Review: Opus

OPUS is Kon’s beautiful and tragic inquiry into what any creator owes his/her creations in worlds both fictional and real. If you are unfamiliar with the name Satoshi Kon, get familiar.  As far as I'm concerned, there's Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, and then everyone else on planet earth.  Kon was an assistant artist on the Akira manga, meaning that he did as much work (if not more, but we won't go there) as Otomo himself.  He then went on to direct the full-length features Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika all to critical acclaim, while also having the anime series Paranoia Agent under his direction.  Kon passed away in 2010 before he could share more of his gifts with us.

OPUS was one of Kon's few forays into manga, serialized in a magazine called "Comic Guys" from 1995-96.  It follows the story of mangaka Chikara Nagai as he is pulled into the world of his own manga, forced to face first hand the decisions he's made regarding the lives of his characters, not to mention his assistant's sometimes shoddy background work.

Meta-fiction is a hard thing to capture without being heavy-handed.  My favorite meta-fictional work to date is Si Spurrier's Six Gun Gorilla which manages to funnel anything preachy it has to say about the medium through a damn talking gorilla: a great way to circumvent any apparent heavy-handedness.  Kon's meta-fiction is much more straightforward, with the author being pulled straight into a world of his own creation, but rather than causing any eye-rolling, the encounters between Nagai and his creations are often humanizing.  Just imagine bursting through the paradox of fiction and meeting your favorite characters, either in our reality or theirs: now imagine that it was your own mind and pen that gave them life.

Opus 11.19.14The depth of Kon's conscience is present on every page, often in the reactions, verbal and not, of Nagai.  You can almost see Kon sitting at his desk, worrying about the characters he's brought to life.  Surely at some point he laughs it off but somewhere in his mind lurks a worry.  OPUS is the exorcism of that fear.  Much in the tradition of AkiraOPUS moves fast, comes to abrupt dramatic halts, and never allows you to feel comfortable with your estimation of reality at any given point.  I would absolutely love to see a crack team of animators get their hands on making a movie out of this series with some of the surreal places that Kon takes our perspective of the line between fiction and reality.

The kinds of questions that OPUS makes the reader ask seem pretty typical for meta-fiction, but when abstracted, are deeply unsettling in ways that most people would probably rather avoid.  Just imagine debates about the existence of God in "Resonance," the story within Kon’s story.  They might, like many of us in the real world, reject the cosmological argument for God's existence, since even if God caused everything there would always be the question of what caused Him.  Nagai then walks the streets as their Creator pondering the same damn thing as he has descended from a world just as imperfect and fleeting as the world of fiction he himself created.  At least the inhabitants of Nagai's creation need not struggle with the origins of evil when they can see that their creator is just as clueless as they are.  Of course, even where the fiction is as real as anything else, it is still the author who is most affected by the perils of his own story.

OPUS was never finished.  The magazine publishing OPUS went under, and could not finish publishing a series that surely Kon could have wrapped up in only a few chapters.  Of course, these days, he could probably jump through enough hoops (legal and financial) in order to self-publish the remainder of his series.  Perhaps this would have been possible, but Kon had also begun a project which would set him on his arc as a renowned filmmaker: Perfect Blue.

All too fitting in all too many ways, the end of OPUS is abrupt and heartbreaking.  The collection comes to a close with a posthumously roughed-in chapter from Kon's files.  At the close is a simple sketch of one of the main characters, Satoko, with a signed thanks from Kon for all his readers, and some final words:

I'm not sure where or when, but i look forward to meeting you again!

Kon was immensely talented, and though OPUS slows at times, it contains sparks of brilliance that some creators go an entire career without generating.  Kon was a master of layering both breathtaking images and ideas, and had an equal mastery of intertwining the two at his command.  OPUS is one of the earliest hints of this mastery, and is the kind of work that you keep on your shelf and flip through for the 100th time when everything else you are reading sucks.

Score: 5/5

Writer/Artist/Creator: Satoshi Kon Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $19.99 Release Date: 11/26/14 Format: TPB; Print/Digital