Publisher/Year: 801 Media, 2012
Warnings: We’ve got the full gamut here: rape, drugging, violence, torture, murder, gore and imprisonment. So pretty much like every episode of [insert crime procedural of choice here].
Asano Katsuya is a noted psychiatrist hired to profile and extract a confession from serial killer Shinohara Keiji — at Shinohara’s own request. Plagued by headaches and strange gaps in his memory, Katsuya is forced to interview the disturbingly nonchalant Shinohara at a creepy safehouse provided by the Tokyo police. But soon Katsuya’s frequent, highly graphic nightmares about his own capture and sadistic rape at the hands of an unseen man bear more and more parallels with what Shinohara did, or promised to do, with his real-life victims. Are these nightmares memories, fantasies, or premonitions? Or is Katsuya just going crazy?
The superb and mature art style of In These Words reminds me of Takashina Yuu’s (高階佑) work for BL novels, particularly Simplex Deadlock Gaiden, which is also about a criminal psychologist. And an unusual bonus with this first volume of In These Words is the luscious series of colour illustrations included before the story begins, which serve to both titillate and deepen the mystery surrounding the manga’s premise.
Then, unfortunately, we get to the prologue. It’s text-only, and there are myriad issues with both the writing and the layout. The text pages look like computer screen printouts and the manga’s spine all but engulfs the first few letters of each sentence. There are also several copyediting errors and the writing itself, while not bad per se, contains several noticeable slips in grammar. The dialogue also comes across as stilted because of the writer’s sparing use of contractions. Basically, even though it’s brief, the prologue comes across like online amateur fiction, which wouldn’t bother me except this is a professional publication that people are paying money for. Thankfully, the rest of In These Words is up to a much higher standard, but that just begs the question: why include a novelised prologue at all? Reading it just made me impatient to get to the manga proper.
While the story’s set up is undeniably contrived (I’m admittedly not across Japanese police procedure, but I don’t buy that they’d keep someone accused of killing twelve people in an old house in a “desolate” region with only one full-time guard), the characters and the plot are engrossing enough for me to want to forgive its occasional flights of fancy. I really liked Katsuya as a protagonist; he’s smart, handsome, self-possessed and cynical — though not infallible. Shinohara is a trickier character to pin down, and not just because he’s a psychopath: the reader is never sure if the man in Katsuya’s nightmares is the same criminal he’s interviewing during the day.
Unlike the prologue, the dialogue in the rest of In These Words is sharp and serves to amp up the psychological drama. And that’s what this manga is for me: a psychological thriller with a sexual dimension. While the extras included with the manga seem to indicate that there’s a pre-existing fanbase waiting for Shinohara and Katsuya to get together in some way, I can’t bring myself to look forward to it. I have a high tolerance for non-consensual fictional sex — you have to if you’re a BL reader — but I still don’t enjoy reading it. That being said, I like dark stories and am perfectly satisfied with sociopathic lovers (I think The Administration is romantic, for god’s sake), but I’m not sure if I can get behind In These Words from a yaoi fangirl perspective. Thankfully the story and characters are interesting enough for me to still be looking forward to the next volume when it comes out, and not just because the first volume ends on a cliffhanger. (I do hope the plot speeds up a bit though — it’s not something you notice when you’re reading it, but not much actually happened in the story in terms of action).
In These Words is not for the squeamish, but if you like character-driven psychological drama and are hankering after some gorgeous art in your manga, this first volume delivers on those things in spades.