Hideó Suzuki has a hard time with social interactions, but when he’s alone it all seems alright. He has locked doors to keep out intruders, an imaginary friend to talk to, and a rifle to remind himself that he is in control of his life, that he is a hero. Facing the growing reality that he may never make it as a solo manga artist and that the world seems to have left him behind, Hideó’s prospects don’t seem so good. To make matters worse he’s been hallucinating a lot, and after witnessing the mutilated victim of a car crash get up and walk away, he’s not sure what’s real anymore.
On an initial read I Am A Hero is a very slow story that takes a while to get into, but I would absolutely say that it’s a worthwhile read. By far the best part of this book is the very interest twist on the concept of a main character. Both in personality and social status, our protagonist Hideó Suzuki is far from the type of person who usually dons the mantle of Main Character. For one thing, he’s a smidge odd via a combination of insomnia and isolation. Manga is Hideó’s life and soul, and he repeatedly imagines that he’s waxing poetically to an attentive audience (which is sometimes real people or sometimes his imaginary friend, Yajima) about the importance, talent and finer points of the creative process. And yet in his attempts to break out as an artist, he has only had one small-selling, two volume solo title. Stuck as an aging assistant artist, Hideó at multiple times hears that the greatest flaw with his work is the flat nature of his characters. His main characters are more secondary or tertiary level personalities instead of plot-driving forces. In just the same way as his stories, Hideó feels he is more of a side character in a much more larger world. His self esteem is so low that he even admits to feeling like he isn’t the hero in his own life.
As the story unfolds and we see more into the private lives of the other characters, this becomes depressingly true. By the time that the zombie outbreak is gaining some momentum, we see what people are really capable of. An earlier comment of Hideó’s editor regarding people who lead interesting lives creating interesting stories comes back with startling clarity. The time taken by Kengo Hanazawa to make everyone and everything seem so anxiously normal and apathetically boring lulls the reader into a simmering frustration before showing how quickly everyday individuals can snap.
As a horror manga I Am A Hero has a lot to offer. The plot is in the same vein as The Walking Dead comics – a psychological horror story with zombies. Both are stories which have character driven arcs and a relatively slow pace. Kengo Hanazawa and Robert Kirkman both seem to understand that the zombie apocalypse is just a really great environment to explore the unvarnished side of humanity in. But besides the zombies, I Am A Hero plays on such fears as isolation, insomnia, mediocrity, and fragile self-image by creating a cast of layered and flawed individuals. I Am A Hero is a very, very slow, surreal story of how one man’s delusions are put in perspective.
Artist and author Kengo Hanazama is making his debut to North America with I Am A Hero. Prior works of his include other seinen comics like sci-fi/comedy Ressentiment (2004-2005) and the sports drama/comedy Boys On the Run (2005-2008). More recently he’s completed a collection of short stories entitled Tokkaten (2012). Published in English by Dark Horse Comics, I Am A Hero enjoys the now common placed right-to-left format, along with translation notes. The notes, by the way, are thankfully more than an explanation of honorifics or common Japanese terms. Reception thus far has been overall quite positive for this title, which bodes well for the translation of future volumes and hopefully the licensing of the 2015 live action adaptation. Indeed, I Am A Hero grabbed the #2 slot on this week’s New York Times Best Sellers list for manga. With 20 volumes and more still coming out in Japan it’s a possibility that this could become another long lived seinen series like Gantz. We can only hope.