It’s hard not to be curious about a manga commissioned by the Louvre from Hirohiko Araki, a mangaka best known for the seinen series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. The Louvre calls to mind an austere classicism along the lines of the Mona Lisa, but much of Araki’s work bursts with hyper-kinetic action and superpowers. Whether the book succeeds or fails, both the museum and the author get some credit for trying something unexpected.
The Rohan of the title is a recurring character of Araki’s, Rohan Kishibe, a mangaka with the power to “read people like a book,” meaning he can cause their faces to unfurl into page after page of text describing their very essence. It’s a really interesting visual that Araki handles quite well. Rohan is haunted by his memories of Nanase, a mysterious young woman he met one summer while still a student. She tells him of an ancient painting full of dark power, found near her home but now stored at the Louvre. Years later, Rohan makes his way to Paris to see this evil painting, which the Louvre has apparently misplaced deep in their creepy basement. That goes about as well as you’d expect, and everything gets really weird and scary.
The story here is pretty slight and not particularly groundbreaking, but that’s not where Araki’s focusing his attention. The book comes alive in moments of taut emotion, high drama, or vicious action — anything that lets Araki put together a really evocative panel. Since much of the story takes place in the Louvre, I suppose it would be fitting to describe Araki’s art as Mannerist, in the style of Pontormo or Parmigianino. The characters are lithe and extended, often striking poses that, while unnatural, are full of sensual grace and emotion. Vibrant and unexpected colors pop off the page. Even a security guard’s split skull maintains an alluring sort of polished beauty as it falls open. It’s a highly stylized approach that takes some getting used to, but results in some really great moments.
On my first read-through, before I went looking for more information about Araki and learned that Rohan is a recurring character, I was troubled by my inability to fit Rohan’s people-reading powers into a larger understanding of the book’s themes. He really only uses his power once and I couldn’t see how it related to the story of the dark and evil painting. Reconsidering the book as a sort of caveat to an existing character’s other adventures, I was able to let go of some of my narrative concerns and enjoy Araki’s expressionistic energy.
Rohan at the Louvre
by Hirohiko Araki