written by Aya Kanno
The amnesiac Zen, protagonist of Blank Slate, is like a force of nature…of the senselessly destructive, hurricane-blew-your-house-down-and-your-mama-away-too kind. He needs to be that way, though, because it’s a rough world that he finds himself living in. The nation of Galay has been waging wars of aggression against its neighbors in the name of law, order, and civilization. Among the people subjugated are those of Amata, who face both squalor and discrimination under Galay rule. Some of them have become freedom fighters—or, if you prefer, terrorists.
Some of these terrorists are plotting to kidnap the Galay General’s daughter, Rian, and use her to extort concessions for the Amata people. Zen, spreading his amoral brand of chaos and killing, gets caught up in her disappearance. While hiding out at the General’s summer house, Zen sees a strange graveyard that, he will later discover, is connected to his past and his unexplained memory loss. He also sustains some grievous wounds, and one of the terrorists tells him to seek out her brother-in-law, Dr. Hakka, for treatment. He does just that and subsequently decides to help the doctor with his illicit acts of rebellion against Galay. But Hakka is not at all who he seems to be, and little does Zen suspect that hanging out with him may mean the loss of the one thing he values most—his freedom.
Superficially speaking, this two-volume shoujo manga series is an action-packed, hardboiled noir storyline, perfect for anyone in the market for cathartic, gratuitous violence and gun-toting pretty boys with ambiguous relationships to each other. However, it also makes some intriguing, albeit at times heavy-handed and awkward, gestures toward more profound themes. For example, the reference to (and implicit criticism of) the United States’ wars in the Middle East is obvious. The people of Galay are Western and light-skinned, while the people of Amata are dark-skinned and vaguely Indian-looking. The manga was first published in Japan in 2004, and the war in Iraq would certainly have been foremost in readers’ minds in its original serialized context.
Also, it would not be too much of a spoiler to note that Zen’s “real” name is Zero and that these name choices are no coincidence. Aya Kanno intends him to be a Zenlike figure who lives by instinct and in the now, with zero regrets or anxieties, unburdened by guilt. Though his acts may seem evil according to a Judeo-Christian moral system, by Kanno’s way of thinking, he is no more evil than the lion that kills the gazelle. He is simply existing according to his own nature.
Kanno has tremendous range when it comes to her artwork. The soft, sanitized style found in Soul Rescue barely resembles the self-conscious satire of Otomen. Blank Slate sports yet a third look—bleak, brooding, and beautiful. She really takes the opportunity to strut her stuff here. The subtlety and dynamism of her layouts are top notch. You will find it hard to believe that she made her professional debut as recently as 2001. Recommended. Kanno is one to watch.