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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, August 23, 2008
This review is from: Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson (Paperback)
Robert Johnson was a quiet, mysterious African-American bluesman from the South. Little is known of his short life, ending at the age of 27 by poison. All we have left of him are two photographs and 42 songs. This sense of mystery and the power of the music he left gave rise to some powerful legends, including one that he made a deal with the devil at a crossroads at midnight and thereby gained his amazing skills as a guitar player.

Akira Hiramoto took the legends and the facts and blended them into a tale that not only explores the man and the music, but also the American South of the 1930s. Johnson, here in a blend of fact and fiction called RJ, learns the hard way what it means to be a bluesman and sets off on a journey simply because it's impossible for him to stay in one place once he finds out. His tortured soul meets up with another, that of Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde fame). Clyde in his madness drags RJ through a series of increasingly horrifying places that epitomize the darker side of the South, until they wind up in a town that must double for hell because they're the sanest men in it. The book, a double volume at about 500 pages, ends there on a cliffhanger (the series is ongoing).

Some mention must be made of the art, which is beautiful and amazing. It's extremely realistic and the artist is skilled at using picture to get across the spirit of the music, the emotions of characters, and spirit of the places and time. The only artwork that I in my limited knowledge of seinen (men's) manga can compare this to is Sanctuary (OOP but available used, highly recommended).

Anyone interested in the blues or Johnson should read this. And too, I think it would be enjoyed by anyone interested in seeing a masterfully told folktale that does what folktales do best, explore our realities by cloaking them in a fantasy veneer that gets ripped away when we recognize parts of ourselves underneath it all. This story is extremely dark in places, and absolutely horrifying at times. But I couldn't recommend it more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A one-of-a-kind ride that does nothing consistently if not confound expectations, November 24, 2009
This review is from: Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson (Paperback)
It's pretty easy to see why Akira Hiramoto's fantastical reimagining of bluesman Robert Johnson's life has been so well received, even earning a place on School Library Journal's list of "Best Adult Books for High School Students."

Me and the Devil Blues not only thoughtfully details the historical underpinnings of its subject matter, but it also evokes the blues itself so effectively that you can practically hear the music reverberating off the plank boards of the 1930s juke joints. And of course there are intriguing, if obvious, cross-cultural possibilities inherent in dealing with a distinctly American art form within the context of a distinctly Japanese one--manga. More to the point, the two volumes released so far are simply great reads: exciting, often thought-provoking, and full of surprising and sometimes innovative visuals.

But arguably Hiramoto's real achievement is how he's created highbrow pulp of the first order. He does this by weaving the heavier thematic material and social commentary (which ranges from the subtly inspired to the crudely belabored) into a narrative fabric that grows increasingly dependent on genre conventions. Indeed, readers familiar with only the first volume (the one honored by SLJ) may be taken aback by the dramatic turn into full-scale action-adventure and Western tropes that the second one takes.

In what at first seems to be just another episodic chapter, our protagonist forges an uneasy alliance with renowned bank robber Clyde Barrow. In the second volume, Barrow himself quickly takes center stage as "RJ" (as the gangster calls him) spends much of the time in a jail cell in the run-up to a planned lynching. In fact, Johnson doesn't sit down to play guitar until the final one of the story's 550 pages. So while Me and the Devil Blues initially uses its Faustian premise to work squarely in the Southern Gothic mode of the horror genre, Hiramoto then shifts the tempo and tone quite radically. Taking these kinds of chances with the narrative is probably to be expected, though, from an artist so adept at mixing graphic styles: compositions heavy on negative space, while silhouettes give way to woodcut-like precision in some places and more manga-like high-energy sketchiness in others.

However, despite its intensity as a survival thriller and its occasionally exquisite creepiness, the second installment is not nearly as original as its predecessor. When the two "outlaws" are on the lam, clichés abound; we get the ol' firearms-concealed-in-an-instrument-case routine, and it's soon followed by our mismatched buddies jumping from a cliff into a river to avoid pursuers.

Still, even if some of the territory seems familiar upon arrival, there's no telling where Hiramoto might take readers in future volumes. Combining unapologetically lurid elements with a deeply felt anguish over the injustices of the Jim Crow era, Me and the Devil Blues is a one-of-a-kind ride that does nothing consistently if not confound expectations.

-- Peter Gutiérrez
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4.0 out of 5 stars Damn good manga, June 15, 2011
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This review is from: Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson (Paperback)
This is an awesome manga. It was good to see black characters, during a specific era in America, in a manga. The art is good. The story is good aswell. His encounter at the crossroads a fairly vague (I wasn't even sure when it happened) but other than that I like everything else about it. I love how they threw Clyde (from Bonnie and Clyde) in there. I would definitely recommend. I also got the second volume but haven't started reading it yet. I can't wait!! I hope they make more of this series.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, December 14, 2014
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This review is from: Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson (Paperback)
an amazing graphic novel with great art, even if you're not in to comics you should read this.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazong Manga, January 29, 2009
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This review is from: Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson (Paperback)
I read comic books. Not cape stuff, but most of this generations greats: Ellis, Gaiman, Brubaker, Etc.

Generally I don't have time for manga (what building itself an ivory tower of stereotype). This however, is amazing. I found it while trying to find a Robert Johnson T-shirt. This is much better. There is not much else I can say that was not previously said other than, "I cna't believe this isn't one of the most talked about Manga around."
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Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson
Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson by Akira Hiramoto (Paperback - July 29, 2008)
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