Gorgeous Despair – “Dokushi” Manga Review

Will I ever stop reading manga out of my league? Absolutely not, because that’s not fun. However, it’s certainly something to keep in mind though. My phone almost died several times while reading because of how many times I had to look up kanji. Reading a manga with police investigation and specialized branches will do that to you.

“Dokushi” or “The Reader” is not your typical crime investigation manga however. We follow a teen Kasumi Shiro, a lone survivor from a plane crash six years earlier. In said incident he lost his right eye, and now has an artificial one to ‘see’ with. This eye perceives much more then light, but also into the past. Shiro is determined to use his abilities to see past events to unravel why his mother was murdered, and track down the killer.

When I first started reading the series, aside from the art style I would have never guessed it was Higuchi Sensei. From the first page, this series was a 180 degree change from prior works like “Whistle!” or “Go Ahead!”. The opening pages are graphic, with the intention to shock and startle, but in a mature manner to set the ever present ominous feeling. While our protagonist is still in high school, the concepts were significantly more mature, as expected with a story based in criminal cases. A few stand outs that are and at times not, related to the crimes investigated are single parenthood, PTSD, and even the psychology of being the child of a killer. Needless to say, this story is one were viewer discretion is not only advised but strong encouraged.

However, one of the most powerful themes for me was PTSD being represented not only accurately but with recovery. So while the scenes where a character was having a flashback were difficult to read at times, they were real, raw, and accurate. These scenes were not just tragedy fodder either to make us sympathize with these characters. Sensei actually wrote a real character therapist. A therapist that has had a long-standing relationship with Shiro, and there are scenes dedicated to therapy sessions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen traumatized kids in manga, attending therapy before and it made me so happy to have at least one manga show this, and help normalize it.

The themes, and messages are powerful, but what sold the story was the art. Higuchi Sensei and their assistants were absolutely on point every chapter. From line work, textures and more, everything was so crisp. I’ve had the opportunity to read all of Sensei’s works even their newest, but nothing will top the art of “Dokushi”. The cover art is simple, but impactful. The two page spreads for particular scenes are used sparingly, for maximum impact and it shows. In addition to character expressions, panel divisions are are smartly utilized within the series.

While related to the art, but focusing on paneling, the biggest negative is dialogue density. Some panels are completely dominated by character dialogue, to the point of distraction. Many of these are during the police investigation discussion scenes, which makes sense. I’ll admit for those pages, I skimmed those pages over reading them in-full. My loss, mostly with time since I’d have to go back and re-read.

So moving into the crimes/mysteries that Shiro and crew are exposed to. These events are reasonable, although at times surprising. Even the most ‘out there’ events get their proper explanation which grounds them back into the story. None of the cases are open and shut, often being revisited for clarification or in relation to the next set of events. Yes, there are some events that are overdramatic, but it’s never so overblown that it’s beyond plausibility within the story.

Moving into the characters, I would like to give a toast to Higuchi-Sensei. Thank you for having a teen cast, that do teen things and get into teen trouble. To balance that out, thank you for actually having a cast of adults being responsible and looking out for them too. Shiro does get involved in an investigation, but he is never saddled with doing all the work. He is in danger but the adults, the detectives, his caretaker are competent enough to bail him out when he inevitably fucks up.

For all my heaps of praise, and bias because let’s be real; I love Higuchi-Sensei’s works deeply. There are a few problems with the story. The first being one of the couples that gets together. Shiro getting together with another equally damaged girl left a bit of a unpleasant taste in my mouth. Two broken people does not make for a stable relationship. Said instability is shown in the series, but it doesn’t make me feel like there’s a bit of glorification in the doomed romance. It gets points for showing the large problems, and having the romance end before it ever really starts. There’s a combination of Sensei’s inexperience in writing romance, as well as the story not lending itself to having romance within it.

A great image, but a deeply flawed relationship to be honest.

The next biggest issue is probably the most noticeable, which is the ending and the pacing. The conclusion is dramatically and quickly wrapped up. So first, the pacing, because I sincerely believe Sensei intended “Dokushi” to go much longer then it did. For whatever reason, the series wrapped when it did and the series was cut short. There were a lot of plot points that were originally laid out to lead to much much longer but still logical story.

This was especially clear with the arch involving Hirou Ryou. That particular arch to me, felt like the beginning of bigger conflicts, but ended up being a core arch instead. Ryou’s arch had really good build up to, climax, and conclusion. I sense that after the conclusion that something shifted with original readership, and they didn’t react the way I did. Thus, plot points and individual characters that I theorize were suppose to get their own arches never got them. Many points were were introduced slowly were then explained, and closed rather quickly especially in volumes nine and ten.

Which leads to this bittersweet ending, that I am still choked up thinking about. Just simply because at first I could not believe it ended there. I was super critical of it. But, I went back and read it all over slower, not skipping dialogue, and coming to terms that with the information given, the story is in fact over. Ominously in a semi-open ending, but the canon universe has said that “Dokushi” is over. It didn’t help that the final volume really had the writing on the wall. It tried really hard to not feel rushed, which I give kudos too, but it’s still admittedly rushed.

Also, these two page spreads that Higuchi-Sensei uses are excellant. Every time they’re so unique.

Despite my gripes, I am still highly satisfied with having been able to read this series in full. I’ve never had the page-turner experience with a manga I’ve read completely in Japanese before, so that was thrilling for me. Of Sensei’s serialized works, I have to say “Dokushi”, despite it’s flaws, is still in my top three series. I really consider this story a hidden gem of Sensei’s and in manga in general. So with that status, it’s a shame that it probably will never get an official translation. If you do by chance get the opportunity to read this series; do it. It’s absolutely worth it.

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