Old Boy Vol. 1-2

Written by Goaron Tsuchiya
Art by Nobuaki Minegishi
208 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

When director Park Chan-wook’s film Oldboy won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, I was amused and impressed to hear that it was based off of Goaron Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi’s eight-volume Old Boy series. I figured the chances of me seeing the movie before ever getting to read the manga were higher—but it’s two years later and while I still haven’t seen Oldboy, I have read the first two English translations thanks to Dark Horse. The big question is if I can be patient enough to keep from running out and renting the movie just to find out how it all ends.

A man is suddenly and abruptly captured and imprisoned in a single room for ten years, with nothing but carry-out Chinese food and a television for his sole source of contact with the outside world. Then, just as suddenly as he was thrown into his personal hell, he’s released. Now, going under the alias of Yamashita, he is determined to discover who imprisoned him and why, no matter what the path may reveal.

Old Boy is, at least in its first two volumes, a pretty straight-forward thriller. Man, wronged by unknown parties, seeks information and vengeance. This isn’t a terribly original or ground-breaking idea by any stretch of the imagination. Tsuchiya’s strength is in how he’s able to keep the level of tension high throughout Old Boy, both through the actions of Yamashita as well as his mysterious captors. Yamashita’s actions upon release at first seem normal: getting food, picking up a girl, just enjoying freedom while his enemies carefully watch him from a distance. When that moment of catching his breath is over, though, things really get going. Yamashita’s actions begin to pick up momentum quickly, taking his fight back to those that wronged him as he both learns more and less about why he was taken away for ten years, only to then be re-inserted into the world. Tsuchiya makes Yamashita a tightly coiled spring, someone always ready to explode into action after spending ten years with nothing to do but train and wait for revenge. By slowly doling out Yamashita’s history—we as readers are as in the dark about Yamashita as Yamashita is about why he was locked away—there’s also that disquieting feeling that perhaps Yamashita was not the best of people before he vanished. Did he deserve imprisonment? Why did all this happen to him? They’re questions that Tsuchiya is not answering just yet, and it’s that suspense built with hints dropped along the way that keep the reader going when flat-out exciting action sequences aren’t enough.

At first, Minegishi seems like an inappropriate choice for artist of Old Boy. He draws his characters with loose, open faces that seem very light and cheerful. It doesn’t really seem to fit Tsuchiya’s story, with strange befuddled and confused expressions regularly on Yamashita’s face. Then Yamashita gets down to business and the transformation is so telling that it made me realize that Minegishi was the right choice for Old Boy after all. By making Yamashita able to project a carefree mask to the rest of the world and then show his true, determined self to his captors it adds more weight to Tsuchiya’s story, making both Yamashita’s ten years of hell as well as the question as to if Yamashita somehow deserved his punishment all the more interesting.

Old Boy is, at its heart, a good old-fashioned suspense story. It moves at a good pace, with more than enough happening in each volume to keep from feeling like there’s been padding inserted into the narrative. At the quarter-mark of the eight-volume series, I’m definitely in for the remaining books. As for the movie? I think it can wait until I’m done reading the series. Tsuchiya and Minegishi are doing a good enough of a job that I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Purchase Links (Volume 1): Amazon.com
Purchase Links (Volume 2): Amazon.com

2 comments to Old Boy Vol. 1-2

  • […] Reviews: At Read About Comics, Greg McElhatton enjoys the first two volumes of Old Boy. Anime on DVD’s Josephine Fortune, a self-professed Junji Ito fan, gives high marks to Museum of Terror, despite some flaws. At Active Anime, Holly Ellingwood reviews vol. 5 of Moon Phase and has an early peek at vol. 4 of Skip Beat. Mangamaniaccafe reviews vol. 1 of Soul Rescue. At MangaCast, Jarred Pine has a podcast review of Kamui. […]

  • Ju-osh

    The movie differs quite a bit from the manga — and for the better. If you enjoy the comics version, you’re gonna LOVE the film.