Amalgam of Distortion 001 – Review

Amalgam of Distortion:

Chapter 001

Reviewed by: Tom

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Is this a romantic comedy? I get the feeling it’s a romantic comedy.

Synopsis: Rokumichi is your classic, awkward young high school kid with a crush on his childhood friend, Yayoi, a tough and smart girl. Thanks to his friend, Shamoji, Rokumichi manages to finally ask Yayoi out on a date, but just after hestumbles upon a young boy rushing onto the train tracks as a train comes barreling down. Rokumichi rushes to save the boy, only to find he’s nothing more than a hologram. Rokumichi is then hit head on by the speeding train….

Warning: Spoilers to Follow:

Amalgam of Distortion is rough. The opening is painfully boring, offering little unique to make it stand out from the slew of other generic and painful awkward teen romances in manga. The chapter does take a dark turn… but stumbles between wanting to be deep, oppressively dark, and terrifyingly campy, over the top. I’m not sure it nails either, but even through all its flaws Amalgam manages to generate some kind of appeal. Let’s dive in.

Review:

Amalgam opens with a very down to Earth, almost painfully basic love story. We’re introduced to our awkward main character, Rokumichi who accidentally stood up his childhood friend, Yayoi, by waiting at the wrong entrance for her after school. She’s a smart, talented young woman, who’s also quite athletic as she works at a Dojo. Your typical ‘perfect woman’ love interest. We learn all this through Rokumichi’s friend, Shamoji, who tries to convince Rokumichi that Yayoi is actually interested in him, although Rokumichi doesn’t believe that at all. It’s all pretty generic stuff and does little to sell us on Rokumichi as a protagonist. The best sense I have of him is that he’s a love sick puppy, disappointed that Yayoi hasn’t initiated a romance with him. Most of this all seems like set up to allow Rokumichi his miraculous survival and transformation later in the chapter.

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Oh look, the lead girl is perfect, she’s every man’s dream. I have never ever seen this character archetype before.

Pulling our attention away from the mundane love tale, Rokumichi takes note of a new student standing atop one of the buildings roof fences, one Eishu Kuromizu. He briefly notes how cool the guy is, and wonders if Yayoi digs the guy too. It’s a real forced point here, making sure we cram Eishu into the story early so his appearance later, after the twist, isn’t so out of left field. But Amalgam isn’t subtle about it, making it painfully obvious what its intentions are and that inability to guise its intentions really pulls the reader out of the story.

Before Rokumichi knows it Shamoji has borrowed his phone and texted Yayoi to meet Rokumichi after school to “Settle this for good.” It’s a kind of funny joke, but has an odd progression as Rokumichi doesn’t seem to note how badly that message can be misconstrued. In fact, neither Rokumichi or Shamoji talk as if they realize how awkward and misphrased a message that is if you’re looking to meet someone to ask them out on a date. Amalgam really handles this beat in such an odd way.

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Okay, Shamoji, YOU need to learn how to ask someone out on a date.

Indeed, despite Shamoji’s efforts, Yayoi takes it like the message sounds and Rokumichi finds her waiting for him so she can smash his brains in. But during their little fight Rokumichi finally screams out how all he wants to do is ask her out on a date. Yayoi gets all flustered and starts to run away, making poor Rokumichi think she isn’t interested, but turns around again and agrees to the date, as long as he doesn’t stand her up. It’s sweet, but, well, something we’ve all seen before. It’s so basic, so expected, so overdone.

Rokumichi is panicking about the date, but ultimately happy that he’s finally made progress with Yayoi. Unfortunately things take a sudden dark turn for our hero as a young boy rushes out onto the train tracks ahead. Rokumichi instinctively jumps to save the boy, only to discover he’s nothing more than a hologram. The oncoming train hits and seemingly kills Rokumichi. It’s a sudden, dark, and shocking moment. I think it’s one of the few places where Amalgam nails exactly what it’s trying to do.

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I feel like that face is screaming “What am I doing!? I was all geared up for a romantic comedy God damn it!”

 

We then learn through an awkward conversation with unnamed characters that the boy was a hologram created by their ‘chief’ for laughs and they’re surprised Rokumichi actually fell for it. This dialogue is the start of Amalgam’s rather try hard nature, painting a story with such thick brush strokes that characters are clearly defined as sickeningly evil or devotedly good. Rokumichi then wakes up in a tank of liquid, half his body gone, including his left arm. The art here is jarring, although not because of the damage our hero sustained, but rather how ‘well’ he came out of that train incident. The series does a bad job of keeping suspicion of disbelief in check as it looks like the very part of Rokumichi that did survive is actually what the train would’ve assuredly smashed to a pulp.

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So I guess the top half of him is unbreakable or something. You Bruce Willis’ kid or what?

Moving on, He’s greeted by a rather insane women eating what looks to be literal human guts and getting off on it. Again, Amalgam’s sensibility of trying to snap us into a dark and oppressive atmosphere often instead strides firmly into cringe campiness that lacks the normal charm of something unabashedly trying to go right over the top. Rokumichi learns he’s to be part of an experiment, even though his condition is apparently far worse than any of their previous failed test subjects.

But one of the technicians steps forward and unmasks himself as Eishu Kuromizu, suggesting they wait to begin the experiment until Rokumichi’s vitals have stabilized. He manages to get the insane, guts eating, doctor lady to agree to hold the experiments for now. Shortly there after Eishu approaches Rokumichi and reveals he’s here to gather information on this horrid organization and he’s called in back up to try and extricate Rokumichi before the procedure begins.

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I wonder if intestines taste kinda like spaghetti….

But unfortunately the lady scientist was listening the whole time, well aware that Eishu was, in fact, a spy. As Eishu prepares for battle it turns out that she’s already begun the experiment on Rokumichi. It’s too late to save him. Rokumichi becomes infested with Ayakashi cells, which tear into his mind and body. Outside of the doctor’s sexually masochistic portrayal that feels far too try hard (I mean she freaking swings a strand of intestines at someone. Really!) this is actually a pretty good sequence.

Much to Eishu’s surprise the experiment succeeds and the tank breaks apart to reveal a huge skeletal bone monster. This part is actually pretty cool. I love the art here and it’s another of the few places where I feel like there’s something of real quality peeking beneath the poor writing and uneven tone. The doctor declares herself the Joan of Arc of Science (Okay. This is, like, the third incident in this year where Joan of Arc has been brought up in anime and manga. Drifters, Shokugeki and now here. Does Japan have a fetish for her or something?), and she names the creature No. 6 Starving Skeleton and orders it to attack everyone around.

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This is sick, I’ll probably look into the second chapter whether it joins the Shonen Jump line up or not just to see the art.

Eishu battles the abomination as scientists run for their lives, and manages to damage it, but it only regrows its damaged areas back. It’s looking bad for Eishu, but suddenly the monster stops responding to the Doctor’s commands. Much to either’s surprise Rokumichi is still alive inside the beast and declares that the pain he feels is nothing compared to the kicks and punches he’s received from Yayoi over the years. It’s sappy, but fits with the opening monologue from the very first page so I can’t say it’s really unexpected. He breaks free of the monster, his legs and arm regenerated in the same bone substance as the beast he’d turned into. Again, the artwork is very cool. I’m getting a sort of bleach inspired vibe from some of the art.

The doctor seemingly orgasms at the excitement of the results of her experimentation with Ayakashi Cells and asks how Rokumichi is still alive. Rokumichi reveals what kept him alive, what kept him going was the promise he’d made with Yayoi to go on that date…. boy this kid is quite thirsty isn’t he? She laughs at him, but is intrigued by his abilities and will to live, offering instead they go on a date.

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Wow guess Eishu really has a thing against dates.

Eishu attempts to cut her down, but finds at some point during the chaos she’d replaced herself with a hologram. As Rokumichi now wonders in the after math what exactly has happened to him, Eishu interrupts his questions by apologizing. What for? Well Eishu still believes he must kill Rokumichi for the sake of world peace. And we end there on a cliffhanger.

Overall I’m not that positive on Amalgam of Distortion. I think while it does have some solid art and designs for its monsters/powers etc, it’s uneven in its tone, unsure of whether it wants to go over the top and provide hammy and campy fun or remain grounded enough to pull at our heart strings as our hero struggles against agents of chaos. The writing needs work, but if it can improve, and quickly as most manga don’t last long with a rocky opener, there’s a chance Amalgam could build upon its shaky foundation and become either hammy and campy fun or a dark story that’s intense and thrilling. It can’t have both, and if it tries to be there’s little doubt in my mind Amalgam will remain an outright train wreck.

That’s it for today. Please let me know what you thought of Amalgam of Distortion’s first chapter in the comments below!

Amalgam of Distortion is available for free at Viz.com.

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