Review by Ian Keogh
After a magnificent seven previous volumes of Old Boy are Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi really going to let us down with the conclusion? When they finally reveal to us what deep-rooted hate and malice could fester from childhood to the point where one man was prepared to pay to keep another imprisoned for ten years? Of course not. This finale has been seven volumes in the making and it drags out the suspense until the final page. What an achievement!
There is a new element introduced here, or actually in the closing pages of volume 7 to be precise, and it explains a couple of coincidences during the run and what may have appeared irrational behaviour in previous volumes, especially the opener. It’s a brave move employing a technique that’s long been discarded as too far fetched for modern crime fiction, and that’s exactly why it works. What’s even better is the uncertainty it fosters in the reader, a lingering suspicion of possible tragedy until the final pages. We are dealing with an utterly devious manipulator after all. That’s Tsuchiya, by the way, and by introducing this plot device he renders so much of what we’ve previously read open to reinterpretation. Goto has been told he’s involved in what his opponent considers a game, but what to extent has that game been rigged? It’s left for us to ponder.
It’s difficult to think of an American series that matches Old Boy in the manner that it compels from start to finish, incorporating psychological manipulation and dragging the reader over 1600 pages without ever seeming padded. Robert Kirkman manages a sort of equivalent with The Walking Dead, but it ebbs and flows rather continuing at a peak of intensity. Old Boy begins with a magnificent concept, and the trickle of disclosures can’t quite top that, but they’re excellent nonetheless in ensuring there’s a continual level of interest.
Also excellent from start to finish are Minegishi’s pages. He’s master of the subtle glance that conveys volumes, yet also of detailing a city section in depth, two contrasting talents. No matter how many times he’s had to illustrate Kassim’s bar throughout the series Minegishi never makes it appear stale, always coming up with a valid viewpoint that continues to engage. The same can be said of the conversations that require illustrating at length as the protagonists feint with each other, and which under lesser hands could be dull rather than cinematic.
This is the book in which we finally discover the reason Goto endured ten years of incarceration. It’s subtle, and may not work for every reader, but the construction of character and what resonates has led very logically to this point. When you have everything what is there to do but obsess over minor moments?
Eight books is a fair investment to contemplate, but the creators reward that investment manyfold for anyone who enjoys a good crime serial. Intelligent, compelling and almost effortlessly elegant, Old Boy deserves an audience in its original format, not just the movie.