Comic Review: “My Deadly Beloved” (Jean-Paul Deshong)
Konichiwa! Today we’re going to take a look at My Deadly Beloved by Jean-Paul Deshong.*
Set in the beginning of Japan’s unification period (approximately 250-500 AD), My Deadly Beloved is a girthy, nearly 200-page, mostly black and white graphic novel. I say “mostly” as there are moments where splashes of color are used for mood or to highlight certain parts of a page.
The story follows two “star-crossed lovers”, a noble samurai working to unite the disparate prefectures and a deadly kunoichi whose ninja clan is going along with the plan without a fight. The overall theme pits modernization versus tradition, and the “right” path isn’t 100% clear, at least not from my reading of it.
Despite its pitch as a love story in the time of war, My Deadly Beloved’s main plot really does follow a group of noble lords and their loyal samurai as they are trying to drag those in the outskirts of Japan’s countryside into a unified future. There is infighting and power vacuums forming as a result, and taming these free spirits is going to be no small task.
There were interesting layers of plot, and while the love story between Captain Jinjaku and Akemi is certainly one of them, there are plenty of other characters and supporting narratives being explored, perhaps with the exception of the My Deadly Beloved’s primary villain, who seemed a bit one-note. I suppose his giant club weapon suited him pretty well…
Throughout the twists and turns, I found that the story wasn’t quite as predictable as I expected it to be. There is a lot of action, which is broken up well in ways that actually make sense. The relationship between Jinjaku and Akemi seems to be based more on a developing respect for each other rather than on physical or other romantic attraction. The book comes to a satisfying but open-ended conclusion with the primary conflict resolved, but the characters are left in a place where they have plenty of directions to go next, from a narrative standpoint.
Inspired by the dynamic and bold lines of Japanese artwork, Deshong’s illustrations are visually engaging and evoke a sense of movement. The characters are distinct and well designed, and it is usually easy to tell them apart from each other, despite the artwork being black and white. The splashes of color are done fairly well, though I do wish there was a slight bit more of it throughout the book.
Perhaps My Deadly Beloved’s biggest sticking point is that it is very difficult to tell what is happening with the action at times. There are multiple panels where I couldn’t quite make out the forms at all, and some action sequences where I didn’t understand how one moment eventually led to the next. In addition, the main characters often take what looks like a lot of damage without dying, and then somehow are back on the mend, ready for battle at a superhuman pace.
None of this seems to affect the overall story too much, as you can easily flip over a page or two and think, “they fight, Character A wins, story resumes” to keep the flow moving properly. The book can be read this way, but it shouldn’t need to be, and outside of redrawing some of the panels, I’m not sure what I would recommend to fix the issues.
If there is any other issue that could rival the nebulous artwork of the action sequences, it is the lettering. Not only are there several typos throughout the book, but some of the word balloon placement is odd too, often making it difficult to follow from speaker to speaker. There is a little bit of transliterated Japanese peppered throughout the book, too, but nothing so important that non-Japanese speakers will get lost. (“Yes”, “Good morning”, etc.).
The book as a whole is broken up into smaller chapters, which makes it very easy to pick up and read in chunks. This is a bit of a godsend given that the book is nearly 200 pages long. Given my family obligations and sometimes hectic schedule, it was nice to be given a natural break from time to time.
Overall, there’s a lot to like in My Deadly Beloved, though it needs some polish to really shine (i.e. typos corrected, word balloon revisions, and some clearer action panels). Otherwise, the story was more than satisfying and not very predictable. While I may wish that a few more panels were colored, the artwork is dynamic and it definitely passes the “rule of cool” test at several key moments. If you are keen on martial arts action, Japanese history, or you dig the artwork shown throughout this review, then I think you’ll enjoy My Deadly Beloved.
At the time of this writing, DeShong is preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign for what he calls the book’s “predecessor” very soon, and there may very well be backer options that include My Deadly Beloved, as well.
*Disclosure: A copy of My Deadly Beloved was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.
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