Title: Rose Guns Days
Author: Ryukishi07 (story), Soichiro (art)
Publisher: Yen Press
Volume: Volume 1, $13.00
Vintage: 2012 by Square Enix, September 2015 by Yen Press
Genre: Action, alternate history, based on a visual novel
Japan, devastated by an island wide catastrophe, surrendered to US and Chinese forces to end WWII. The Americans and Chinese immediately began reconstruction efforts, rebuilding the country into a place unrecognizable by its native inhabitants, and swelling the population to create a Japanese minority. Three years later, the Japanese people struggle to survive in a country split by American and Chinese factions vying for control of the island nation. Leo Shishigami returns to his country to find nothing is as he remembers, and he also walks smack into a turf war when he rescues Rose Haibara from an American mafia group run by Alfred Akagi. Alfred has been after Rose and her brothel, Primavera, for some time, demanding protection money that Rose refuses to provide. Most of her guards have been chased away by Alfred, but she maintains a small, loyal group that includes, Wayne, Richard, Cyrus, Meryl, and Stella. Leo plans to move on after a good meal, but quickly realizes there’s little work to be had in Tokyo. Japanese and destitute foreigners fight for daily, low paying work at employment houses, but more permanent jobs require mastery of English or Chinese. Many resort to joining the American or Chinese armies, and Leo finds himself about to do the same when he returns to Primavera to say goodbye to Rose. Alfred is there causing trouble again, and Leo steps in when Rose’s normal bodyguard, Wayne, is overwhelmed. Grateful for all his help. Rose invites Leo to be a bodyguard for Primavera, and he happily agrees. Alfred isn’t finished causing trouble, however. This time he’s kidnapped one of the club’s girls, Claudia, and demands Rose come and meet him. Trusting her bodyguards to rescue her, Rose agrees, and the fearless Leo again leads the charge to save the day.
Yen Press publishes a lot of manga based on visual novel games, but we never get to play those games, which is really disappointing when interesting characters show up. Visual novels are certainly getting more exposure here, thanks in large part to publishers like Sekai Project. But there’s still a wealth of games we’ll never get to see in America, such as Quin Rose’s Alice in the Country of Hearts games. They don’t all transfer into manga very well (Crimson Empire, for example, did nothing for me), but this one manages to feel unique and keep a pacing that doesn’t read like a truncated, single pathway video game. It’s a fun read, with cute girls, ass kicking, and a lead male who falls into a pretty typical cutout while still managing to feel different. He’s mysterious, a bit quiet, flirtatious, and of course a complete badass. He could be any number of male leads, but there’s a little something about him that stands out. I can’t quite put my finger on it – maybe it’s his simultaneously tacky (lime green pinstripes, dude?) and cool looking suit. He also smokes more than probably any character I’ve seen – there’s barely a panel in here where he doesn’t have a cigarette in his mouth. Leo is a bit flippant, and his attitude derives from experiencing a brutal war. There’s a couple brief glimpses of a darker, crueler side to him, but it’s hidden well behind a smile and a joking manner. The supporting cast includes a loud mouthed younger man who is slightly incompetent despite his skill (Wayne), a large man with boisterous laughter and a good heart (Cyrus), calm and cool Richard, bubbly and fearless Meryl, and big breasted flirt Stella. Rose is the delicate yet tough moe heroine that everyone wants to protect. They’re drawn to perfectly fit their archetypes, but they do interact well together and everyone feels like they belong in this story. Soichiro’s art is solid, although action-heavy panels can be difficult to follow. The emotions characters experience are simple, but clearly illustrated. The version of history presented in the story is certainly different, but it feels plausible. Less reconstruction and more colonization, like a more extreme version of foreign influence in Japan post WWII (of which there was plenty). You could probably interpret it as anti-foreign influence (or even anti-American, or China) if you really wanted to, but I don’t think the story is meant to have that kind of depth. Just an alternate world where these characters can thrive. And they do thrive in their own little pocket of unrecognizable Tokyo, with the implication that Leo’s arrival is going to bring some serious change.