Kabuki Library Edition Volume 4
Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: David Mack
Artists: David Mack, Rick Mays and Dave Johnson
Cover: David Mack
In 1994 writer and artist, David Mack published Kabuki, a noir tale of a female assassin in near future Japan. She is one of eight female assassins working for an organization known as The Noh. After working with the Noh for most of her life she is brought into conflict against them and attempts to destroy them leading to a brutal battle against the organization’s leader and her half brother that left her near death. After resigning herself to death she lays down to die next to her mother’s grave only to be abducted by a rival agency of the Noh and hidden away.
Kabuki Library Edition Volume 4 is a collection of two stories first published separately called Masks of the Noh and Scarab: Lost in Translation. Masks of the Noh introduces the remaining seven assassins as they are tasked by the rebuilt Noh organization to locate and eliminate Kabuki. Each Noh assassin is drastically different from the others while being extremely deadly in their own right. David Mack takes the time to introduce each assassin with a bit of flourish. As they’re introduced Mack makes a point to show off their unique abilities and personalities as dramatically as possible. However, having to introduce so many characters weakens the book.
The first story, Masks of the Noh, feels disjointed. With seven protagonists to follow, even with an overarching storyline playing out between them, Mack is forced to jump from character to character to push the story along without actually fleshing any of them out. There are a few weird transitions where you can miss the cue telling you, as the reader, that he’s telling the story from a different perspective and quite a few disconnected dialogue bubbles leaving it unclear who’s speaking.
Scarab doesn’t suffer from the same issues Masks of the Noh does. This story, while featuring a few other the other assassins focuses exclusively on the backstory of Scarab as told to her friend and fellow assassin Tigerlilly. Scarab’s recruitment to the Noh is very reminiscent of a certain film called “La Femme Nikita”. After the death of her best friend and boyfriend at the hands of a Yakuza underboss Scarab is arrested and given a choice to join the Noh organization. They fake her death in exchange for her service as a tool of the Noh leading her down a hard road of blood, misery and murder. The best thing about Scarab: Lost In Translation and the thing elevates it above Masks of the Noh is that Mack actually takes his time to build Scarab as a relatable person. Through this tale you build a solid relationship with her, love with her, cry with her and actually build a foundation that carries through to the end of the story and what a wonderfully cinematic ending it is.
Kabuki Library Edition Vol 4 is an incredibly beautiful book all the way through. The traditional manga art style blended with the bold blacks and mood of film noir works really well. The majority of Masks of the Noh takes place at night with panels filled with action, blood, tears and heavy shadows. Each assassin gets their own Sin City style panel that could easily stand on it’s own as a print if you remove the thought bubbles. Another thing that must be mentioned is the artist’s ability to convey the ladies emotions panel to panel. Even though each assassin wears a mask somehow the artists still manage to express their emotions by context of the scene and surrounding panels.
Overall, while it was interesting to learn about the assassins, to me it was ultimately unnecessary. I understand why these two volumes would be collected together, even when they’re not necessarily in chronological order. However, Scarab is the only one you as a reader is going to need to care about and having her story fleshed out so well and so completely overshadows Masks of the Noh. You never spend enough time with the other assassins for them to have the same impact. Scarab: Lost in Translation alone is worth the price of the book with the addition of the painted artwork, cosplay photos, and alternate cover art at the back of the book. There are also some storyboard panels thrown in that give the readers a little behind the scenes look which I thought was pretty cool.