Private-eye Dr Easter and his shapeshifting companion Oeufcoque rescue teen hooker Balot from a fiery death, before putting her to work in a campaign to bring down a sinister crime boss. Mardock Scramble is that rarest of opportunities – a chance to read the source material of an anime before most foreign viewers get the opportunity to see the spin-off in a cinema (the anime will be released here in a few months). In a refreshing change from piecemeal publications, US-based Haikasoru have combined an entire trilogy in one monster volume. This not only delivers superb value for money on the page-count, but also avoids the likely loss of readers that would have been likely to have otherwise bailed out during an overlong casino interlude.
Habitual anime viewers will sense strong echoes of Ghost in the Shell in Ubukata’s resurrected cyborg protagonist, and also resonances of the sly misogyny to be found in the anime scripts of Chiaki Konaka. Like Konaka, Ubukata wants to have his cake and eat it, presenting women in peril, distress and abusive situations for the titillation of a male readership, while simultaneously inviting disapproval of their plight.
Ubukata also does himself no favours by resorting to the tiresome Japanese habit of naming characters with punning associations in English. Ever since Osamu Tezuka, this practice has rendered uncountable stories seem laughably inept in translation – the author might cackle over the foreshadowings and egg-related references in his subtexts, but they are all too obvious to English readers, and can distract from an otherwise serious narrative, as if Frodo’s name were Dave Ring2mordor and Boromir were called Placeholder Deadsoon. Translator Edwin Hawkes does the best he can with such material, resulting in an illuminating window on what is both good and bad about modern Japanese science fiction.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This review first appeared in the SFX Ultimate Guide to Anime, 2011.