Over the past two days I’ve been reading the graphic novel MEKA from Magnetic Press, written by JD Moran and illustrated by Bengal. The book is about the two pilots of that staple of Japanese science fiction, the giant robot, called a Meka. Lieutenant Enrique Llamas and Corporal Ninia Onoo are the pilots of one of the white Mekas, which is badly damaged in a battle against the Western red Mekas, whose owners want to enslave the people Llamas and Onoo are trying to protect.
While I don’t require all my entertainment to have deeper meaning, I am perpetually surprised and pleased when a graphic novel such as this one transcends the expectation for its genre and probes a controversial subject. In this case, Moran creates a pair of humans with diametrically opposed world views. Lieutenant Llamas is a conservative, pragmatic man who is willing to sacrifice the few for the good of the many. Corporal Onoo, on the other hand, is gentler and more empathetic. She sees the pain of the people whose lives and loved ones have been destroyed in order for the Meka pilots to save the rest of humanity.
Over the course of the novel, the pair of them learn that there is a middle ground between their harsh, polar viewpoints. Llamas is able to see that individual lives do truly matter, and Onoo realizes that sometimes a protector is given a difficult choice. How she responds to that choice is what defines her character.
The art in this book was surprisingly whimsical, given the story’s plot. The robots look almost like toys in most views. Most of the angles of the frames make them look smaller than they actually are. Bengal excels at including surprisingly precise details that frame the city and make the story more real, such as a full page panel that shows a detonation crater. The explosion has opened a hole in the ground that reveals the city’s subterranean levels—including a subway train and tracks.
The one downfall to this book is that it occasionally attempts to tell the story through pictures without words when the emotions that the writer and illustrator are trying to get across are too complex to be implied. There were a series of pages in which idyllic scenes of city life were followed by scenes of war. I couldn’t tell if these flashbacks were intended to represent life flashing before the eyes of someone who was dying, the memories of the enraged combatants, or simply showing city dwellers having their lives disrupted by war. Some clarification would have been helpful.
I really appreciated that the ending to the book is left open. In an interview with Moran and Bengal, Bengal says, “We could go anywhere with that, I believe. We never intended to, we think about it sometimes, but it’s not necessary, it’s not mandatory. Who knows? JD would like to tell the followup, I believe, and I’d like to tell the adventures of other characters from the same army rather – or the opposing one, why not! Many things are possible.” I, for one, would love to see more of Llamas and Onoo.