Once again we can look to Japan to provide us with a comic that explores a genre that has remained popular in all sorts of other western media, but seems to have stayed out of comics – the disaster genre. The standard format is to spend at least half the story in a pre-disaster scenario, building up the characters and setting them up for the inevitable. Then there’s the disaster, closely followed by steely survivors staying alive despite the odds. If you’ve seen any movie from The Towering Inferno to The Day After Tomorrow you’ll know the form.
In Metro Survive Yuki Fujisawa locates the disaster at the end of the first chapter, only bothering to build the character of the main protagonist, Mishima. In fact even this is something of a turnaround, as he’s initially portrayed as a victim of office bullying, forced to miss his own son’s birthday by a domineering boss threatening the sack. Finally on his way home to deliver the late birthday gift to his doting but presumably deeply disappointed son, the underground train that Mishima is on is thrown off the rails by a major earthquake.
As events continue it becomes apparent that Mishima’s carriage contains the only survivors and that they’re stuck in the underground complex with no way to contact the world above, or even know if anyone on the surface survived the quake. The other survivors in the carriage fall roughly into the kind of stereotypes you might expect to find in a genre piece of this type – the cowardly young man, the brave elderly couple, an emo teenage girl who doesn’t seem to care, and of course Mishima himself as the nerdy man who finds himself thrust into a leadership role because of his knowledge. The artistic style doesn’t help, with the stereotypes further drawn to emphasise their traits, which is a standard of the visual story-telling style of manga but can grate a little to the western eye.
Although the characters have a certain inevitability about them, Fujisawa constructs a less predictable plot around them, injecting the comic with tension and a certain element of grit. The survivors are put on a rollercoaster of emotional peaks and troughs as their hopes of escape are raised, shattered, lifted again then smashed once more, leaving the reader with a real desire to get hold of the second book in the series and find out what happens next.
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