I have been waiting for this forever. I have been waiting for this even before it was a thing. I wanted to read Aida Saki and Takashina Yuu’s Deadlock novel series, but I knew the chances of it getting licensed in English were pretty low, so I hoped for a manga adaptation. Of course there was no guarantee the manga would get licensed either, but the chances were greater. And here we are with the first volume.
This is a story about former DEA agent, Yuto Lennix, who was framed for murder and is now looking at 15 years hard time. The FBI comes along and offers him a way out: If he can find the leader of a terrorist group he’ll be released immediately. Easy enough, right? Maybe not when your first day ends with the possibility of a broken rib or two and you’re just fortunate enough to bunk with one of the scariest guys in the joint. But Yuto here, though he has a quiet demeanor, is pretty tough and he somehow manages to make progress with the inadvertent assistance and distractions of some of the people in his new home, Schelger Prison’s A-Block West.
The relationship between Yuto and his bunkmate, Dick Burnford, is tenuous at best. He starts out as a pitiable existence to Dick and by the end of the volume we can tell that his standing with Dick has improved, but we still aren’t quite sure where that puts him. Yuto was troubled because they just didn’t seem to mesh well and even when Dick started responding to him without seeming annoyed, he still felt that he didn’t get the guy at all. Aida doesn’t make it any clearer for the reader either. We only know what Yuto knows and what Yuto knows is that Dick is a mystery. By all accounts, Dick is strong in mind and body, but he considers himself weak. I’m not sure if Yuto understands when Dick explains it, but it seems to be a weakness of the heart. Although his expression rarely changes, he appears to be relaxed around Nathan, the library clerk, and Mickey, the resident smuggler. That apparent closeness bothers Yuto and makes him question the distance between himself and Dick.
There are no sexy times to be had in this volume, but that doesn’t mean the topic doesn’t come up and when it does, it’s crude, barbarous, and based on survival, and Yuto wants no parts of it. However, I sensed a change in his attitude towards the end even though his conversations were much to the contrary. He certainly doesn’t realize it, but his awareness of Dick is changing. I’m eager to see how rapidly this little flame transforms into a conflagration. With Takashina’s pen, it’s bound to be hot.
Speaking of … Takashina has been a favorite of mine for a few years now and I was sad for some time since she only did novel, cover, and stand alone illustrations. I’ve always wanted to admire her work in my hands in the form of a manga, so I was super happy that she was offered the opportunity to illustrate the Deadlock manga series as well. I know mangaka and illustrators have assistants, but I have to believe that since only one name is going to be associated with the artwork, they have to have a say in the overall direction of how the story is visually presented. One of the things I loved about Deadlock‘s artwork was that there was a lot of variety in the features and builds of the characters. I think this is really important when telling a story where the ethnic diversity of the cast demands it. Though they are rarely seen in manga, black men are usually drawn tall and broad or short and round with bald heads, broad noses, and full pale (pink) lips. I’ve just come to accept that some people don’t care to diversify. This is not the case with Deadlock and I’m grateful. As this story is also Aida’s I’m certain she requested a heterogenous cast as that is the kind of storyteller she is.
It’s been a while since I read Aida’s S, so I kind of forgot how in depth she gets and how real she likes her stories to feel. You won’t get through S without understanding exactly what Shiiba does, how the S relationships work, and lots of info you probably never considered about guns in Japan. Aida lays it all out for you and you learn as you go without breaking the flow. It seems the same can be said for Deadlock.
I’ve certainly never done hard time, but I do know a little something about some of the various prison systems in the US and I have to say, she did her homework. I think it’s easy enough to find out about regulations and so forth, but she really nailed it with building the atmosphere and attitudes of the various characters and all without coming off as racist or relying on vague stereotypes. When a person of one culture or ethnicity writes creatively about one or more other cultures or ethnicities and how they interact amongst themselves and with each other, it can get tricky. Even in creative works that present or deal with racism and the authors have poetic license, it is still possible to identify bigotry. While there is some truth in every stereotype, you have to be careful not to make the the stereotype seem like the absolute, without exception truth. And I think, so far, Aida’s managing to.
Dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s … There weren’t too many typos, but I’ve only read through it twice. However, one thing that stood out, even though I only remember one instance, is that “Lennix” was misspelled as “Lenix.” That coupled with “Yuto” being spelled with only one “u,” makes me itch. It just doesn’t look right.
All in all I’m enjoying the story. I’ve learned quite a bit about Yuto, but this is only the first volume, so I’m sure there’s more to come. And although it ends with a couple pages of bonus prose that gives us some comical insight into the perplexity that is Dick, we still know next to nothing about him and not that much more about the rest of the cast. Hopefully the wait for the next volume where we’ll learn more will be a short one.
Notes: I think I read somewhere that the second volume is supposed to released in Japan in June, but I couldn’t find it on Amazon.