Shell Bound : Masamune Shirow – “Black Magic”

ABOVE: Planetary

A fully-decked warrior points out to his comrades in arms, who are about to be deployed from a military helicopter: “We’re soldiers, not philosophers.” That’s from Masamune Shirow’s  1983 debut,”Black Magic.” It’s the standard intro to any number of action scenes  in movies, novels, and graphic novels: assorted mercenaries bantering and bonding over the noise of the chopper’s rotors. But it exemplifies the essential tug at the heart of Shirow’s influential work ( his classics include “Appleseed,” “Dominion Tank Police,” and “Ghost in the Shell.”)

Shirow is half-entranced by weaponry and bellic technology, (which he draws and describes in Tom Clancy-esque detail), and half-lost in ponderous philosophical musings about duty, identity, religiosity, and the meaning of a mechanical life. “Black Magic,” his first work, has many amateurish character designs, (he would improve) but already shows his love for throwing machines and religion into a crucible. Here, Zeus is some sort of computer creature that oversees life on planet Venus, where Greek mythology apparently permeates the names of things. That doesn’t stop Shirow from also including (a year before Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball”) an alien monkey named Sohn Gokou, in homage to the Buddhist “Journey to the West”… Or from freely sprinkling the already melty mix with  Mesoamerican concepts: the city of Teotihuacan figures prominently as a center of operations. Depending on your level of generosity as you pick up the volume, this is all either the promising seed for future, better developed material – or a near incomprehensible mess.



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