Kevin McCarthy and Kyle Baker have crafted an interesting and loving nod to classic anime and manga styles in their new Image series, Circuit-Breaker. A young girl who is actually a robot fights to keep humans safe from other robots who used to do work for humans until humans didn’t trust them, because they killed other humans for the “good” humans, but now the robots have no place and so are killing humans. That sentence is somewhat how the book feels at first, with very bright, flashy pages and a pace that feels breakneck. Hidden within that frenetic visual extravaganza is a story with its base in very human drama and a wit that is exceedingly sharp.
McCarthy has taken everything I’ve ever loved about anime and tossed it into the blender. Robots that look like humans, robots that look like robots, and people accepting the world as it is instead of looking to what could be different. I feel that the reason that so much anime is as whacked out as it can be is because of the cultural roots in Japan, where the social norms can be constricting for their Western counterparts and their own youth who have the influence. Sometimes, the only way to shock someone into hearing another social viewpoint is to toss mutated humans and robots at each other until a point can be made. Now, this is just my conjecture, but this book really makes many parallels to the theory, with robots taking the place of the disenfranchised of our own home and showing the many layers of hypocrisy and double-talk that allow us as a whole to ignore the problem. This story could have easily been told after World War II about black servicemen or even in feudal Japan after the rise of the shogun leading to the fall of the samurai. (Thank you, Stan Sakai, for giving me the understanding of that time to make this reference.) The universality of the story presented here is that there will always be those in society who are favored and those who seek that favor for themselves. This is underscored in the very first interaction of the issue, where a robot simply tries to sell goods on the metro. This is the Aesop moment that a good deal of comics and anime try to manufacture. Beyond the sociopolitical parallels, McCarthy also has a brilliant wit on display, tucking subtle nods at a diverse array of different franchises (Fortinbrass from Billy Shakes himself – pure joy) and historical ideology (I abhor violence, this is self-defense!) to make a very smart collage of dialogue that feels familiar in ways you’ll never expect.
The art style feels a lot like Lupin III or The Adventures of Shin Chin or many of the great cartoons from the ’70s, where everything is intentionally out of proportion, seemingly sloppy, but highlighting the abstract and absurd in the story, perhaps in an attempt to carry that ridicule over to the story itself. It’s fun, bright, and supremely crazy.
This is an intriguing, new series and one that will keep your mind sharp with reference and innuendo. Plus, who doesn’t love some good robot combat? Anime and manga fans should definitely be checking this one out.
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