4. A book written in East Asia: I Am a Hero: Omnibus Volume 1 by Kengo Hanazawa
List Progress: 10/30
Sometimes it can be tricky to tell whether a character holds an opinion and the writer is trying to comment on that opinion, or if the writer themselves holds that belief. Characters and narratives can be many different types of mouthpieces, and just because a book contains something does not mean that the book necessarily endorses it. But as with most things, this is a spectrum. The first omnibus of the manga I Am a Hero contains many misogynist characters, some of whom the narrative is clearly taking potshots at. But the framing of the female characters also leaves a lot to be desired, so it becomes difficult to say where author Kengo Hanazawa falls. But even beyond the issues of gender, I am a Hero can be a difficult series to stomach, sometimes literally.
This omnibus of I Am a Hero contains the contents of the first two Japanese collections and is the first two parts of twenty two, so there is a lot more story to come. The first half of the omnibus moves very slowly, setting up the life and relationships of protagonist Hideo, an unhinged yet passive man who sees himself as a bit character in his own life, constantly surpassed by those around him. He is an aspiring manga author, but has seen constant set-backs, and while he has a girlfriend, he worries that she is still in love with her ex. He also sees frequent visions and hallucinations of figures following him or alternative versions of how reality plays out. He takes comfort and security from owning a licensed sporting rifle, a rare possession in Japan. But on the edges of this story, in events taking places in the margins, something huge is building and it bursts into the forefront at the start of the second book: a zombie outbreak.
Suddenly Hideo and his fellow shut-in coworkers have a situation where they can lash out against the world that they think has treated them unfairly, and suffer no consequences for their decisions. Hideo’s fellow manga-inker Mitani is clearly ecstatic to beat a zombie to death, one that just so happened to be a female coworker who had turned down his advances and was sleeping with their boss. Hideo is enraged when the shambling corpse of his girlfriend is still moaning her ex-boyfriend’s name in a death rattle.This series, at least the beginning of it, posits the zombie apocalypse as an incel’s fantasy.
It’s a fascinating idea and one that cuts to the quick of a lot of zombie and apocalyptic media. But just because something is cutting doesn’t necessarily make it pleasant to read. Hideo has his moments of sweetness, and his gradual acceptance of what has befallen him is interesting, but it is difficult to pump myself up for twenty more books with this character. Add to that some very squishy body horror, more grotesque than interesting, and it becomes a difficult book to recommend to any but the most devoted horror fans. Maybe the rest of the series grows into something lovely; Hanazawa has won many awards, for both I Am a Hero and others, and there have been multiple spin-offs and a movie adaptation, so clearly it speaks to a lot of people. But I cannot say I will be rushing out to find the next omnibus.
Would I Recommend It: Unfortunately no.