice, the cop covers it all up. But Chen grows old and his daughter Mei takes up his mantle after random gang violence tragically and predictably touches their lives, and where her father dispensed his justice without killing, Mei is nowhere near as controlled. Blood flows. Lots of blood.
(Chen Hiyama gets his assignment; vigilante justice organised down the local park. From Hiyama Vol 1.)
Book 1 introduces us to the Hiyama clan and follows their tragic and blood soaked revenge mission against the most powerful and violent gang of the times. Book 2 takes place a few months later, as a disturbing number of young children are being snatched from the streets of London, including Mei Hiyama’s own child. Filled with horror, despair and anger, her subsequent killing spree in search of her daughter not only sees her rage grow but sees it begin to manifest in her ten year old daughter, who is already highly skilled thanks to years of training by Chen Hiyama.
Yes, it’s Batman manga style, or Sin City meets Deathwish meets Kill Bill, or any other example of the idea of the vigilante outlaw. I’m not that much of a fan of this vigilante style revenge fest anyway, so the lack of engagement I felt reading this wasn’t a surprise. With Hiyama, I see all the failings of the genre writ large; the attempt to set the violence against social issues comes across as a mere distraction to getting on with the beatings and killings, the villains are hideous evil things who need destroying, the vigilante’s find themselves conveniently with easy justifications and the blood flows a little too gleefully throughout.
(Mei’s actions are all easily justified, everything is driven towards the inevitable blood-bath. From Hiyama Vol 2)
Putting my dislike of the genre aside, the comic functions pretty well – it’s a manga style thing, both in artwork and pacing and the story certainly had me turning the pages, wondering where it was all going. The artwork, all greys and charcoals at first drops into darker hues when the real violence starts – possibly too dark at times, there are moments where these old eyes were straining to make out the details.
The art develops throughout and by volume 2 there’s a much better sense of control and composition which results in not only a better read but a couple of genuinely impressive images along the way.
(A nice image, with Mei’s spirit of vengence taking metaphorical form behind her, urging her on to greater acts of violence. But dark script shouldn’t mean art too dark to make aout at times.)
So, sorry, not my thing. All of the interesting facets of it are barely mentioned, the politics are overly simplistic and in some ways it’s all just an excuse for a huge climactic slash fest in the finale of each book. But at the very least, there was enough in there for me to finish it and for those of you reading this who like this sort of thing, I imagine you’ll enjoy this a lot more than I did.