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Before I dig deep into my review of the first volume of RUNLOVEKILL, let me just say it is good. The art is brilliantly fluid and alive with emotion. You feel every punch, every drop of blood as the impacted individual goes flying backwards. The writing is simple, yet elegant. There are entire sections that go without any dialogue, and it allows you to immerse yourself in the world, see rather than read about the struggles of the society our protagonist lives in. It all adds up to make a comic that is well worth a read. So, if you are a reader that likes to read untainted material, learn the secrets of the universe for yourself, then I urge you stop here and go no further. Get a copy of this comic and you will be satisfied.
If you are still here, I will underline once again that there are some spoilers ahead. While this comic does not contain any major plot twists in that sense, the way the story unravels is like a bizarre mixture of Memento and The Usual Suspects. It tells you exactly what you need to know to understand the character’s emotion within whatever issue you are reading, and it is impossible for me to discuss the issues included in this trade without removing some of the mystery from that story structure.
Enough warnings. Let us take a dive through the first trade of RUNLOVEKILL.
The story takes place in the futuristic city of Prygat, a militaristic police-state that is actively imprisoning its populace by building a massive wall around the city limits. While the government enforcement agency, The Origami, claims this is to protect the citizens from the dangers lurking outside the walls, one person that does not buy that excuse is our main protagonist, Rain Oshiro. Rain is a former soldier for the Origami. She was recruited as a young child, and left two years before our main story is set, due to an unwillingness to execute the orders of her commanding officers. As the walls are coming up around Prygat, Rain makes a final attempt to escape the control that the Origami holds over her and the people around her. While I expected there to be more of a “we must take down the Origami” feel to the first arc of this story, it rather focuses entirely on her attempt to escape Prygat, even having Rain herself acknowledge the pain she brings to her friends in order to fulfil her own self-interest. It makes it a much more personal story, and while there may be a wider plot in later volumes (perhaps building three separate arcs in line with the comic’s title), this first volume allows Rain to stand as her own character and gives the reader a complete insight into her as the protagonist, refusing to hide or attempt to cover any of her faults. This benefits the story greatly because it makes Rain a highly engaging character, where you understand her motivation on a deeply personal level.
The story opens with what might be one of the greatest opening sequences in a comic of all time. The sequence, which I will describe in painstaking detail in a bit, borrows a heavy dose of inspiration from the criminally under-appreciated anime series Aeon Flux. The character we see running from unnamed armed guards is instantly reminiscent of Aeon, and the fluidity of the art does nothing but add to that feel. However, rather than feeling like a tacky rip-off or a fumbling homage, it feels so natural, like RUNLOVEKILL merely picks up where Aeon Flux left off. The sequence interchanges our fleeing character with a young girl playing a cello with passionate agony until her fingers bleed. This sequence is further unfolded as the volume goes on, and reveals that the scenes that are interchanged are actually Rain fleeing from a form of military prison after disobeying the orders of her commanding officers, and Rain playing cello as a child from the night her father was killed by the Origami, the organisation to which she was later forced to enter. This adds such a brilliant subtext to the opening sequence because it shows us a deeply emotional character that has been running from oppression and tyranny for most of her life. It adds a lot of understandable anger to the character of Rain, and it lets you understand so much about why she wants to escape the clutches of The Origami. The decision from writers Eric Canete and Jonathan Tsuei to leave this sequence free of dialogue is another brilliant move, as it allows the art by Eric Canete to tell an emotionally impactful story without cluttering it with unnecessary narration or dialogue. I would also be remiss if I neglected to mention the amazing colours by Leonardo Olea. The fluid art by Canete is fleshed out perfectly by the colours of Olea, and this is a consistent feature throughout the entire volume. Olea shows a great understanding for how to make the panels with alive and natural rather than forced and manufactured. The art and colours throughout are simply stunning.
In fact, the art is one of the strongest aspects of this comic as a whole. The writing is stellar on almost every area, and I will discuss its faults a bit later, but the art is what really stands out too me. I don’t know how many times I can call it fluid before it loses all meaning, but that is truly the best word to describe it in this case. The pages are alive with emotion. Each pain inducing punch is felt as blood pours from ruptured skin, and each heartfelt panel comes to life with the aforementioned combination of Canete’s artwork and Olea’s colours. An added strength of the art is that it knows exactly how to draw each scene to enable it to achieve max potential. It may sound like an odd thing to comment on, but the decision to alter between a slightly more chaotic style in fight scenes and clean, crisp lines in most dialogue scenes really adds a lot of life to the story. The art almost becomes an embodiment of Rain’s emotions, as when she’s fleeing for her life the art is slightly more chaotic and the lines aren’t as crisp as when she’s having a friendly chat with her friend. It is just another strength in the margins for this comic.
As the story unfolds from the opening sequence, you learn a lot about Rain and the struggle she has gone through to get to where she is at that stage in the comic. The story is structured in a way where each issue opens with a flashback, like the one in the first issue, each giving further backstory to Rain and the opening sequence, while the remainder of the issue follows Rain’s progress in her attempt to escape Prygat. As previously mentioned, the opening sequence of the first issue becomes more and more emotionally powerful as you learn about Rain’s struggles, and the city of Prygat becomes more populated in each issue, introducing us to different characters as the story progresses. You meet Rain’s friends, adversaries and random encounters on her quest to escape Prygat before the walls close in around her. You are also witness to how Rain exploits a lot of her friends kindness in her pursuit to leave the city without ever considering the consequences her actions may have. While she does acknowledge the impact she has on her friends after her actions have been carried out, it would be nice to hear her friends question her motivations a bit more than they do.
That brings me to the weaknesses of this comic, which aren’t all that prevalent, because there’s really only one weakness of note and that is the side characters, both in terms of Rain’s friends and her adversaries in the Origami soldiers. They are sadly rarely more than extensions of Rain’s own existence, so they have no individual life to bring to the story. They are often portrayed as single trait characters, which gives the world Rain populates a very desolate feel. It doesn’t feel like there would be a world worth paying attention if it hadn’t been for Rain, and while that adds some strengths to Rain as a character, there is no denying that having single trait characters populate her social circle does distract from some of the story. For instance, Rain’s designated “friend secretly in love with her” is Deyliad. He never feels like his own person, and seemingly only exists to progress Rain’s story, unquestioningly sacrificing wealth and personal safety to ensure Rain’s success. The story would have benefited more from having him be a more developed character, where you understand his desire to help Rain, as much as you understand Rain’s willingness to take advantage of his kindness. There’s also Boone, the Origami’s designated “I’m going to kill everyone cause I feel like it” character, who is for some reason dead-set on killing Rain despite his commanding officers’ repeated orders of bringing her back alive. While his hatred for Rain may be explained in later issues, from this first issue he just seems to want to kill her simply cause she is the opposition. There may be some sub-text from the fact that Rain betrayed the Origami, at least from the perspective of her former allies, so they despise her for it and want to see her suffer, but that is never developed more than a slight hint from one of her former friends.
The final thing I would like to comment on before I begin my summary is the covers for the single issues, as well as the trade. They feature a 3D rendering of various characters within RUNLOVEKILL by Manu Fernandez, and as a whole I feel they do not do the comic justice. It makes the comic look cold, bleak, and clinical, and while that fits with a story set in a police state governed by a organisation that does not seem all that open to individual freedom and expression, they don’t match the feel of the art in the comic itself. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, and it’s hardly a rare occurrence that you get a cover that in no way reflects the quality of the comic, both in good and bad ways, but to me these covers actually weakens the comics appeal to a general audience. Its not that the 3D art is bad, quite the contrary actually, as it gives an interested insight into some of the design work that may go into a comic like this, but it’s a kind cover that would work much better as a variant. It is not a good way to market your comic, in my opinion. Now this in no way detracts from the overall experience of reading the trade, and it doesn’t impact the quality of the comic in any way. However, I would be lying if I said that I would be interested in buying the comic judging solely on the cover.
At the end of the day, RUNLOVEKILL is a rare occurrence in modern storytelling. It is a comic book with such astounding belief in its own strengths that it trusts that the reader will allow them to tell a story that won’t force feed information to them. To tell a story that takes time to explain its protagonist motivations, so that even four issues in it still hasn’t fully explained everything you may want to know about Rain, the Origami or any other facet of the story that is unfolding before our eyes. While it struggles a bit to flesh out of some of the supporting cast, and especially with its attempts to create a compelling villain in the Origami, it is still a highly engaging story that will make you thirst for more issues. If the creative team behind this comic can maintain a story that is half as interesting as the one that took place in these first four issues, then it will most certainly justify its own existence and be a comic worth following.
RUNLOVEKILL Volume 1 earns 9 out of 10.