Review of the graphic novel Domu: A Child’s Dream by Katsuhiro Otomo
Domu: A Child’s Dream is a manga series written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo, best known for his masterpiece Akira.
The comic, after winning some prestigious awards such as the Japan Cartoonists Association Award in 1981, the Nihon SF Taisho Award in 1984, and the Seiun Award in the same year, was published in French in 1991, in Italian in 1992, and in English in 1995. The graphic novel was serialized between 1980 and 1981.
The story centers on an old man and a child possessing extrasensory powers.
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A series of mysterious accidents, inexplicable suicides, domestic injuries, sudden deaths ensue in a large and anonymous building on the outskirts of Tokyo. Inspector Yagamawa and Detective Takayama are in charge of the investigation. However, Yagamawa dies mysteriously committing suicide after finding a good lead to track down the killer, and Takayama is left with the task of continuing the investigation alone.
The murderer is a harmless-looking old man, Mr. Cho, a collector of junk who lives alone. In reality, the objects he jealously guards at home are the loot he recovers from the victims. The murderous rampage of old Cho is thwarted by the arrival of a girl named Etsuko.
But the real protagonist of the story is the huge and aseptic residential complex in which the story takes place, a real city within the city. The main inspiration came from the housing complex where Otomo had lived when he moved to Tokyo and from a series of reports regarding a sequence of suicides that occurred in another complex. In 1980 the Takashimadaira residential complex, located in the northern part of Tokyo, was the setting of more than 70 suicides. It was a huge, gray, anonymous, and claustrophobic complex, where over 40,000 people lived in 64 buildings five- to 14-stories high within Tokyo’s city limits. Due to the constant suicides, the doors leading to the roofs were sealed. Suicides were so frequent that the complex earned the nickname of ‘Mecca for Suicides’ because most of the people who took their own lives, were not residents of the complex but they come from miles away, sometimes riding a train for hours.
The geometries designed by Otomo highlight his obsession with architecture and the relationship that is established between the gray architectural rationalism that was in vogue in the last century and the vital needs of the people who populate these aseptic environments. The alienation of the outskirts is sublimated by the converging lines of the buildings, by the parallel levels that stretch on the perspective projections, which allow a glimpse of private environments for a moment frozen in time, emphasizing with wide shots the empty expanses of concrete. As with JG Ballard’s High-Rise, the residential complex is both the protagonist and the scene of the miserable events that are revealed.
In some ways, Domu can be considered as a precursor of Akira. The themes dealt with in the two works are similar, in both, there are destructive mental powers, possessed by children or by men who have the minds of children. Both also share the same graphic style: long shots, claustrophobic structures, and strongly identified characters.
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