Recently I happened to stop by Kinokuniya, one of the better Japanese bookstores in San Jose. I wanted to buy a few things there to read, but since I had done practically no research before arriving I ended up picking up the first issue of Hiroya Oku’s “Dog House” base only on the cover art and some text which said something about robots (not shown on the featured image). Judging from the detailed art style on the cover, the mysterious title, and a connection with robots, I had a feeling this wasn’t a typical manga.
As you probably know, manga series like this can run from tens to hundreds of issues, so it’s hard to judge much about the character development and plot in a single issue. However, the two things you can get a feel for is some of the major characters and general story concept, along with the quality of the art. In “Dog House”, while you aren’t told a whole lot about the main characters, you do learn the basic premise, which was pretty unique and interesting to me. I read this first issue with almost no foreknowledge which I think heightened my enjoyment, so I won’t give away any hints here.
I was also extremely impressed with the art style, especially the extremely detailed backgrounds. The characters are fairly well drawn as well, though some of them seem a bit visually typecast. In several Japanese comics I have read, especially those with light or comedic stories, there is typically less attention paid to the art, but here it’s clear a huge amount of effort was spent on it. The first few pages are full colored and are particularly impressive, almost photographic.
It turns out that Hiroya Oku is also the creator or the hit series Gantz. From what I have seen of the Gantz anime (just an episode or two), “Dog House” shares with it a unique setting as well as a liberal take on violence. Just to be clear – neither of these are good for younger children. I’ve also been told the art style of these two series are very similar.
So far, it looks like a English version isn’t available yet, so if you can’t read Japanese you’ll probably have to wait for awhile. This is an added bonus if you do know Japanese, because you’ll have the privilege of reading before the average English-speaker does.
Linguistically, there was little direct narration with relatively simple dialogue throughout. There is some slang used by younger characters, but the bigger challenge is one of the characters which uses a regional dialect, Akita-ben. Having said that, you can probably guess you way through it if you keep in mind that the two tick marks (also called “dakuon”, like those in “が”) are sometimes added to words. For example いくmight change into いぐ, and だから into だがら. Also the particle に is sometimes written using さ, and the word まだ is written as まんだ。 There is much more to this dialect, but this will help you get started.
Unfortunately, even if you can read Japanese, there are only a few issues published so far so you’ll have to play the waiting game either way. But it’s definitely a series to keep your eye on.
1) I have not seen an official English translation for the title so I am using “Dog House” for the time being. However, the title is arguably literally closer to “Dog Mansion” so when the English version comes out it may be written this way.