Intron Depot 4: Bullets

By Masamune Shirow
128 pages, color
Published by Seishinsha and Dark Horse

When I recently read Ghost in the Shell, I found myself more interested in Shirow’s art than his writing. Thanks to finding a copy of the fourth of Shirow’s art book series, Intron Depot, I figured this would be a chance to perhaps finally discover just what it was about Shirow’s works that people found so appealing.

Intron Depot 4: Bullets collects works by Shirow primarily in computer game and anime design. It’s not really what I was expecting, but given Shirow’s low output in comics aside from Ghost in the Shell 2 in the past decade, it really shouldn’t surprise me. Each project is given its own chapter, which is a nice way to see how all the different characters and technologies fit together as a single unit. Accompanying each page is commentary from Shirow, something that’s actually pretty rare in art books and in many ways it’s the high point of Intron Depot 4: Bullets.

The big problem with Intron Depot 4: Bullets is that for such a large, glossy book, there’s an amazing lack of substance. Entire pages consist of a single character drawing and a background tiling of different headshot reactions. At least on some of them we get two or three actual full renderings and poses of characters, but the people seem to get slight attention from Shirow. Shirow himself even confesses in his commentary that some characters from a game look rather similar to each other, and I can’t help but agree. There’s a certain sameness to Shirow’s characters, and we just don’t get enough variety from one set of designs to the next to really be able to tell them all apart.

Where Shirow does shine here is in the technology. Shirow’s drawings of robots and spaceships are where the art really takes off here. There’s a lot more variety and substance in his technology designs, and the fantastic somehow becomes possible under his care. He’s able to carefully model the machines off of a combination of ideas from the future and the reality of the present day so that nothing is every too impossible or crazy to throw you out of the moment. It’s a nice look, and it’s what Shirow really has going for him here.

The frustrating thing is that Intron Depot 4: Bullets holds such promise. Shirow talks about on one page how the uniforms of the military characters are all in different degrees of fading, based on how many times each character would have washed their clothes. Shirow is clearly thinking all of these ideas and character traits and little touches through, but I found myself flipping through the pages and just wondering why none of that seems to actually appear in the finished product. It’s a shame, because like Ghost in the Shell I really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. In the end, this is really for Shirow die-hard fans only.

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