I first wrote about the manga series UNTIL DEATH DO US PART in a column back in 2010. Back then, it was only available in Asia and in pirated English scanlations whose fan translators, bless ‘em, were not always people for whom English was their native language.
The story has a deceptively simple start: a young girl jumps out of a car on a crowded city street one evening and runs up to a blind man she’s never met, pleading with him to protect her “until death do us part.” If he doesn’t, she’s going to die.
That’s the kind of hook a screenwriter prays for on a good day, and then the tricky bit is paying off that set-up. UNTIL DEATH DO US PART does it and more. This isn’t any girl and this isn’t any blind man. She didn’t pick him at random. Why are people after her and why is her life in danger? This is the premise for an endless list of movies with varying degrees of success. This manga series has a story that unpeels like an onion as it goes along, the world opens up more and more, with more characters and increasingly rich and complex characters entering the equation as it goes along. The girl, Haruka has an ability that powerful people would kill for and have, and the blind man, Mamoru Hijikata is a street vigilante backed by a crowd-sourced network of victims of crime, and the moment he meets her, their destinies will be linked forever.
Back then, I said UNTIL DEATH DO US PART is not only the best action technothriller comic being published anywhere. It is also the best superhero comic being published right now. It is better than anything Marvel or DC is publishing. Having read the first English volume, I still think that’s the case. The biggest problem Marvel and DC have is how to make their comics accessible to readers who haven’t been following their continuity for years. Even continuity reboot they have executed since the 80s has collapsed into a morass of just more convoluted continuity that’s hard to follow for anyone who’s not buying every single one of their titles. Manga does not seem to have that problem. Given the huge number of successful manga out there – and I continue to look at a lot of them – it’s obvious that manga has been good at keeping each installment of a series easy to follow for anyone picking up the story for the first time. UNTIL DEATH is easily accessible and lacking the self-consciousness that too many mainstream superhero and crime thriller comes these days are bogged down by.
And the thing is, it’s not even that UNTIL DEATH DO US PART is necessarily that original. What it does brilliantly is take a whole bunch of by-now standard pulp and thriller ideas and recombine them in a way that feels new and fresh. When I first read it, it felt like a real smart Japanese writer had read a whole bunch of Marvel and DC comics and decided to write his own version. The series is really a kind of superhero vigilante comic, except the characters wear cool leather jackets, designer suits and army fatigues instead of capes and spandex. It’s set in a world that’s comparable to our world, dealing with gangsters, corporate conspiracies, terrorism, covert ops, all the sexy crime and thriller tropes that people like in their movies and TV.
At New York Comic Con last October, I discovered that Yen Press would be publishing an official English edition this May. Yen Press offered to send me a review copy of the book, though my preorder from Amazon has shown up first. I’d been reading the Asian editions of the series, which are now up to volume 13, and Yen Press is publishing two volumes together in omnibus editions to be released on a quarterly schedule starting now. That’s 400 pages of comics for $19.95 (cheaper when you order online) , which is as good a deal as you can get.
I was actually surprised that Yen Press had picked up the license for UNTIL DEATH DO US PART, since the majority of their titles have been hugely popular Shonen (for boys) and Shojo (for girls) titles like SOUL EATER, THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA, K-ON, SPICE AND WOLF, BLACK BUTLER and their expanding line of Western-created manga series like adaptations of TWILIGHT, Gail Carriger’s Steampunk romantic thriller SOULLESS and James Patterson’s MAXIMUM RIDE. UNTIL DEATH DO US PART is not a hugely famous title even in Japan, despite being successful enough to still be running, and is a thriller in the Seinen market, that is, one skewed more towards an older teen or college age audience. It’s the kind of title I might have thought Dark Horse would pick up, but they seemed to be scaling down their manga titles these days, and hey, I’m not going to complain about Yen Press’ good taste in bringing UNTIL DEATH to the English-speaking world.
My only concern is the seeming lack of publicity that UNTIL DEATH DO US PART has gotten when it’s already available from Amazon but not from comics shops. This is the kind of break-out title that people who love the current crop of superhero movies and Hollywood thrillers by Christopher Nolan would love if they only know about it. It has not only the sophistication of a seemingly endless list of high-concept ideas flying constantly flying at you when any one of them would have a Hollywood screenwriter sitting on and jealously guarding for their next spec script they hope to sell to the studios. UNTIL DEATH DO US PART also pulls off the trick every screenwriter hopes to be able to achieve: to escalate the situation so it gets bigger and bigger, backing the heroes into tighter and tighter corners and then have them win in ways that aren’t lazy or a cop-out. I’m avoiding story spoilers here because the joy of this comic is the discovery of how insane Hijikata and Haruka’s situation gets and what they do to get out of them through sheer brains and skill.
So far, I have not seen a single review for UNTIL DEATH DO US PART when the first book is already available from Amazon. I hate to see a good book, movie or show fall by the wayside because nobody knows it’s out there, so this is me doing my part to recommend to any of you who cares about good comics, good superhero comics and good action comics to buy it. Do it. Do it now.
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