Story and art by Masamune Shirow
Translation by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith
Lettering and retouch by Tom Orzechowski
After finishing the first two books of Appleseed, Shirow decided to try his hand at lighter fare. The result was Dominion, a series which has humorous moments, but which isn't a comedy by any means.
In the bacteria-ravaged environment of Newport City, Police Sergeant Leona Ozaki and the Tank Police relentlessly pursue the notorious Buaku gang. But when Buaku kidnaps Crolis Greenpeace, an artifical life form designed to clean the atmosphere, he graduates from nuisance to global threat...
Dominion is a queer duck. On one hand, Shirow wants it to be a light-hearted action comedy where cute mini-tanks chase each other through the city. On the other hand, he wants it to be a serious ecological story that scolds humanity for ruining the environment. Unfortunately, the two halves never quite meet. The environmental aspects seem shoehorned into the story — it's strange to see the police so concerned with matters well out of their jurisdiction. The action comedy is a lot more appealing, but it degenerates into more serious-minded action in the final act, which doesn't quite mesh with everything that's come earlier.
It says a lot about Shirow's artistic development that Dominion seems far more cartoonish than Appleseed, even though the drawings are far more detailed. They key is simplified, open panel compositions, combined with less realistic character designs and more exaggerated poses. Here's a sample...
There's more linework here than in Shirow's earlier work, but because each panel composition is boiled down to the bare essentials — just Leona or Buaku — the results feel less cramped and more open. The storytelling is equally simple, alternating between shots of Leona and Buaku, each of whom gets one side of the page all to themselves.
Dominion also features the lettering of Tom Orzechowski, possibly the only person crazy enough to touch up compositions which feature transparent letters over fine hatching and forests of speed lines. His goofy hand-lettered sound effects help create the light-hearted tone of the early chapters. In these days when most manga sound effects go completely untranslated, it's nice to see an example where the translated sound effects actually enhance the story. Sometimes, that extra effort is worth it.
I'd say more, but Dominion really isn't strong enough to support a more complex analysis. Ultimately, it's a diverting but hardly memorable comic. Its sequel, however, is another matter entirely...
Dominion: Tank Police OVAs
In 1988, Toshiba produced a four-part straight-to-video Dominion prequel. If anything, the OVAs are even less coherent than the comics. The police torture suspects with grenades, take potshots at the soft-on-crime mayor, and casually blow up buildings — which we're supposed to laugh at. There's a secret government project to change the nature of the human race, and an insinuation that a-bombs would make effective police tools — which we're supposed to take seriously. Buaku's origin is revealed — and we're supposed to feel sorry for him. It could all work if the series went over the top, but it doesn't have the balls. Instead, we're left with an incoherent mess that tries to push all of your buttons and fails. Of all the adaptations of Shirow's work, the Dominion OVAs are easily the weakest, and that's saying quite a lot.