Sunday, 30 October 2016

Review double: the ills of apathy and fugue

Irmina by Barbara Yelin, published by Self Made Hero

Barbara Yelin's Irmina, ostensibly the story of an 'ordinary German' woman's life as Hitler comes into power, functions equally as a timely study of the white moderate. In his 1963 Birmigham address, Martin Luther King expressed his disappointment at the inherent apathy of those who would consider themselves allies to the causes of justice, 'those 'more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice... Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.'

And so it goes for Irmina, as reduced means and an increasingly tumultuous political landscape force her to leave her studies and board in England, and leave behind her friend Howard, to return to Germany. Initially determined to go back, her gradual capitulation and marriage to an SS officer curiously lack any qualms or fear; a tunnel-vision sense of self-preservation that erases all else. Juxtaposed against the suffering of the Jewish people and Howard's existence as a black man in 1930's Britain, Irmina's 'plight' is a difficult concept to sympathise with. She deliberately chooses to ignore what's going on around her in order to survive: a passive choice, but a choice nonetheless. Her belief is she can do nothing, so she does nothing. It is no doubt an easier stance in retrospect, but in a world currently deeply mired in hateful rhetoric and the politics of divisiveness it feels acutely pertinent: what is the point at which intervention is required, and to whom does such responsibilty fall, if not 'ordinary people.'  

Assassination Classroom volume 8, by Yusei Matsui, published by Viz

There reaches a point in many a manga series where a to-date interesting narrative begins to lag and lose momentum. Such is the case in the eighth instalment of Yusei Matsui's Assassination Classroom. Having established the rather bizarre premise of  a strange emoji-faced, tentacled monster threatening to blow up the Earth (having reduced the moon to a sliver), unless he's allowed to teach the students of 'loser' class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High School for a year: a time period within which only the students will be afforded the opportunity to assassinate him. Once funny and affirming, the seeming thrust of the story of demoralised, 'cast aside' students realising their potential via unconventional tutelage is now stretching thin.

'Koro-sensei' -as his students refer to the monster- is relegated to the fringes here, with the students facing down yet another 'outside assassination' threat. The 'Game of Death' trope of infiltrating a building and combating foes level by level provides some entertainment, and Matsui gets in some amusing meta visual digs at the medium, but it's a superficial engagement. His art is adept at comedic and dramatic flourishes, but the action drags somewhat due to an absence of tension: pattern informs the reader that the students will again overcome, it's simply a question of how. And if that's Matsui's intention - to keep the motives of Koro-sensei obscure and use the problem he presents as a means of focusing on the development of his characters, the journey needs to be significantly more interesting than this one.

(originally published in Comic Heroes magazine)

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