Survivorland I Review by Jerry Whitworth
Writer and Artist: Karibu; Editors: V. Leblanc & R. Dupuis; Pin-Up Artists: Nick Bradshaw, Kelly Tindall, Chris Campana, Polyna Kim, Miriam Gibson, Suzuran, Holly Ellingwood, Kelly Barrie, & Andre-Guy Landry
Lab technician Masato Kimura is hired at the medical research company Medifirm where, under Dr. Yamane, he investigated stem cell regeneration. However, Yamane used this research for his own experiments leading to the dead rising and an infection that spreads across Tokyo. Kimura manages to escape only to fight for survival in a city overrun with horrors. Armed with a razor-sharp shovel and joined by his dog companion Red, Kimura is left trying to figure out his next move as the government appears powerless to contain the epidemic. Karibu, who previously published the short story “Les Voyageurs de Houston” and short stories for the anthology series Heroes of the North, Kickstarted Survivorland at the tail end of last year and was inspired to create the series by a George A. Romero movie marathon and chose a manga influence in its approach.
My first reaction to the first volume is it’s short. At a cost of $8.24, you get a little over fifty pages of story content (the book itself is about seventy pages including pin-ups from various artists) where traditional tankobon (digest-sized collection of manga chapters) is about $10 for roughly 200 pages. Though, of course, this book is independently published so producing a title below bulk levels like large corporations means a larger cost for individual units (Survivorland then being better referred as a doujinshi, or self-published comic). In any event, the first volume feels more like establishing the premise than actually digging into what the story will actually be moving forward (unless the overall narrative is simply the adventures of Kimura and Red). If anything, the one-page preview of what’s planned is slightly intriguing as Kimura returns to Medifirm and a female co-star is teased. What attracted me to picking up this title is the artwork. It’s both simple and elegant, using softer lines for the time before the outbreak and sharper ones for the time following it. The character design of Kimura and Red are enchanting with the former being both attractive while rugged and Red appearing innocent and cute (as of yet, we haven’t seen if this will change when Red interacts with the arisen dead). The architecture in the background is simply gorgeous, meticulous detail taken to place the reader in modern-day Tokyo. Where the work suffers, however, is in the story and outline of its structure.
Living in a time with The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, and so many other popular zombie projects, Survivorland desperately needs something to set itself apart. Even placing the story in Tokyo offers little help with series like Highschool of the Dead, Is This a Zombie?, and Tokyo Ghoul are both readily available to the public as well as popular among manga and anime fans. Obviously, the story isn’t going to reveal all of its secrets in the first volume, but part of being so brief is that the reader is given so little to go on with the premise. For example, the time prior to the outbreak felt rushed (and, as a side note, had some syntax errors and misspelling) and the scene following Yamane’s experiment going awry was cut, where it surely could be revisited in a later volume, but the transition was rough as we leaped forward in time to the present. Some hints of Yamane’s motivations or having a secret agenda could have been more purposefully interwoven (though, the book does mention his enthusiasm in the research) and some more commentary injected about the outbreak other than just Kimura’s mention of the government’s inaction. That being said, once it gets into the actual meat of the series, the pacing picks up and makes me curious about where the story might go moving ahead. On its own, the first volume is something of a morsel of what it can be but as yet is too small to be satisfying. If, however, it only whets the appetite for the next volume, I want to see where it goes from here (perhaps then the first three or four volumes could be combined in a more traditional tankobon to serve up something more appetizing for a single sitting).