Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkon Kinkreet, Sunny, Ping Pong) is on the short list of artists who jump to the front of my queue whenever new work is out. No. 5 is not truly new as it was originally serialized in Japan from 2000 to 2005 and has received various incomplete English editions since then, but this is the first volume of a new edition from Viz.
It’s a fantastical tale of the Peace Corps Rainbow Brigade, an elite military hero unit with members numbered one through nine. At the start of the story No. 5 has betrayed the team and absconded with the woman he loves. One by one the other members are sent to hunt him down. The perspective rotates among the cast and explores themes of military propaganda, hero worship, and team vs self.
The fantasy/sci-fi world of No. 5 is presented without exposition. Matsumoto shows great respect to readers, trusting we will understand the situation without a cheat-sheet. Mood and character are foremost.
As a young artist Matsumoto traveled through Europe and he acknowledges Moebius as a major influence. Of all of Matsumoto’s work that I’ve read this influence is most apparent here. The characters range across surreal landscapes packed with playful design. Disciples of Moebius have produced a lot of all-style no-substance comics but Matsumoto does not suffer this fate. No. 5 drips style, but, once again, it’s all in service to mood and character development.
I love Matsumoto’s crinkly, loose linework, suggesting breakneck inking sessions uncontained by pencils. The drawing is full of energy which Matsumoto fine-tunes as the story dictates.
I had to slow my reading to take in the 300+ rich pages. By book’s end I felt stuffed, with heaping platters still left on the table. Volume 2 will release straight to the top of my to-read pile.