MANGA REVIEW: FAREWELL TO WEAPONS (1981)

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Katsuhiro Otomo is pretty well known to western fans of anime and manga. Both versions of his masterpiece Akira, the original manga and the anime movie he directed based on his own work were the ultimate “gateway drug” for tons of English speaking fans in the 1990s. Which is why I find it very strange that much of his manga output remains untranslated in the west and almost everything that was released other than Akira has been out of print for a good while.
Otomo was actually a rather prolific manga author and created quite a few shorts, many of which were published in Young Magazine including the subject of this review; 1981’s Farewell to Weapons (originally titled Sayonara Nippon/Goodbye Japan).

Published the year before Akira started serialisation it tells a story of a group of soldiers on patrol who encounter a murderous military robot and are soon locked in a battle for their lives. Unlike his mega-epics Akira and Domu, Farewell is only 21 pages long and doesn’t really have much room for characterisation, instead action and Otomo’s wonderful mechanical designs take centre stage. The version I have in my hands was released in 1991 by Epic comics (an imprint of marvel who also released Akira in the US and another Otomo short called Memories, itself an inspiration for another Otomo anime project of the same name). Apparently there was a release of both Farewell and Memories here in the UK but I’ve yet to come across a copy.

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I’m usually against colouring manga however the colouring job here by US artist Steve Oliff looks pretty damn good and fits the book well.
Despite it being a very short work the action is portrayed so wonderfully it really takes me back to how blown away I was upon first reading Akira and Domu. There are few manga authors who are able to portray such a level of detail as Otomo (as anyone who has read the two epics mentioned above can attest).

Both Otomo’s character design and his mechanical design are world class and the whole package combines to create a comic that you can completely lose yourself in (if only for a small amount of time). My favourite aspect of Farewell (besides the cool robot design and the power suits that the soldiers to use to battle it) is its ending. Satirical and biting, it ends on a blackly funny note that I was not expecting.

An article in the back of the book states it’s believed that this is the first use of mechanical “Power suits” in Japanese comics. I’m not entirely sure that this is true but given the amount of manga released in that era researching them all would be quite a monumental task, particularly back then.

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If you enjoy Farewell to Weapons perhaps you should check out the anime anthology film/multimedia project Short Peace which has an adaptation of the story as one segment of four short films. Although not directed by Otomo (instead it was directed by Gundam design veteran Hajime Katoki) it keeps his trademark character design and the look of everything from the book but also adds a bit more characterisation and an entirely new finale and does a fantastic job of translating it from the page to the screen.

In addition to the US “floppy” comic there is a Japanese softcover edition of the manga which combines the entire original story as it was printed in Young magazine with an art book for the anime adaptation featuring many Katoki illustrations done in Otomo’s style with background info. Unfortunately it’s Japanese only but if you love peering at design sketches (particularly those of mecha) you’ll get a kick out of it.
Overall despite its short nature Farewell to Weapons is an engaging little read that fans of sci-fi, mecha and Otomo-San should enjoy. I’m glad to have it in my collection. Let’s hope more of the man’s early work makes it to the west eventually. Domu is due a reprint too!

NOTE: The movie Short Peace was available on Blu ray in some territories on its own however it was also bundled with a PS3 game under the title Short peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day. The game’s inclusion along with the movies was intended as a kind of multimedia project, the idea being that you watch all four of the short films included on the BD-Rom Blu Ray disc and then complete the story by playing through the game. In addition to Katushiro Otomo and Hajime Katoki a huge number of industry veterans worked on the films as well as quirky videogame developer Suda 51 on the game itself. I think the resulting work is a hugely interesting and unusual collaboration that definitely deserves more attention than it received. At the time of writing the PAL version can be picked up for next to nothing on Amazon UK.

 

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