January 27, 2009
Blank Slate, Vols. 1-2
By Aya Kanno
Zen can't remember who he is or what he's done. The only thing he knows is he feels like he needs to destroy - a fairly clear sign that he wasn't a nice person before he lost his memory. The book begins not with the original first chapter, but with a side-story that replaced it when Kanno realized her story was going to be more than a oneshot.
I enjoyed the story, but feel it might not have been the best introduction. The series is only two volumes long, making the story fairly tight, but Zen is the only character set-up in the chapter. The secondary characters don't arrive until the next chapter. I wish I knew how the original opening went, but all the new one does is establish that Zen is wanted, doesn't know who he is, and dangerous. It also portrays him as a bit more capricious than he is in the rest of the story.
Things really begin when he kidnaps Rian, the blind and protected daughter of a general. She blossoms in her kidnapping because her small, sheltered life chafes her and someone is finally reacting to her without kid gloves. This misadventure leads Zen to the pacifist doctor Hakka, who might be able to help Zen discover the truth of his past.
Kanno's artwork is beautiful, very much shojo - full of bishonen and cool clothes. However, there's a bit more violence than your average shojo, not to say there aren't a number of violent shojo series. She's also an excellent plotter. Things that you might think are unimportant details in an episodic series just might be what ties the chapters together.
Zen's a good lead character - witty, attractive, and as dangerous as people say he is. He lacks motivation aside from discovering his past and he mostly lacks empathy. I think the second chapter does work better as an introduction because what connection to people who does have is revealed in his interaction with Rian. He'd kill her if he needed to, but sees no reason to be cruel. Rian's a good foil to him because she is emotional and girly, but discovering a strength she was never allowed to need. It's a strange relationship but feels true.
The only part of the manga that really bothers me is the ending. It requires all of one character's actions to be an act. It's a bit abrupt and didn't seem to fit with the rest of the story even if it does allow all the pieces to fall into place. Other than that misstep, BLANK SLATE is a well-told, if familiar, story of an assassin and military intrigue.
Both volumes of BLANK SLATE are available now through Viz's SHOJO BEAT imprint. You can also subscribe to SHOJO BEAT which serializes many manga, including the excellent CRIMSON HERO and SAND CHRONICLES. SHOJO BEAT has a MySpace, as does its mascot Moko.