It is the year 4000 A.D. and the first murder in a thousand years has taken place in the floating nation of New Japan. Residents of New Japan live with Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled partners called Positrons, or PTs, for companionship. A master AI called “Father” governs the populace, monitoring everyone and designating who may procreate. Father’s enforcement agent, Rai, is dispatched for major crimes in New Japan, and this recent murder just became his top priority. He will learn secrets about the country he has guarded for so long, including Father’s true nature. Along for the ride is the teenage Lula, a fan of Rai, willing to perform gumshoe detective work, and a secret agent named Spylocke, both of whom are in for more techno-noir trouble than they ever reckoned.

Kudos to writer Matt Kindt for balancing so many perspectives within the four issues of this collection, but the brightest star in this comic is artist Clayton Crain, whose digital painting style distinguishes this comic with slick, futuristic visuals and a signature look different from anything else Valiant has produced. Crain’s art showcases a talent for light and detail that rewards close and repeat scrutiny. This quality holds up whether characters are swooping into action or talking in a bar, under the sun or moon (though the story favors moonlight), and whether panels need to direct physical action or focus on a character’s motives. Gutters between panels sometimes take on a pattern of digital noise similar to how Rai’s teleportation ability is depicted, transmitting as a flurry of miniature rectangles. Rai practically swims through New Japan when he’s in a hurry, most likely to slice ‘n’ dice targets assigned by Father in a bloody and stylized fashion. Crain’s New Japan is glowing but moody, lushly colored but immediately habitable. Readers will lose themselves in the detail of a boutique aquarium filled with colorful fish before turning the page and beholding a warehouse-sized card catalog of tall, brown cabinets (according to Lula, “It’s an old library”).

What about Rai, as a character and a series, is Japanese? His name translates to “spirit” in Japanese, and some of New Japan’s residents believe him to be a wandering spirit of punishment. His face, chest, hands, feet, and katanas bear the red circle of Old Japan’s flag, and the floating island of New Japan was formulated from the industrialized Old Japan. New Japan’s social hierarchy is based on proximity to Earth: the lower you are physically, the lower you are socially. “If you walked from the bottom of Japan to the top sector it would take you at least a month,” Lula explains. Every so often, the island opens its exhaust valve and releases a destructive blast on the Earth below. Despite this vicious xenophobia toward Earth, New Japan is not just preserving Japanese aesthetics and offspring. Some characters appear to have East Asian facial features, but others do not. There is a black character for a few panels. Rai, though empowered with superhuman abilities by Father, has a human, Japanese mother. Each sector of New Japan houses a different kind of environment, from urban sprawl to idyllic beach to prehistoric jungle.

Librarians and collectors should be aware that the Rai series currently clocks in at three paperback collections or one hardcover, and leads into the book 4001 A.D. and a book of one-off stories, 4001 A.D.: Beyond New Japan. Zeroing in on a typical “read this if you like” recommendation is tricky, since this series includes elements of noir, cyberpunk, mystery, science fiction, and samurai stories. Violence and blood in action scenes, though largely stylized, leads to a teen recommendation. Rai serves as a great entry point into publisher Valiant’s universe, referencing a few characters from the main timeline but not requiring any advance knowledge. This trade paperback includes extras in the back such as variant cover gallery by various artists, Crain’s concept art, and annotated sketchbook pages from Kindt.

Rai, vol. 1: Welcome To New Japan
by Matt Kindt
Art by Clayton Crain
ISBN: 9781939346414
Valiant, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: T+

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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