The title Time Killers—placed on a wraparound cover with a vast cast of characters and featuring a kimono, ninja knife, katana, school uniform, cape and goggles, UFOs, first aid box, and even Native Americans on horseback—screams time travel. Sure, the subtitle says, “short story collection,” but the stories are linked by time travel, right? Wrong! Writer/illustrator Kazue Kato says in the afterword: “The title Time Killers is meant to suggest having fun or killing time… I hope this book becomes your time killer.”
Far from meaningless fluff, Kato’s work spans several moods and set pieces, usually within the same short story. She’s made a name for herself with the hit anime and manga series Blue Exorcist, but this collection consists of the work she made when becoming a serialized manga author was still a distant aspiration, starting at age 19. I wouldn’t know the publication order of these stories without Kato’s notes in the back describing the year and creative goal of each story, but her skill in pacing, facial expressions, mood, and action are all clear from her earliest work. Even her eight-page story “A Maiden’s Prayer,” which appears to be penciled in with lots of hatching and soft features, would be completely credible as a full-length publication.
It’s important to emphasize the finer qualities of the collection in general, because after that comes the task of describing how each short story has its own strengths and charms, and there’s something for everyone here. Kato’s storytelling can sometimes appear to veer into mature territory, but she also sprinkles in enough humor and characterization to indicate a careful, considered approach. For example, a teenage assassin has a flashback to murdering his own father with a pair of scissors, yet by the end of the story, the assassin makes an unlikely friend in a teenage doctor-in-training, begging for an odd couple continuation. There are a couple of other bloody scenes, with one small panel of explicit violence—a blade cutting through a rabbit-person’s head—but I believe this book would be comfortable among teen readers, especially if they are fans of Kato. Viz rates the book as T+ for Older Teen, but even the content’s heavier moments are more akin to Naruto‘s than Attack On Titan‘s.
If each story’s premise sounds promising, be assured that the writing and art justify the interest. An astronomy nerd struggles to admit his lifelong passion to a similarly nerdy classmate, but finds his courage when visiting aliens inform him a meteorite has been redirected to his school where she’s currently using the telescope. A loner welcomes the new year with a broken soup bowl that comes to life and grants his wishes, leading to a Twilight Zone-style escalation from eating a full-course meal to gambling his life away in Vegas. A young man who exorcises demons on behalf of the Knights of the Blue Cross means to save a young woman who is stalked by a demon—hey, that last one sounds just like Blue Exorcist! Kato acknowledges the resemblance in her afterword, along with the assertion that Blue Exorcist was planned in advance of the story, even if this one was published first.
The character designs are consistently distinct and all are easy to recognize. Even the rabbit-people in one story are possessed of expression. Cowardice, aggression, sadness, friendliness, fear, disappointment, grief, celebration, laughter—emotions and motivations of all stripes are depicted in these stories. Layouts are uncannily clear with consistent gutters separating an efficient use of panels. Certain actions or dialog may cross the panels, but by and large, each page has a natural, instinctive flow that never appears cluttered. The book’s production values match the stories’ level of quality, from semi-glossy paper to color treatment. Three of the shorter stories are completely in color and a couple of full-color title pages are included, too. The first two pages of the book fold out to become a small poster version of the cover with the table of contents printed on the other side.
Across these eleven stories, Kato presents a remarkable portfolio of early talent that displays every indication of promise, no matter the genre she would eventually choose. Her afterword includes a lot of modesty about these stories being “embarrassing” and “follies of my youth,” but they are worth shelving next to any series by an established creator.
by Kazue Kato
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)