Collecting volumes two and three of the popular manga and now film, I Am a Hero, by Kengo Hanazawa is one of the most fascinating, weirdly hilarious, and uncommonly human zombie epics in existence. Our “hero” of this story is Hideo Suzuki, a thirty-five-year-old reclusive manga artist who takes medication for hallucinations, illegally owns a personal shotgun (Look up Japan’s gun laws.), and who has yet to reach the popularity he’s struggled for as a creator. In Omnibus One, it almost begins as a slice-of-life character study, and zombies seem like a second thought to Hanazawa. Hideo has a girlfriend who can’t take her liquor and who looks up to another manga artist which causes some jealous friction between the two. Hideo’s co-workers don’t treat him well, while Hideo rants on and on about the true art of manga, and, honestly, the whole book could be this. I would have praised it.
The brilliance of Hanazawa’s work is that you buy into this reality. He slows down and spends so much time in these scenes pulling us into the mindset of Hideo. The details that he organically finds give each sequence so many ups and downs. Then, when the zombies do start to trickle in, it feels like a dream, exactly how it might feel if it actually happened.
In this new omnibus, the people around Hideo quite literally can’t believe what they’re seeing. Given the desensitization and disinterest with people around him, nobody really understands what’s happening. They are unable to digest this information. It’s both hilarious and horrifying.
The great thing – like he does with the character-driven scenes – is that Hanazawa doesn’t just run from one set piece to the next, but instead he explores each situation, ramping up every little element until the entire set piece goes completely bonkers. His work reminds me of the British film director Blake Edward (director of the Pink Panther films) who would exhaust a set piece in the best possible way.
In I Am A Hero Ombnibus One, there is a set piece between Hideo and his just “turned” girlfriend who he thinks is simply sick and acting weird. The absolutely absurd, but perfectly logical, places it goes are truly brilliant. In this second omnibus, Hideo finds himself trapped in the back seat of a taxi cab with a couple who are both slowly “turning,” while another passenger in the front wants them to go to a military base and the driver is making small talk. I feel like anyone else would spend a couple of pages here, but Hanazawa spends about 53 pages in the taxi cab and every beat is mesmerizing.
Hanazawa’s art is perfect for this type of creator/reader transaction. It’s detailed and beautiful. Expressions are exaggerated in just the right way that give the overall quality a slightly surreal effect. The zombies are terrifying in the way you’d imagine nightmare zombies to be: their faces stretch, they don’t always walk, but sometimes crabwalk, run bent over so you can only see a head and two legs from the knees down – it’s like Alice in Wonderland, which is exactly how a zombie apocalypse would feel to most of humanity. Like you’ve been plunged down a rabbit hole of terror.
You have to read these books – an absolute must.