Ryuko is a powerful Japanese thriller, set in the seedy underground world of Japan’s crime syndicates. Ryuko is the leader of one such gang, a powerful matriarch following in the footsteps of her father, who she had to kill to usurp his position. All is not what it seems, though, as she discovers that her mother, who she thought dead, was actually taken by a rival gang and may still be alive; while the feud with her father was as much about her desire for a ruthless form of loyalty and honour, as it was about power and position.
The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks, unravelling the mysteries around the central characters as we progress through the story. The action is visceral and fast moving, with movement lines typical of manga action sequences but taken to extremes, sometimes obscuring the subject matter with a blur of dynamic speed. Even in quieter moments, the characters are exquisitely posed, like dynamic manga portraits of classical heroes.
It’s worth mentioning that, while many of the key characters are female, there’s a certain male-centred aesthetic to the way they’re portrayed. They’re pencil-thin and barely clothed, in stark contrast to their male, dark-suited colleagues. These women are strong and powerful, but let’s not pretend this book isn’t also designed to objectify them.
Reading through the book I was surprised by how strong the story ends up being. I struggled with the illustration and its dubious portrayal of female characters, but the slow-burning plot lifts this higher than (but is unfortunately still dragged down by) its bikini-clad models-on-motorbikes aesthetic.