I Am a Hero, Omnibus 6
Kengo Hanazawa (Art and Story), Kumar Sivasubramanian (Translation), Philip R. Simon (English adaptation), Steve Dutro (Lettering)
Dark Horse Manga
17 May 2018
In I am a Hero, Omnibus 6, Kengo Hanazawa takes a break from the somewhat unreliable, yet, ultimately decent Hideo, a 35-year-old manga assistant plagued by indecision, anxiety-induced hallucinations, and zombies (also known as ZQNs). Instead, we are introduced to the Cult of Kurusu through a new member. In doing so, Hanazawa starts to expand his commentary on the “troubled young man,” examining how their revenge upon society, though cloaked in high ideals, is petty at its core. It’s a highly relevant theme considering recent events such as the Austin Bomber, whose killings were partly explained as the “outcry of a very challenged young man” by police through various media outlets, almost excusing his actions without addressing them.
So far, Hideo has been the focus of I Am a Hero. The reader has followed him as he has blundered through a mysterious zombie plague that had affected Japan and likely the entire world. Along the way, he has had to kill his infected girlfriend in self-defense and teamed up with various survivors, including Hiromi (a now partly sentient ZQN who fights to protect Hideo) and Oda (a nurse who helps them all escape from the survivors’ group that abused and exploited her).
These are not the only survivors, however, and Omnibus 6 turns its attention away from Hideo and his friends to another community. Earlier in the series, a rallying cry goes out over the internet from the mysterious Kurusu (who uploaded a video showing him killing his ZQN mother), calling for others to rise up and take control of this new world. At the end of Omnibus 5, the reader meets Ezaki, a young man barricaded in his room from his now ZQN parents, who reaches out to the Cult of Kurusu through online message boards for help. To his surprise, they respond, and Omnibus 6 continues following Ezaki as he learns more about the groups’ members and Kurusu himself.
Kurusu is perhaps not the savior he has been portrayed to be, wandering around in a pair of y-fronts and drooling when he’s not slashing the ZQN to death (again). There is something charming in the character art, which is as comical as it is disturbing; Hanazawa exaggerates some facial features to give many of the characters an alien, expressive, and manic feel. This is sometimes done in line with typical manga uses (i.e., large, wide eyes to denote purity), though in Kurusu’s case, this seems more to depict a child-like state than actual innocence. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Titans’ character designs from Attack on Titan when looking at some character’s wide mouths, full of teeth and menace.
This style is mixed into the tense flight or fight scenes, the jagged dialogue bubbles conveying the rising panic of the characters as they run from the inevitable. The climactic battle is the culmination of balancing fluid action with just absolute, surreal ridiculousness. The “end boss” is the antithesis of manga’s sleek, stylized villains, and is thus tone-perfect for this series.
However, the main joy of this omnibus is that it doesn’t take a two-dimensional view of the troubled young men of Japan. Like Kurusu, Ezaki is a hikikomori, a term used in Japan for a reclusive young person, often men, lacking in social skills and portrayed as an outcast. In Kurusu, the reader sees the manifestation of those disaffected by society acting to take control of it, but, as Hanazawa emphasizes again and again and right from the start of I Am a Hero, these people are generally “man-children” with little self-awareness and dangerous for it.
It is an interesting focus, and an incredibly timely one, on the self-delusional behavior held by those who see themselves as the wronged hero of their own lives, often unsympathetic to others and crueler for it. Kurusu is portrayed as not in control of his own mind, but Kowashi, a main member of the group, clearly is. He sees the downfall of society as an opportunity to be seized; his palpable glee is unnerving as it becomes clear that the desire for power will mean that, once again, some will be more equal than others.
Ezaki stands as contradiction to this. Though similarly an outcast, he tries to form relationships with others in the group, showing a desire to protect. His arc is a touching, pathos-filled exploration of what it truly means to survive. Still immature, still easily led, but also still holding onto some kind of moral code as others instead excitedly concentrate on re-shaping the world.
There are, of course, women in this group; they come to represent the desire to return to normalcy and civilization, be it Kizuki and her desperate search for her family, Fukiko’s bid to escape with her brother, or “Auntie” holding the fort down as matriarchal support. It’s a stark contrast to the some of the male characters, who seem more interested in taking advantage of this horrifying new world.
As one of the characters says, “Life doesn’t mean much.” It is this line the reader comes back to as people begin to die, including a character who is briefly implied to be a trans man. There is little time spent understanding the character, especially as they do not seem to have a name. Their death is frustrating, as the unnamed character seems one of the most capable of the group. In other narratives, killing the only trans character would feel like a resurrection of an over-familiar and toxic trope. However, here it serves to highlight that it doesn’t matter how skilled or smart a person is; the unfairness of I Am a Hero’s world is that dumb luck is often the sole factor in determining who lives and who dies. After all, how else to explain Hideo’s miraculous survival when he starts out as one of the most inept protagonists ever seen?
Omnibus 6 is a welcome respite in some ways, fleshing out the stories of other survivors and building more depth to the world of I Am a Hero. It offers an interesting commentary on the “troubled young man” and how they are, essentially, their own worst enemy. This is by no means novel, but it is well-executed here; there are themes of exploitation and cruelty, yet, in Ezaki and the relationships within the group, we see the traces of kindness juxtaposed against these horrific acts. Time and again, however, Hanazawa’s main message seems to be that bravery is a futile effort, and that those who claim to be heroes are those we should be most wary of.