Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin 001-004 – Manga Review

Synopsis: Ryuhei Tamura brings you the fishiest cop manga to ever hit Shonen Jump! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):

Review:

Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin is unlike any of the other recent Jump additions. It’s a title that is consistently reinventing itself. Every chapter has taken the story in a wild, unpredictable direction, keeping audiences guessing as to what is going to happen next. In some ways this is fantastic; a series that’s defying expectations and surprising us at every turn is absolutely thrilling. However, if Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin doesn’t settle on a definitive direction, and soon, it could become a title that never garners a dedicated audience. Let’s Jump In!

When Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin first gets going it appears to be the story of a rough and tough rogue Tokyo Cop who doesn’t understand how his use of excessive force is a problem. The first chapter opens with a hostage situation on a roof-top, one which is resolved when our main character, Samejima, attacks the kidnapper in a punch out. Breaking protocol like this sees Samejima fired on the spot, and then shunted off to a remote-island’s police force, far away from the big city. It’s in these first twenty-five pages, as Samejima transfer from Tokyo to the remote Anegashima police force, and is greeted by one, busty, Umi Nanase, that I was expecting something along the lines of Barakamon. Barakamon is a popular manga title that finished its run just a couple years back. The story centered on a young man who travels to a remote island after mucking up his life back in Tokyo. In Barakamon the main character ends up meeting a rambunctious little girl, who, alongside the whole village, helps to get him to change his outlook on life. Since Samejima also meets a little girl during all this, Chako, he seemed on the same trajectory, that is until our author, Ryuhei Tamura (of Beelzebub fame) decides to throw us a curve ball.

No sooner does Samejima arrive at the precinct, all ready to introduce himself as a bad ass Tokyo cop, then we find him totally upstaged by an Anthropomorphic Dolphin Police Officer. Orpheus, our Dolphin Cop, shatters every expectation that had started to build over the first twenty-five pages. I actually like this reveal a lot. The surprise twist, the upending of the otherwise grounded, realistic tone, is so shocking you can’t help but laugh. There’s a bit of foreshadowing just before it happens too. Still, what tease we do get gives little away, and the surprise of Orpheus, halfway through this first chapter, already leaves Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin as one of the most memorable 2020 Jump additions.

But that’s not the only thing making this first chapter memorable. The other big take away is all the controversy surrounding the next twenty-five pages. Orpheus and Samejima don’t get along and are both portrayed as rough, tough rogue cops that may flaunt the rules of the law, yet still get the job done. Their first assignment isn’t anything incredible. It’s a run in with some punks misportraying a fender bender they caused. The punks, after causing a ruckus, attempt to leave the scene. It’s at this point that both Orpheus and Samejima draw their firearms, the manga notes that Japanese police rarely do this, and fire on the punks, blowing out their tires and sending them skidding off the road. It’s an awkward development if you’re part of the American audience reading this. I’ve seen a fair amount of chatter about how disgusting it is that Samejima’s use of excessive force is portrayed as something to admire, particularly what with everything going on right now in the country. That said, I don’t fault our author, or Shonen Jump, one bit.

Manga is obviously an import from Japan, and crafted with that original audience in mind. While I’m sure some authors think outside that box, and consider how their work might be interpreted by the world at large, many don’t, nor should they necessarily. Japan simply doesn’t have the same issue with policing as we do. They do suffer different issues, like how their police are prone to forcing people to confess, even when there is little evidence they are guilty, so law enforcement can keep that 99% conviction rate they’re so known for. Still, use of excessive force, like in America, is not one of those issues. Is it still awkward to read when you’re living in a country where it’s increasingly hard to see Cops as out and out heroes like they are portrayed here? Where use of excessive force doesn’t just mean getting the job done, but also harming innocents? Absolutely. But that’s unfortunately what can happen when partaking in content designed for a foreign audience.

 

At the same time though, this conversation about portraying law enforcement in media, reading content designed for a Japanese audience, and how to balance that with issues in your own country, is almost entirely moot. For as quick as this topic of excessive force is included in the story, we change directions so hard that none of this consternation over the first chapter’s content really matters.

Chapter 2 sees Orpheus and Samejima sent out on another assignment; this time to a hoarder’s house, where someone has broken in. 14 pages into this story and again everything we’re expecting is thrown out the window. A bomb goes off, destroying the house. Samejima goes looking for the bomber, only to find it’s a talking octopus. This talking octopus then gradually transforms into a man, and turns out to be some form of aquatic life that’s been committing acts of terrorism against the human population. It’s another curve ball and completely throws away the idea that this series is about Samejima and Orpheus going about their typical police duty with their tough, gruff, attitudes.

Chapter 3 takes this even further, changing the tone of the fight with the octopus man entirely. We go from hard-boiled police officers duking it out with the suspect to an almost Battle-Shonen-Esque approach to the fight. Now it seems like we should be expecting Orpheus and Samejima to take on anthropomorphic ocean life terrorists each week, with battles turning increasingly shonen/fantasy-esque.

Yet Chapter 4 throws another curve ball as it’s revealed that the little girl, Chako, is more than just a companion character. She’s the crux of all of what’s happening, unknowingly capable of turning her fantasies into reality. It’s called “Revelations” and when she verbalizes a ‘prophecy’ it allows beings around her to radically evolve. This is evidenced when she’s observing a starfish on the beach and decides to rename it a star-punk. The starfish instantly transforms into an anthropomorphized version of itself and storms off in a typical, punkish manner.

Again the series is redefined, and expectations are shot as for what to expect next. There’s a hint at the end of Chapter 4 that Orpheus and Samejima will be defending Chako against an evil group known as the “Ocean Gangs” but seeing as how Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin has introduced something wildly new each chapter I’m not sure I’d be willing to bet money it. While surprise is good, I do fear that Ryuhei Tamura is taking it a bit too far. If audiences have nothing to latch onto, to help to guide expectations, it can become difficult for readers to get absorbed in the story. At the same time, a story too predictable runs the risk of losing its audience because people feel there’s nothing coming that’ll surprise them. It’s a balancing act, and one I think Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin is still struggling with.

Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin isn’t in trouble just yet. I think audiences could survive another narrative-redefining twist or two before it’s a real issue. But before long Ryuhei Tamura does need to settle on exactly what kind of story Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin is. Right now he’s got the workings of a buddy cop narrative with Orpheus and Samejima gradually learning to get along, but that aspect needs to come to the forefront. As it stands the constantly subverting expectations, and narrative-redefining twists obfuscate that dynamic. But, if Orpheus and Samejima’s prickly relationship becomes the corner stone of the manga’s narrative, then it won’t matter how wild and crazy the overall narrative gets, because we’ll know this is a tale about the two gradually learning to trust each other and work together.

That’s it for this week! Let me know your own thoughts on Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin!

Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin is published weekly in Shonen Jump.

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