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‘Goryo Dog #1-5:’ Comic Book Review

Teenager Willie Jackson lives for one thing: avenging his father’s death at the hands of MMA fighter Kage in a title match when Willie was a youngster. When his father’s former trainer/manager refuses to help the young man learn to fight, a mysterious stranger steps up with an offer too good to pass up, throwing Willie into the tournament fight limelight. At the same time, haunted Yamato no Orochi Secondary School surfaces in Little Tokyo in downtown LA replete with demons from Ancient Japan. One young girl has already died, and demon hunters will have to get on the ball and not be deceived by anything to force the campus back into the darkness.

Goryo Dog from 10 Worlds Studio is an online American manga, blending seinen (marketed to young men aged high school and older) tournament fighting sagas with Japanese folklore, ghost stories, and scary tales. The five issues currently presented here only begin to explore the possibilities of the plot, but, as the story progresses, more details will certainly surface. This manga contains mature images, language, and themes and is intended for readers seventeen and up.

I won’t deny that I’m a much bigger fan of shoujo/josei manga (girly stuff) than shounen/seinen manga, but the combination of Japanese spirits with martial arts intrigued me into trying Goryo Dog. Parts of the manga, so far, work for me extremely well, but I have a few quibbles, too. I love that the creators decided to utilize a black protagonist, simply because you just don’t see black people in East Asian manga other than as comedic background material. I realize that Willie represents the current population of historic Little Tokyo, but it is so easy to gloss over representation in media that I appreciate any attempt to get it done right. The young man has a rough past, but he is definitely not a victim. Willie manages to get by on hard work, luck, and the fire to avenge his father. He’s not the geeky, intellectual black hero I’m dying to see, but he seems to embody someone who really would live in his region of LA. Willie’s past is also well developed, but I was disappointed that he wasn’t introduced until the third issue. If he’s supposed to be the main character as the blurb led me to believe, I really wanted to meet him from the start; instead, I got a confusing murder and an introduction to a Japanese-speaking playboy and two bimbos who irritated me from their first appearances. Part of the first two volumes involved introducing the setting and history of Little Tokyo, but, for me, it would have worked better to blend Willie’s and Little Tokyo’s intros rather than keeping the protagonist in the background for several pages. The storyline with the demon hunters was a little weak in these issues, as well, because it wasn’t really introduced fully until the end of issue five; however, I suspect that the characters will get more screen time and development in later installments.

The artwork for Goryo Dog utilizes both Western and Eastern techniques, and the detail pops off the page. While there are a lot of screentones in the backgrounds, it’s exactly what I would expect to see in a work imitating older manga styles. Zahdian Arief Arizky’s fight scenes look fantastic, and the dynamic action in the panels seems ready to jump off the page. I also enjoyed the use of what appeared to be photos of actual locations in Little Tokyo when describing the area. I almost think I could explore the region based on them if I wanted to try.

The first three issues used a more traditional manga/comic book layout with several panels on one page, but the creators switched to a one-panel-per-page format with issue four. The change worked for me, because I could examine each panel in more detail, and the text was much easier to read. It also allowed the creators to utilize panels multiple times by swapping only the text instead of either creating a new, similar panel for the conversation or trying to cram multiple speech bubbles into one shot.

If you’re an adult who likes revenge/repayment stories with a paranormal twist, Goryo Dog may be right up your alley. It’s dark with a hint of magic and fantasy, and the grit of the real world is softened slightly by the world unseen. I was left wanting a little more character development, but I can see an interesting story developing. It’s just going to take more time for everything to unfold!

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