I’m David: Yuuki Kodama’s ‘Blood Lad’ & Kitty Pryde The Rapper
True story: I bought Yuuki Kodama's Blood Lad almost entirely because of its cover. I was in my local Kinokuniya and noticed what looked suspiciously like a Gorillaz comic on the shelf. It wasn't, of course -- the closest we'll get is Rise of the Ogre -- but it did have an art style that tickled the same part of my brain that digs Jamie Hewlett's work. I was shopping with friends, and they gave it a cautious recommendation. I was a little skeptical, on account of how fan service-filled the book seemed to be at first glance, but a friend offered to buy it off me if I didn't like it, so, hey: why not?
(I also thought that Yuuki Kodama was the same person as Yuki Kodama, creator of the comic Kids on the Slope, which was adapted into a fantastic television series last year. That was an extra impetus to pick up the book. As it turns out, Yuuki Kodama isn't Yuki Kodama.)
Blood Lad stars Staz, an extremely powerful vampire who is a district boss in the demon world. He's also a super nerd, thanks to the fact that he is utterly infatuated with human culture, with a particular emphasis on pop culture trinkets from Japan. One day, his goons bring him a surprise: a human girl named Fuyumi somehow made her way into the demon world. Fuyumi doesn't know where she is or how she got there, which makes her fresh meat for the denizens of the demon world. Instead of going full-vampire and taking a bite out of her neck, though, Staz looks at her, falls in love, and then begins to act like a real teenaged boy about things.
Before Staz has a chance to process what's happening, he's forced to leave his apartment to fight someone who wanted to take his throne. He easily handles the interloper, but by the time he gets back, Fuyumi's been eaten by a monster, with just her bones and clothes left behind. That would normally be a huge deal breaker, but things work differently in the demon world. Fuyumi turned into a ghost instead of just being eaten alive, which only compounds her confusion. Staz, ever the gentleman, decides to try and bring her back to life and then bite her, in addition to taking her back to the human world.
The cover of Blood Lad 1 is pretty cool. Staz looks kind of like Murdoc from the Gorillaz, and his pink shirt really pops on the cover. The supporting cast -- a mix of subordinate goons, friendly rivals, and friends -- are standing in the background in shadow, but have glowing yellow eyes that work nicely with the dominant yellow of the cover. Of course, if you flip over the book, you finally get to see Fuyumi, who has cartoonishly large boobs and spends most of her time in a schoolgirl outfit when she isn't being manipulated into wearing other sexy gear.
The fan service in Blood Lad is tiresome and predictable, but just restrained enough to not turn me off. Fuyumi has big breasts, and is just slow-witted enough to put up with having to wear a bunny costume so she can be a ring girl or boxers and a boy's shirt after waking up from the dead. The jokes are all ones you've seen before, too. There's nothing new there, and if you're looking for fan service? You could honestly do better.
But the two things that kept me reading Blood Lad are Kodama's interest in fashion and the fast pace. Characters in Blood Lad wear real clothes. Polos, jackets, jeans, and everything else are genuinely designed, rather than simply being a solid block of color with precious few details. They appear about how you'd expect them to appear in real life, and as characters move around, their clothes shift positions and drape differently. Kodama even created an in-universe fashion line called Oniqlo, a demonic homage -- the word "oni" refers to demons, monsters, and worse in Japanese folklore -- to the popular Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo.
Fashion can be a great way to build verisimilitude in comics, and Kodama certainly demonstrates a facility for fashion in Blood Lad. If the clothes are believable, then there's one less thing that can eradicate your suspension of disbelief. You buy into the story in part because the fashion doesn't get in the way. In fact, the fashion makes it stand out amongst a sea of people wearing generic solid colors and lackluster leather jackets.
The fast pace of Blood Lad is another boon. Instead of wasting a lot of time setting things up, Kodama just goes for it. From the time Fuyumi arrives in the demon world to the end of the first volume of the manga, things happen and keep happening. Staz chooses to go to the human world for kicks and to join Fuyumi's school, but that's merely a pit stop on a raucous trip through the demon world. Kodama lets the first chapter set the stage, and then takes off on a dead sprint toward the action.
Blood Lad has mildly clever fights, a solid dose of creepy horror when it counts, and solid-but-predictable emotional beats. It isn't extraordinary, but it is pretty good. It's like comic book comfort food. Vampire boy meets human girl, things go wrong, vampire boy wants to make amends, and then they road trip around the demon world while interacting and battling various teenaged-takes on classic monsters. It's a fun time.
fujoshirobo from tumblr asked: You mentioning her the other day reminded me that I wanted to ask about your thoughts on Kitty Pryde (the rapper). Awesome? Dumb? In between?
She's interesting. I tend to dig rappers who are all about technical proficiency, often at the expense of content, right? The spherical lyrical miracle pinnacle dudes that tend to sell about sixteen CDs a year. But Kitty is something else entirely, I think, and more in line with a Big Sean or Jim Jones. They're at their best when they're kicking solid punchlines over strange or indie music-y beats (especially Jim Jones), and she is, too.
I like how airy and open her songs seem. They don't feel like freestyles, and I don't think they're incomplete, but (for example) a lot of her Haha, I'm Sorry EP feels like second or third drafts, instead of a carefully smoothed and sanded down product. That isn't a knock or a complaint, either -- I like how her songs end up sounding in general.
Does that make sense? I like the songs for more than just their musical and lyrical aspects. There's a je ne sais quoi to her work that makes it really click with me. I feel similarly about Los Angeles MC Blu, who keeps releasing un-mastered work that I just can't get enough of. I like how that stuff sounds, sometimes more than the finished and mastered products.
Kitty's listenable, though, and that's really all that matters. Her punchlines are good, her beat selection is pretty solid, and her "Call Me Maybe" flip "Give Me Scabies" is fantastic. She's clever and she's got a sense of humor... hopefully the music industry doesn't grind that out of her.
So, I figure my answer is "in-between." The streamable preview of her DAISY Rage EP is way more awesome than dumb, if that helps.
If you have a question, let me know by leaving a comment or hitting me on Twitter @hermanos. Let's talk comics, movies, music, video games... anything goes.