Title: Wild Adapter
Author/Creator: Kazuya Minekura
Media Type: Manga (Japanese Comic)
Genre: Drama, Action, Mystery
“I’m gonna see some of our ‘working girls’. Wanna come, Kubota-kun?”
“If you’ll excuse me…”
“As always. You hate women?”
“Not really. I’m not interested in girls.”
—Wild Adapter, volume 1 dice 2.
I have to admit that it feels strange to write my first review after my little confession of being emotionally unavailable, which was a couple of months ago, on the story led by an emotionally unavailable guy. Actually, I realized after a conversation with my best friend about half a year ago that the stories I like seems to have at least one emotionally unavailable character – if not led by one. I should clarify here that when I say emotionally unavailable I don’t mean people who do not feel or sympathize. These people, including myself, are either preoccupied with something else or are fundamentally unable to make emotional connection.
Emotionally unavailable is not generally a physiological condition; it is simply a name for how certain people handle relationship. I believe it can be congenital like being sociopaths (I tend to think of myself being half sociopath, actually, to put thing in perspective), conditional like when someone just lose a love one, or a matter of divided attention. For Makoto Kubota, the main character of Wild Adapter, it’s nurtured. He is an illegitimate son of a high-profile gang leader who was taken from his mother and into his father’s house at an early age. There, he was treated as if he did not exist. When he reached his teen, he moved in with his uncle – his mother’s brother – who is a detective and later for a life on his own. He was recruited to be the leader of a youth gang sponsored by one of the local crime firms, the Izumokai. When first introduced, Kubota is shown to be ruthless, merciless, emotionless, and purposeless. He starts his first day of work shooting a man in the head then complains about the ringing in his ears but nothing about the body on the floor. Aside from being occasionally intimidating to the youth members of the rival gang – the Toujougumi – he plays video games, takes naps, does drugs just to be able to distinguish good ones from bad, but he never cares about where his life is going or what it has become.
In a way, Kubota is a shadow of a person who simply drifts through life not wanting to take control or even considering the possibility of being or doing something different. But that is not all to Kubota. Minekura creates him as a character, not a symbol. The first glimpse into Kubota’s mind is in the dialogue between him and his boss, the vice-leader of the Izumokai. Kubota didn’t even bother to greet him properly like others but kneels down to greet the Boss’s guard dog instead.
That leads to the conversation I recapped above, or rather a confession from Kubota that he does not particularly care about human.
The scene is my bonding moment with Kubota who, while being nice and easy going, is clearly lacking the ability to connect to other people, including those whom he works with or works for. It is also a moment that shows the depth of Kubota’s chaotic character. He does various contradictory things like not showing any care for his subordinates but proceeding to take revenge on their behalf without telling them. He breaks a stranger’s arm because of a small trivial conflict but painstakingly digs a grave for a dead stray kitten without proper equipment at hand. His liking of animals becomes a running reference, but he never actually owns a pet. Nothing about Kubota makes any sense even when his upbringing is pretty much out in the open. We only get to see past the usual charade now and then through lines that don’t seem to lead anywhere. I must applaud Minekura for being able to build a character and get us hooked from just scraps of conversations, internal monologues, analogies, and metaphors.
Kubota’s character is so strange that it is almost impossible to make a connection with him. Minekura took the traditional route for writing a story led by eccentric character by introducing ‘the normal guy’ to provide the first connection and a portal for the readers. Nobuo Komiya is to Makoto Kubota what John Watson is to Sherlock Holmes: best friend, chronicler, and his most trusted colleague. He is also Kubota’s second-in-command in the youth gang who gets Kubota to work in a timely manner, complains when Kubota is too lazy, and goes for a walk with Kubota when he needs a break. Komiya might start out with doubt of Kubota’s ability as a leader, but he soon comes to realize how truly clever and belligerent Kubota really is. He is also the first person to realize how truly alone and empty Kubota is and starts to care for the man not as his boss but as his friend.
Kubota never really has friends up to that point – not someone who hangs out with him in a park eating soft ice cream, helps him dig a grave for a cat, or fusses over his general well-being. The walls Kubota have around him from years of isolation slowly crumble from Komiya’s kindness. Kubota, despite his inability to show that he cares, starts to care for Komiya as well. It shows up in small little things like Kubota making coffee for Komiya when they have a sleep over in the office or helping Komiya’s mother the one time she is attacked by her client even though Komiya is already with her.
I don’t think Kubota truly realize how their friendship is affecting him until Komiya is killed. Komiya has been trying to investigate a new drug in the black market called WA, but both he and Kubota underestimate the gravity of the situation. Komiya becomes one of the many victim WA leaves in its wake, another mobster killed in a gang fight over the mysterious drug. Kubota promptly leaves Izumokai, to the surprise of many, and proceeds to avenge Komiya by killing the leader of Toujougumi and the minions who are unfortunate enough to be in the area.
Kubota retires from the scene into a peaceful life and acts like that chapter of his life never happens. But Kubota isn’t over Komiya, not really, and that leads him to, in his own word, “pick up a stray cat.”
Minoru Tokito is in fact very human except for one hand covered with furs, a signature of WA overdose. Tokito is inhumanly strong for his build and has a bad case of amnesia in which he remembers nothing prior to being taken into Kubota’s care. He’s as skittish as a wounded animal except for when he is with Kubota. Tokito uses Kubota as the portal to the human world he had forgotten and seemingly very attached to the guy.
Only that the notion is not quite accurate.
Whatever the reason is for Kubota to bring Tokito home, it doesn’t seem to matter with Tokito charming his way into Kubota’s life with sincerity, loyalty, and bluntness of a wild breed. Kubota goes leaps and bounds for Tokito’s safety and comfort among the forever searching eyes of the crime firms. At the same time, they follow clues of WA in hope to disclose Tokito’s past and find closure for Komiya’s death.
Each volume of Wild Adapter is written as separate arc enclosed in slightly less than 200 pages. As we follow the duo from case to case and clue to clue, more of Kubota’s own past slowly comes to light. In one arc, Anna, Kubota’s first girl, shows up asking for help and at the same time gives us a glimpse into Kubota’s attitude towards love, sex, and caring. While they were good friends and she did love him, the only thing he did in return of her feeling was beating her abusive boyfriend half-dead with a pipe for hitting her in front of him. Kasai, Kubota’s uncle, is only second to Tokito in how much he cares about Kubota, but the two things he had ever manage to teach his nephew were Mahjong and how to make curry. It seems to me that the two ways Kubota knows how to interact to other humans are through violence and tolerance, both of which teach him nothing of how to take care of people who are important to him.
Kubota learns to get attached, but that is as far as it goes. He has gotten better with people than before he met Komiya, but he still cannot make a deep meaningful connection with another human being. Anna had tried and failed. Kasai, desperate as he is to help, never pushes too hard knowing Kubota would disappear otherwise. Kubota’s friendship with Komiya’s was too professional to lead to anything more substantial than a wakeup call. The only person who never pushes Kubota, never asks for anything, and manages to get under Kubota’s skin with his candidness is Tokito. And Kubota becomes petrified by the prospect of losing him.
But what is there for Kubota to do when he doesn’t even know how to take care of himself. He’s ‘normal’ in his best days, suicidal in some of his bad ones, and homicidal if someone pisses him off – all with the same straight face and devil-may-care attitude. Even Tokito has hard times understanding Kubota after they have been living and fighting together for a year. That is because Kubota is not very honest especially with anything involving himself, almost like he is being afraid of something. He never volunteers his information beyond the nature of his upbringing which, as traumatizing as it might sound, doesn’t tell us much about the man’s character. He never brings up Anna, Komiya, his morbid obsession that leads him to ponder over dead kittens, or his fear of Tokito walking out the door and never coming back. In some cases, he decides to leave Tokito out of the loop without warning, apology, or explanation when he gets himself into deep trouble. Although it has been necessary within the time frame given, his dismissive attitude has hurt and frustrated Tokito repeatedly. Tokito, being the very soul of sanguinity, picks himself up quickly and obstinately tracks down Kubota anyway. No matter how trustworthy Tokito is, Kubota still doesn’t trust Tokito with some things, definitely not with himself.
It is not that Kubota hasn’t tried. The problem is Kubota doesn’t even trust himself. There are many moments when he wants to reach out to Tokito but fails despite them being abnormally close and interdependent. Kubota even said that everything that leaves his mouth turns into a lie. That is probably why he is dismissive every time somebody asks about him and Tokito, even to the confused Tokito who is trying to explain their relation to other people. Kubota’s isn’t afraid that the elephant would become real if he addresses it, rather that it would vanish altogether.
Or maybe it’s Minekura who doesn’t want to name whatever is between them and rather leave us speculating. I have to applaud Minekura for achieving the right amount of tease and tension between the two to keep fans flailing wildly over innuendos flying left and right. In any case, she manages to have them dodge The Question over and over again while being true to their characters: Tokito because he is completely clueless and Kubota because he doesn’t want to acknowledge it.
Actually, I have to say that the word work in this series is a wonder on its own both in what Minekura manages to and not to say. The dialogues are cleverly written on the fine line of not giving much but just enough. A lot of information are implied or given in metaphors rather than bluntly stated especially when they address the state of mind. When I first know this magnificent lady, I know her as a very unique comic artist who occasionally sprouts prose that leaves us at awe. Wild Adapter is her first, and probably the only, work that I find those kind of prose in the story-telling not just as occasional decoration. Needless to say, I am truly impressed by the quality of Wild Adapter. The story might be deeper, darker, and sometimes more disturbing than anything I’ve seen Minekura put out so far, but I truly believe that this is where Minekura is at her best. She is a sage of the dark side and asking for anything else would be a blasphemy. I do hope that the series will be continued soon after Minekura recovers from surgery. The news is she will resume Wild Adapter in spring 2013, but I don’t really mind if it get delayed as long as her health is improved.
I have to admit that sometimes I wish the project would go into permanent hiatus at some point so we don’t have to face the ending. If Minekura’s foreshadowing is anything to go by, it might not end well for Kubota. Tokito might literally become the death of him, and, as troubling as this might sound, I don’t think Kubota will even care. He is so low on self-preservation that I’m not entirely sure if he will prioritize his own survival if it jeopardizes Tokito’s safety.
I’ll just cross my fingers and hope that I’m wrong on this one.