Zero - General thoughts and visual comparison
Zero is a 22 chapter manga written and illustrated by Taiyou Matsumoto, which was published in Big Comic Spirits from 1991 to 1992. Matsumoto is an important contemporary artist, whose work has recieved multiple anime adaptations, some by important directors themselves, such as Masaaki Yuasa who directed the TV anime adaptation of Ping Ping. I decided to start my read through of his works with one of his first serializations. The series is about a boxer, Goshima, who has never lost a single match in his long career, giving him the eponymous nickname. However, as he is approaching thirty years of age, doubts are beginning to grow in regards to just how long he can keep up his insane winning streak, and he begins searching for one who can give him an honorable way to end his career.
A running theme throughout the work is that the main character, Goshima, is more than human, in an almost literal sense. Such as in page 21 of vol 1 ch 1, where Goshima’s physician states as much. The interesting thing about this observation is that it is often portrayed literally, such as in these pages.
A thing I do find necessary to criticise is that while Matsumo clearly took the “know the rules before you break them” idiom to heart, sometimes he may have broken the rules a few too many times. This is an issue because Zero is a boxing series, and one of the most important aspects of such a work, or anything sports related really, is impact. If you look at something such as Hajime no Ippo, there is immense impact in the punches, however there is very little of that, and at times none of it in Zero.
Occasionally, it even feels like it's completely static, as if you’re looking at mannequins set up in positions where it looks like they’re about to punch each other. It doesn’t flow very well, although this is mostly an issue in the panels that focus on a larger area. Though whenever a panel focuses on a small area, it looks good, this is because when a page is a collection of smaller panels rather than large ones, you feel a greater sense of movement due to the progression of the scene happening faster.
Before I conclude this writeup, I want to mention that I found strong similarities between the symbolism and cityscapes that Matsumoto portrays in Zero, and those of norwegian pop artist Hariton Pushwagner. One of the strongest recurring themes in Pushwagner’s pieces was his psychedelic portrayals of urban areas, repetition and frequent use of pinks and yellows, the latter of which can be observed in most of his pieces. Japanese comics may be printed in black and white, but it is the cityscapes and the similarites in the way faces are drawn that are the most striking in terms of resemblances.
In conclusion, Zero is a very enjoyable manga, and also a very nice introduction to Taiyou Matsumoto’s body of work as a whole, which makes sense considering that it is one of his first works. The flower symbolism which I didn’t even mention here is very interesting, and the unconventional abstract art style has really cemented Matsumoto as an important contemporary artist in the current landscape of anime and manga.