Thursday, 26 January 2006 23:44

The Outer Zone (Manga, 1990)

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Overview

A couple years back, on one of my rare visits to a used book store, I stumbled across a manga series I’d never heard of before. It wasn’t the name that caught my eye - it was the face on the cover. An elf girl, with green hair - except over her left eye, which was covered by purple locks. She had enough cute to catch my eye, and the whole miss-matched hair color was enough to make me decide to find what I could of the rest. Originally, I’d been planning to try selling the series on eBay as a rare manga - never know what you might get, right? After about half an hour of searching through the hopelessly unsorted manga stacks, I managed to unearth a total of seven volumes, 5-10, and 12. The series, I finally noticed, was called The Outer Zone. Having collected what I could find, I returned to the hotel I was staying at and decided to take a look before I sold them. I discovered, to my pleased surprise, that the series was in truth a sort of cross-over between The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone - hence the series name, I imagine.

Review

Better still, it's a cross with a Japanese take, and so our hostess, the elven-eared Misery, is our personal guide through her world - and folks, her world is most definitely not a pleasant place. You see, she’s the Stalker of the Outer Zone, and unlike Rod Sterling, she enjoys getting up, close, and personal with her work. And folks... she really, REALLY likes her work.. People get what they deserve in this series - and as often as not, that actually means good things come to the worthy as it does very, very bad things come to the unworthy, something that is usually conspicuously absent from similar series, the odd episode aside. Pet Shop of Horrors managed this too, though not to the extent that Outer Zone does - or with nearly the twists and turns that Outer Zone takes to get there. In Pet Shop of Horrors you could easily expect a worthwhile punishment in the end... Outer Zone often skips the build-up to punishment and gets straight to the remarkably inventive results. That being said, the body count is actually lower than in Pet Shop - many of Misery's guests are left alive to use their lessons.

Even considering that I can’t read Japanese, you can figure out what’s going on by paying attention to the facial expressions and reactions in this series - the artwork is pretty damned good. I’d kill for a translated copy, of course, but Mitsuhara Shin, the author and artist, did an excellent job of giving the characters personality just through their actions. The one thing that I'd complain - that's not quite the right word, perhaps. The one thing I'd remark on, let's say, is that Mr. Mitsuhara seemed to run out of alternate faces now and then - a lot of the one-shot characters look a lot alike, and it can get hard to tell them apart. Still, overall the artwork is excellent.

The series consists of individual stories, with a fair mix of both reoccurring characters as well as people that show up for just a single episode. Aside from Misery herself, who of course appears in every episode, some of the most notable among these characters include a young man obsessed with horror movies. Misery gives him a chance to find out what it’s REALLY like to be in a horror movie, complete with unstoppable stalker. He appears first in volume five, and then gets a follow up story in six. There’s also the typical Slick Detective type character… unfortunately, when we meet him as he tries to save a young woman from a gun wielding bandit, the crook fires before he can stop her and kills her. Fortunately for her, though, Misery decides to make sure that the detective gets another chance to save her… by bringing her back to life in the form of a Barbie doll. He ends up having to carry her everywhere, because as near as I can gather if she does enough good deeds she'll get a second chance at a normal life.

Beyond the reoccurring characters are the one-shots, and these range from a mugger who steals a time stopping watch from Misery and finds himself winding down at the most inopportune time, a teased little girl who decides to sell her soul for revenge against her tormentors, and a nasty little boy with telekinetic powers who decides to shred the wrong clothing. Through it all, Misery herself often takes direct part in the storyline, not content with Rod Sterling-like watching from the sidelines. A consummate actor, she plays everything from an innocent bystander to fellow vacationer to an innkeeper to a prisoner! And for the record folks, you do NOT want to piss Misery off. Y'know, doing petty little things like shooting her point blank in the chest with a shotgun… She holds grudges, as is shown when she’s taken hostage.

Perhaps the single most striking thing about the series, though, the thing that really drew me in throughout the pages, is that Misery manages to be, above all else, fair. She has no qualms enjoying her job, certainly, but she's also got a surprisingly gentle, almost motherly side to her that doesn't at first seem to fit in with her place as judge, jury and executioner. This is something that's not always seen in this style of series; all too often the punisher comes off as being there just to get it done. Believe it or not, I can actually point to the Silent Hill games as an example of this... You bring your own demons to Silent Hill, after all. Misery, on the other hand, at times shows a down right merciful side to those that deserve it - and can also have every last ounce of the wraith of a woman scorned when she wants it. It all depends on the crimes of the accused. Misery gives you exactly what you deserve, be it a reward for self sacrifice, or a torment even Pinhead wouldn't be comfortable with. One and all, she takes her job of teaching people the lessons they need to be taught very seriously, but also very fairly, and what more can really be asked of a good teacher?

Overall

Excellent story, good art, and you already have the makings for a good series. Add the fact that this fills a niche that isn't often enough explored in anime and manga - I can only think of Pet Shop of Horrors and Rei Rei as being in the same genre - and you've got a great series. But the icing on the cake of Outer Zone has to be Misery herself, and the way in which she isn't afraid to step in and get her own hands dirty as needs be. I will warn readers that there's a decent amount of light upper-body nudity scattered throughout the entire series, and being horror there's also a good deal of blood and gore. Those that are uncomfortable with either are advised to look elsewhere. There is also the simple truth that none of the series has been translated, so if you don't read Japanese you're going to be looking at Outer Zone just for the pictures like me. Setting that aside, you've got an almost certain winner in Outer Zone, especially if you're a fan of the occult or moral stories, and it should go without saying that this is an easy choice if you like either the Twilight Zone OR the Outer Limits.

Additional Info

  • Title: The Outer Zone, アウターゾーン
  • Genre: Occult, Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction
  • Magazine: Weekly Shonen Jump
  • Writer: Mitsuhara Shin
  • Artist: Mitsuhara Shin
  • Publisher: Shueisha
  • Volumes: 15
  • Writing: Very Good (+3)
  • Pacing: Very Good (+3)
  • Artwork: Groovy (+5)
Last modified on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 23:24

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