The Licensing of 'The Strange Tale of Panorama Island', by Suehiro Maruo, was announced all the way back in 2009. That's more than a year before I bought my first manga and caught the collecting bug. Nevertheless, word of this book and its long production reached my ears several times. "When will it finally be released?". "Will it ever be released?". I even had a pre-order in at one point before the listing got removed. I know I haven't been waiting as long as some fans, but even so, this book has been much anticipated by me, and it is finally here for me to enjoy.
Hitomi Hirosuke is a struggling writer with big dreams, but fears of being left behind by the new era. He writes about his very own, personal utopia straight from his own head. "What would I do with a limitless fortune?", he asks himself. But these stories are rejected by his editor in favor of something more grounded. One day, Hitomi's editor informs him of the death of his childhood friend Komoda, who he happened to be the spitting image of, and who happened to be very wealthy. Knowing that at the time, there had been several cases of people "dying" from asthma and mistakenly buried, Hitomi got the idea that he would fake his own suicide, impersonate Komoda and miraculously come back from the dead. With much preparation and not without his anxieties, he managed to pull it off, shocking everyone close to Komoda. Now fully ensconced within Komoda's life, he can now use his vast fortune to make his dream a reality. To build a lavish utopia called Panorama Island.
I'll admit, at first I found Hitomi's plan to be unbelievable. Even as it was unfolding, my suspension of disbelief was pretty much at its limit. Even if he looks just like him, how will he replicate his voice? How will he fool all these people close to Komoda? And these feelings lingered a little longer than I would have liked, but I was soon able to put those worries aside. A quick explanation of "near death trauma wiping out his memories of people", Hitomi's own fears of getting caught in his outlandish scheme, and Komoda's wife not fully being fooled made it all seem a little more believable that he managed to pull this off. Not to mention, I began to not care as much if his plan made sense because I wanted to see his dreams come to fruition.
The main character, Hitomi Hirosuke, is not introduced as a likable guy, even before he digs up his dead friend's corpse and impersonates him…But strangely, I began to want to see him succeed. Not because he became likable, but because I wanted to see his fantastic vision come to life. Hitomi is basically a lunatic, complete with maniacal super-villain laugh that he unleashes periodically. He's also a self-proclaimed layabout and I was unsympathetic towards his writing failures. Digging up his dead friends body so that he can impersonate him and spend his fortune just pushes him over the edge to become completely irredeemable. There should have been no possible way that I would be rooting for him, and yet I was. His vision of a grand and luxurious utopia is something I often dream about myself, so I wanted to see it happen. And despite him being a complete monster of a person, I don't regret rooting for him, because his vision was amazing.
The story was good for a one-shot. Nothing revolutionary, but it kept me engaged and Hitomi was a pretty interesting character. The real appeal for me was Hitomi's dream come to life and the amazing art that came with it. Maruo's style is pretty unique for me. It has a bit of a western feel to it and perhaps it is just the time period of the story showing through, but it also had a bit of a classic feel to it. That's just the character art though. What really caught my attention was the scenery. It was simply beautiful. Almost half the book is just showing off the stunning sites of Panorama Island. Statues, waterfalls, buildings, gardens and an awesome underwater tunnel. I really couldn't get enough of all the double page spreads of Maruo's great artwork. I actually wish the book was a little longer because of that. I'd say that this book is worth it for the artwork alone.
I can very easily see this book appealing to non-manga fans. It doesn't really have any of the modern, mainstream aspects of manga that may be off-putting to western comic fans. And it's all wrapped up in a lovely package. An over-sized hardcover with very colorful cover art and shiny gold lettering. Quite the nice one-shot. But it's not for everyone. Certainly not for children and not for adults who don't care for tons of nudity and even graphic sex. Though I'd love to see more Suehiro Maruo licensed so I hope lots of people go out and buy this.