Manhole is a 2006 thriller manga by mangaka Tetsuya Tsutsui, published in 3 volumes with a total of 29 chapters. It deals with the subject of bio-terrorism an an epidemic of possible gigantic proportions. It also has the trigger subjects of pedophilia, rape and physical abuse.
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Bio-terrorism
As the cover art and the first few coloured pages suggest – Manhole deals with shackled men rising out of manholes, literally.
The story is set in motion when a naked, blood spattered man emerges from a manhole, seemingly directionless and babbling. An impromptu accident results in his death. Upon inspection, it is revealed that he was infected by a modified filaria worm (a disease transmitted by mosquitoes and common in Botswana). Explaining the “effects” would be a spoiler in itself, but the essence is this – Japan is being plagued by bio-terrorism organised by a mastermind who has all 3 – a motive, ambition and the smarts.
Since it’s winter, the police can rest a bit easier since mosquitoes aren’t active, also the worm only seems to spread via contact of bodily fluid and isn’t contagious. However, a series of twists and turns resul
Unlike most similar manga, Manhole gets one thing right – the police and medical department aren’t inefficient. They’re swift, constantly exploring and eking out leads and this makes Manhole an easy read. Reading terrorism manga where the police screw up due to some lackey not being through enough has cost me enough hair on my head, and I’m glad to finally find a manga where the plot is driven by an intelligent cat-and-mouse chase and not held back by inefficiency.
The main characters – Ken Mizoguchi, a hardened, disillusioned investiagtor and his younger and cheerful colleague Nao Inoue are assigned the case. Ken and Nao’s banter playfully bounces against one another and makes for an anti to the serious terrorism plot. It is this duo’s devotion to the cause and Nao’s blinding faith in her senior partner that adds a humane tough to a manga otherwise conceived on a barbaric scale.
Intertwined are the cases of kidnapping of a girl from long ago, which somehow seems to be the answer to the entire plot?
The explanation provided behind the mastermind’s act make us question his actions and maybe even justify them to some extent. Would everyone who went through “such a thing” do the same? Of course not. But can you really blame someone with the adequate facilities and knowledge for taking advantage of their situation and committing a close to perfect crime? You can blame them, but perhaps forgiveness is also on the line.
It is evident that the mangaka has done his research on the subject. All aspects of the modified worm are explained lucidly and the ending contains a reference list of the author’s reads. The art is uncomplicated and separated into clean-cut panels making it an ideal read for someone’s first time venture into the world of manga.
The art is detailed, realistic and borders much on the western style. The coloured pages have webtoon-style art standing somewhere between gross and admirable. Some of the characters, like the mother of the first victim stands out as veritable portraits on their own right.
However, Nao’s character style as compared to the other falls flat. Her face also seems to keep on changing (she is drawn in a more comic style) and only assumed the similar air as others in the last volume when she occupies center stage. (Personal Observation: Why is it that many thriller/ horror manga employ the ant’s perspective for whenever a dramatic scene is revealed? As in image of naked man above^)
The manga is fast-paced and leaves no room for slacking. The plot has adequate twists and turns to keep one engaged. But the manga doesn’t do anything new for the genre – it is one of the many cookie-cutter bio-terrorism novels of a modified organism threatening the population.
Infact, there is hardly any focus on the filaria worm spreading to the general population. Much of the manga is how the two detectives discover and deal with the criminal. There is also enough back story about the criminal himself. Despite this, Manhole doesn’t stand out as a genius in the genre, but rather just a good manga if you will.
Manhole is a good read for anyone looking for works in a similar genre. But if you’re looking for something disturbing enough to rob you of your sleep, this ain’t it. Foxy Turnips gives is 7 turnips out of 10!
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