Mardock Scramble, Volume 1

Creator: Yoshitoki Oima
Original story: Tow Ubukata

U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781935429531
Released: August 2011
Original release: 2010

When I learned that Kodansha Comics was publishing the English edition of Yoshitoki Oima’s manga adaptation of Tow Ubukata’s award-winning Mardock Scramble, I was very interested. I read the original work earlier this year when it was published by Haikasoru. There were some things I loved about it and some things I most definitely didn’t. But what occurred to me at the time I read it was that the story would make a fantastic basis for a visual adaptation, which is why I am happy to get the chance to read Oima’s manga and see what could be done with it. The first volume of Oima’s Mardock Scramble was originally published in 2010, seven years after the publication of Ubukata’s series. The English edition of the manga was released by Kodansha in 2011. Oima’s Mardock Scramble is currently at five volumes and is still ongoing. I’m interested to see how the nearly seven hundred pages of source material is incorporated into the series.

Rune Balot thought she wanted to die. But when Shell Septinos inexplicably takes her in off the streets, and just as inexplicably kills her, she discovers that might not be quite the case. Rescued by Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, private investigators who are trying to pin a series of murders of young women to Shell, Balot finds her body and life restored using an illicit technology known as Mardock Scramble 09. Her life is still far from perfect, and Shell still wants her dead, but suddenly she is more powerful than she has ever been before. At least physically. Balot’s natural talent, skill, and ability to adapt to the new technology and the new body that she has been given is nothing short of impressive.

For the most part I liked Oima’s character designs although those for Shell and Dr. Easter were frustratingly similar. However, Oima did capture Easter’s eccentricity quite well with his gestures and facial expressions. This made me happy because Dr. Easter is a personal favorite of mine from the novel. The city landscapes are marvelously detailed and can actually be a bit overwhelming at times. This does seem appropriate though since Balot also finds her environment to be overwhelming as she is getting used to her new powers. However some of the other panels are completely lacking any sort of background at all. It works well in some cases and makes the reader focus on the characters since there is nothing else, but the difference is jarring and breaks up the cohesiveness of the artwork as a whole. One thing that I did particularly like seeing was Oima’s visual representation of Balot’s powers and how she learns to use and focus them. I thought the portrayal of her ability to sense and connect with the object around her was handled very well.

As an adaptation, I think that Oima’s Mardock Scramble is off to a good start. For some reason, I found the naming conventions (everything is an egg reference) to be much more distracting in the manga than it was in the novels. It’s something that couldn’t really be changed though without running the risk of angering established fans of Mardock Scramble, so new readers simply have to put up with it. Since I have read the novels and therefore have a pretty good background in what’s going on in Mardock Scramble, it’s a little difficult for me to give my impressions of the manga alone. However, I do think the manga has good potential as its own series. At this point, there are certainly more questions than answers—it is only the first volume after all—but Oima does a decent job introducing the most important story elements even if it feels like a lot of the details are glossed over. If someone hasn’t read the original Mardock Scramble this might not be as noticeable, although some information seems to come out of nowhere and nothing’s thoroughly explained. Still, I’m interested in seeing how Oima will continue to handle things and plan on reading more of the Mardock Scramble manga.

Mardock Scramble

Author: Tow Ubukata
Translator: Edwin Hawkes
U.S. Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421537641
Released: January 2011
Original release: 2003
Awards: Nihon SF Taisho Award

Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata was originally released in Japan in 2003 as a three volume series, granted with a month of one another. Also in 2003, Mardock Scramble won Ubukata the 24th annual Nihon SF Taisho Award. The three books—The First Compression, The Second Combustion, and The Third Exhaust—were published in an English translation by Viz Media’s Japanese speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru as a single, massive tome. Haikasoru’s edition of Mardock Scramble was released in 2011 with a translation by Edwin Hawkes. Mardock Scramble is the first of Ubukata’s novels to be made available in English although at least two of his manga series, the first three volumes of Pilgrim Jäger and the entirety of Le Chevalier d’Eon, have seen publication in English. The manga adaptation of Mardock Scramble is scheduled for English release in August 2011 from Kodansha Comics and an anime adaptation was released in 2010.

Rune-Balot was fifteen when she was murdered by her benefactor Shell-Septinos. Balot’s life was a difficult one; she was abused as a child and forced into prostitution. A part of her wanted to die, but another part wanted to live. Two PIs investigating Shell at the time of Balot’s death were able to rescue her. Eager to prove their usefulness to society, they initiated the life preservation program Mardock Scramble 09. Balot’s body is combined with highly advanced and normally illegal technology, giving her her life back along with super human abilities. She, who had been powerless for so long, could now fight back. Along with the support of the PIs, Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, who have some interesting capabilities of their own, Balot is eager to get her revenge. But shell isn’t completely defenseless. His extremely powerful and brutal bodyguard Boiled, who also happens to be Oeufcoque’s old partner, is more than prepared to nullify Balot’s existence.

I find Mardock Scramble difficult to classify. It’s definitely speculative fiction, and most likely science fiction although it doesn’t always feel that way. I’ve also seen the series referred to as cyberpunk, which almost fits. But whatever it is, Mardock Scramble is a lot of fun. For the most part. The action sequences and gun fights are exciting and easy to follow; the characters are likeable and interesting, each with their own quirks and unique personalities. The frequent egg puns and references were a bit odd, but fit well with the vague strangeness of the story. The technology might not always be believable, but some of it is, and even if it’s not it’s still pretty cool. I didn’t quite understand some of the worldbuilding; the bizarre legal and law enforcement system is still a mystery to me, which is unfortunate since it’s fairly important to the story.

I am very glad the Haikasoru decided to publish Mardock Scramble as a single volume, otherwise I’m not sure I would have finished the series and that would have been a pity. I loved the first book, enjoyed much of the second, and thought the action packed ending of the third was great. But in the middle of the quickly paced story, there’s a lengthy scene that takes place in a casino that slows things down tremendously. I didn’t mind this at first, and even enjoyed it and found it interesting to some extent. But after one hundred eighty pages of Blackjack, I was getting impatient. Maybe if it was a gambling game that I actually cared about, like Mahjong, I would have been okay. But I don’t give a damn about Blackjack, even if it was necessary for the story. Overall though, I did enjoy Mardock Scramble: I liked the quirky characters, I liked their captivating backstories, I found the twisting plot to be entertaining. And Hawkes’ translation is fantastically smooth. With the creativity displayed by Ubukata in Mardock Scramble, I wouldn’t mind exploring some of his other works.