Story & Art by Shuzo Oshimi
Translated by Daniel Komen
Production by Risa Cho & Evan Hayden
Edited by Daniel Joseph
Every time that I sit down with a volume of Blood on the Tracks, I know that I’m in for an emotional roller coaster. The series explores themes of abuse and mental illness, which makes its story a difficult read. Even so, Shuzo Oshimi has created a manga that I can’t put down for even a second.
Since the beginning of the series, Seiichi has struggled to be independent. Seiko’s doting on Seiichi borders on obsession, to the point that he isn’t able to make his own decisions or build meaningful connections with other people. Volumes 4 and 5 of the series depict Seichii’s attempt to finally break away from his mother’s control and live life on his own terms.
Seiichi’s search for freedom is primarily shown through his relationship with his classmate Fukiishi. Like Seiichi, Fukiishi is implied to have an unsafe home environment, venting her frustration through her rebellious personality. She stays out late at night to avoid going home and will fight back against her father’s abuse. She is even able to stand up to Seiko, protecting Seiichi from being taken against his will. Seiichi feels at ease around Fukiishi because she represents the willpower that he desires. Fukiishi can face the terrors that Seiichi hides from, including the ominous presence of Seiko.
Seiko continues to be one of the most fascinating characters in the series. Her unpredictable mannerisms and dissonant expressions add a great shock factor to the manga. That said, Seiko’s unstable nature makes her much more than a terrifying antagonist. Seiko views all her actions as an expression of her love for Seiichi. As such, she doesn’t comprehend the abuse and terror that she’s forced upon Seiichi, creating a disconnect between her idealized perception of Seiichi and her actual son. When Seiichi runs away from home, we see this mindset culminate in Seiko breaking down in tears. Seiichi has abandoned Seiko despite her “love”, and Seiko believes that she has failed as a mother. Seiko is undeniably an abusive parent, but because she’s oblivious of her own actions, it makes it hard to outright despise her. Having a mentally-ill character like Seiko forces Blood on the Tracks to walk a thin and uncomfortable line, but Oshimi is exploring it in an interesting and tactful way.
Oshimi’s artwork has been consistently stunning in Blood on the Tracks, and these two volumes are no exception. As usual, the biggest visual highlight is the manga’s large paneling and facial expressions, which help emphasize the complex emotions of the main cast. This is especially effective near the end of volume 5, where Seiichi grapples with cutting ties with Seiko and is eventually forced into a state of shock. There’s a large array of emotions that Seiichi experiences in this scene, but because of Oshimi’s intricate artwork, you can discern Seiichi’s emotional progression from the visuals alone. Oshimi is a master of his craft and it’s thrilling to see the meticulous detail that he puts into his manga.
There are few manga that can evoke as complex and powerful emotions as in Blood on the Tracks. The series’s subject matter can make it an emotionally taxing read, but Oshimi’s gripping storytelling keeps you hooked even through its most brutal moments. I’m not sure where this train is headed, but I won’t be getting off any time soon.