Author: Satoshi Kon
Manga genre: Seinen, science fiction
Number of volumes: 1
Still in print? Yes
The first thing you need to know about Satoshi Kon’s manga Opus, is that it’s unfinished. Which, I know, isn’t exactly great – and up until now, we’ve very consciously avoided reviewing unfinished manga. This one is good, though – so good that maybe, like me, you’ll find yourself grateful for the bits you do get to read, rather than the conclusion you miss out on. The second thing you need to know, is that it will break your brain a little bit. But in a good way. Apparently, one of Kon’s major influences was the American author Phillip K. Dick, and the way Opus plays with the idea of blending reality and illusion, you can definitely see traces of Dick’s influence in there.
The mangaka Chikara Nagai is working on his dystopian science fiction serial, Resonance. He’s decided to end the manga – by killing off a fan-favourite character, the young telepath, Lin. Nagai’s editor isn’t keen on the idea, but Nagai is determined that Resonance needs to conclude with a sucker-punch shocker of an ending. Even though, as he jokes, Lin himself would hate to go out that way. It turns out that Nagai is more right than he realises. While scrambling to meet the deadline on the final chapter, with his only assistant asleep at the drawing board, Nagai suddenly realises that the double-page spread where Resonance’s villain kills Lin is gone. It’s been replaced by a what looks like a perspective drawing of a ventilation tunnel – and at the very bottom, Nagai can just make out Lin, escaping with his drawing! Suddenly, Nagai is pulled, head-first into the tunnel on the page – into the world of the comic he created.
Nagai literally lands right in the middle of a fight between his heroine, the telepathic policewoman Satoko, and his villain, the evil Masque. What follows is an adventure through the story he’s written – quite literally, as Nagai and Satoko find themselves jumping between pages, climbing from panel to panel. Once she comes to believe that Nagai is telling the truth about who he is and why he can predict what’s about to happen, Satoko is not satisfied with her creator. After all, he has made her life, her whole world, a living hell, for his own selfish reasons.
Satoko’s not the only one who’s had a hard life – Lin and his sister Mei, scrape out a living, surviving on Lin’s hustles. Lin also remembers his past life, as a police detective. He is not content to act out his role and get killed by the Masque again – not when he’s figured out how to leap between panels, using all the empty spaces in their world that Nagai never bothered to fill in. Soon, Lin is travelling back in time – that is, back into volume one – in order to kill the man who would become the Masque before he grows too powerful. And meanwhile, in order to save Satoko from being shot by her boss, Nagai is forced to draw her escaping from the world of the manga – into our world…
Apparently, Satoshi Kon was only three chapters away from ending Opus when the magazine it ran in was cancelled. It would be the last manga he worked on; as he went on to work in animation – eventually directing animated feature films like Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Paprika. He was simply too busy working to finish drawing Opus, but, after his death, a sort of alternate end chapter was found among his papers. Sketched out in pencils, it shows Nagai himself emerging from the manga to argue with Kon, berating him for leaving his story unfinished. As endings go, it doesn’t exactly tie everything in a neat bow – if anything, this is the story biting its own tail, like an ouroboros.
Satoshi Kon is dead now, devoured by pancreatic cancer at the age of 46. So Opus will never, ever be finished. Still, just the fact that this sucks you in, like Nagai tumbling into his own pages, and leaves you frustrated, wanting more… that in itself is a testimony to Kon’s talent as a storyteller.