So this review is a long time coming. I’ve had this series for nearly half a year, and have now read it twice. But I feel as though this review is going to be disappointingly short. That aside, let’s dive into the world of Toxic by Takahashi Ryou.
Toxic is set in a world that World War III has recently concluded, and the leader has established a Unified World Government. His standards are for a “Perfect World”, and therefore people with things such as disabilities, believers of a different religion, “traitors”, and other non-conforming people are to be eliminated. The leader of this world, has a personal protection unit called The Black Rose. Luka Oogami, is a recent top graduate joining his older brother Louis, in The Black Rose in order to… save the world.
It’s hard to talk about this series because there are elements that work well within the story. There are also elements that are incredibly bad as well. The balance is hard to really say, but overall Toxic manages to pull this off well enough to be enjoyable for a single read, in my opinion so let’s talk about the positives first.
Toxic for being such a short series, has a lot of world building established quickly and effectively. Although reading it in my second language was a slough to get through, but once I was over the hurtle it moved along well. The setting is pretty limited, but has character and does portray a strong sense of mood. The character relationships are really well established early on. It’s clear the connection between Louis and Luka, who despite being brothers very clearly have separate motivations but simultaneously want to protect the other. Their father is a pretty unique guy himself, and while he meets a tragic end, it’s pulled off well. The story itself, once you get through the opening, is fairly straight forward with little deviation, since there is somewhat of a time constraint on the situation at hand.
However, all that being said Toxic, is in fact rather toxic in itself. It’s very clear that story is secondary to the art, or more specifically the clear… preference the author had of bruised up bishonen characters in military garb. It really looks and reads like young fujoshi bait, but with the added bonus of homosexuality also being an ‘eliminable’ trait. Historically accurate I will give it, but the mixed signals of homosexuality is bad, but bloodied up bishonen in compromising queer coded positions is hot, and all the other debatable elements left a bad taste in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, the author clearly wrote this story so the taboo was meant to be explored, but it wasn’t done in a manner I can agree with.
The other problem is that for only being three volumes, there’s a lot of character clutter. For one thing, titles are given and taken away without any meaningful reasoning. I suppose that might be a point the author was making, but it’s done so half-hazard I can’t give the author credit for that. Additionally, there are so many characters that are introduced only for them to do something worthy of being eliminated for, and they are. It feels convoluted and detracts from our actual main cast of characters who can be surmised as Luka and Louis Oogami, their father, the leader of Unified World Government, and finally Abel Kaufman and his younger brother Johann.
I gave the story props for establishing character relationships earlier on, but beyond their relationships there’s not much to go on. Luka’s goal is to save the world. Louis’s goal is to protect Luka. Their father has his own motivations which I won’t spoil but they’re pretty easy to guess from a story like this. Abel and Johann are… not Nazi’s but pretty much Nazi’s. And we can all agree Nazi’s are bad so Abel and Johann are bad along with the leader.
Art-wise I’m also pretty on the fence about this series. The art isn’t bad by any means. To put it in the nicest of terms, it’s high contrast and very to the point in it’s delivery. Most scenes focus on the character within the panel, lots of close-ups to faces or parts of expressions, and emphasis on the key action taking place. The backgrounds are minimal, with enough detail to establish a loose location but nothing more. There’s minimal use of textures of shading. Which on one hand, suits the theme of the piece well, especially given how much power The Black Rose has throughout the series. On the other hand, it leaves the series looking a little dull in comparison to it’s peers. As you can tell, the characters themselves are striking and handsome, with distinguishing traits to separate them from one another.
At the end of the day, I’m genuinely still confused about how I would list Toxic. It’s definitely not something I would recommend to anyone, as the story, characters, and art all have mixed reviews from me at best, especially since I had to read it twice and am still at a bit of loss for what I read. However, it didn’t drag on too long, and I enjoyed it for what it was. It’s a series that won’t be getting licensed anytime soon, but if you happen to come across a fan translation it’s worth giving a shot if you have the same… preferences, as the author.