I think few people knew what they were in for when they started Fire Candy, the mangaka included – something that’s more or less admitted in the apologetic afterword. The concept is quite interesting – half-human half-animal teenagers in a future that seems quite heavily influenced by Akira cope with their status as pariahs by forming rollerblading gangs, inevitably ending up surrounded by the passions and tragedies of gang warfare.
This is a seinen manga, meant for older teenaged boys and young men, so everything is stepped up a notch, made adult in the same way that Western comics tend to be made adult. An emphasis falls on sexuality, with emotionally fraught sex scenes and rape. And then of course the violence becomes extreme, more extreme than I’ve seen in any manga as far as I remember. When reading the chapters about Ryoaki, our main character, being angsty and trying to replace one girl with her sister and having occasional scraps with other rollerblading delinquents, or some middle-aged man who looks like a little girl being sexually provocative, I most definitely did not think that we’d eventually end up seeing kids getting sexual kicks from decapitating their enemies and sticking their thumbs through the eyeballs of the severed head. It walks a fine line between shocking and just plain melodramatic, but somehow, making vicious murder sexual keeps it the right side of cheesy crap. Some stunningly good art doesn’t hurt, either. The plot is loose, meandering about with no encompassing story, but each mini storyline is fairly direct and carries the characters to interesting places.
But the real shocker is that this ultraviolent, testosterone-fuelled and gang-centred bloodbath is that its mangaka is female. There are telltale signs (using, of course, huge generalisations): the sexualised representation of the teenaged boys, the delight in flustering them with a headstrong older man who looks like a sexy young girl, the close relationship between Ryo and his close comrade Leo (a rare positive, attractive representation of a young black guy in a manga), but really, given the kind of things you see in Bleach and Naruto, those aren’t obvious indications of the creator's gender. In the end, it makes very little difference what gender the people writing manga are, but sometimes expectations are confounded.
A strange, subversive little manga I only read because it was scanslated by one of my favourite groups, it’s far from world-shaking, but I certainly enjoyed it.
(originally written 6.11.07)