Yojimbot 1, review: a lonely robot and his baby

Yojimbot 1, review: a lonely robot and his baby

Yojimbot 1, review

Renoir Comics is undoubtedly one of the most underrated catalogs in the Italian panorama of comic book publishers. As proof of this statement, another excellent proposal from the Milanese publisher, also of transalpian origin, arrives on the shelves of bookshops and comics stores: it is Yojimbot 1 – Metallic Silence by Sylvain Repos, a series that won the 2022 High School Prize at the Angouleme Festival. A recognition that should make us reflect on the goodness of the proposal being assigned by a jury made up of high school students from all over France. A fresh and fast story, full of action and obviously inspired by the Japanese comics and the great classics of science fiction and chanbara (the swashbuckling cinema starring the samurai, that of Akira Kurosawa just to give an easy coordinate for everyone) for a very successful mix.

Yojimbot 1: a lonely robot and his baby

Hoki Province, Japan, 2241. Humanity is hidden in underground shelters, only artificial life forms can inhabit the surface of the Earth: the atmosphere she became unbreathable. But is it really so? Not only have Doctor Hideo and his son Hiro managed to escape from their refuge by discovering this lie, but the soldiers on their trail also seem to accuse him of being in contact with the mysterious Rightholder # 149. Fed up with not getting the answers he seeks, Commander Kozuki orders his men to kill Hideo and Hiro. Fortunately, however, Hiro had "befriended" Unit # 63, a robot that suddenly activates in defense of the boy even if unfortunately for his father there is nothing more to do. The one where Hiro is located is an island, perhaps an amusement park that recreates Japan in the Edo period and where robots impersonate, among others, also the mythical samurai.

The strange couple formed by Hiro and from Unit #63 he then embarks on a journey towards the mysterious Tower #4 where some mysterious "friends" of his father should be waiting for the boy. Hiro will learn about the incredible society set up by the silent gesturing robots gathering other willing companions for the expedition, help that will prove necessary when the sadistic Topu tries to capture them.

What's up? is in Tower #4, who is the Rightholder #149 but above all who has bypassed all the protocols of Unit #63, renamed Sheru by Hiro himself, including the famous "three fundamental laws of robotics", in order to defend the boy? Just when the final battle between Hiro and his friends and Topu takes place at Tower #4, another mysterious samurai robot emerges from the ashes of the battle: will he be a friend or a new fearsome enemy?

Yojimbot 1 : a welcoming sense of déjà-vu

The formula chosen by Sylvain Repos is anything but original and yet in the mix of influences, references and quotes reading Yojimbot 1 – Metallic Silence is incredibly satisfying, engaging and at times even tender. The author mixes certain oriental influences with hints of classic science fiction and a narrative structure that winks at video games but prefers the rhythm of the manga. An approach that best summarizes the interpenetration between different grammars, not only of comics, thus managing to transversally penetrate different types of readers.

The basic plot is clearly the chanbara and the Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Gōseki Kojima who is deliberately looted when young Hiro seeks help in Unit #63. The paradigm of the silent samurai is taken literally: the robots of the island in fact cannot communicate except with gestures. In a literature of comics, but not only that, which seeks more and more to humanize, and in some cases psychoanalyse, anything, it is an interesting turnaround even more when compared to the fact that these robots are not actually artificial intelligences but respect a programming based on the three laws of robotics which brings us back to the great Isaac Asimov. Laws being bypassed to help Hiro: how and why this happens is evidently the long-term narrative agenda of the series. However, all this does not prevent Hiro from making friends with the robots, and humanizing them in his own way, nor the robots from behaving as such but always in compliance with a mission to be completed at any cost as demonstrated by the dramatic final cliffhanger.

In the middle there is first of all the theme of travel, also the founding one of the chanbara genre, but here declined not only in a limited environment, an island, but also "artificial" like that of an amusement park. If obviously for a shrewd reader the setting obviously recalls that of Michael Crichton's Westworld, the methods of exploring the island instead closely resemble those typically videogames of open world games: search for a map, encounter with non-playable characters, stops for charging the robots and so on. In this sense, the way in which Repos declines the theme of separation between reality and fiction is very delicate. In fact, Hiro is not the typical resourceful protagonist, quite the contrary. He is captivated by the wonders of exploration, and by his funny robot samurai, but at the same time he dramatically relives on more than one occasion not only the death of his father but also the feeling of being alone and above all hunted.

He is there is no doubt also that the entire graphic apparatus contributes decisively to the success of Yojimbot 1 – Metallic Silence with the skills of Sylvain Repos that go far beyond those related to mere drawing. It should be remembered that this is a work coming from the French-speaking market but which has very little French - in terms of formal and stylistic approach. It is interesting to start from the deliberately minimal character design of the robots, very steampunk if you like, which brings to mind Steampunk's Katsuhiro Otomo more than Akira's cyberpunk one - see Topu's final robot.

In this sense Repos plays , from the line art point of view, between the contrast between a round and continuous line, as for the protagonist Hiro, with a broken one for the robots. The inspiration is evidently that typical of a certain animation where the immediacy of the forms, and therefore also of the expressions and in the case of the robots of the gestures, corresponds to an almost absent hatching. The backgrounds are rich and detailed but never redundant, there is also a timid use of screens, while the colors are spread with large backgrounds where the play of light and the effects serve to accentuate the nuances and contrasts between nature which has evidently taken the above man-made structures.

If in this sense the style is therefore easily accessible, where however Yojimbot 1 – Metallic Silence clearly approaches the manga is in the distribution of spaces and in the construction of the table. First of all, the number of panels is smaller than that of the classic Franco-Belgian comic, this allows for a greater dynamism of the composition, the figures become central both with borders and with airy full-page solutions. The kinetic lines and the transversal cuts of the boxes are then taken up directly from the manga in the numerous action sequences that become so spectacular and frenetic.

The volume

Renoir Comics offers Yojimbot 1 – Metallic Silence in an agile softcover volume with flaps in the format 17×24 cm. The paper used is matt coated with good rendering of both colors and blacks, the only note, from the paper-technical point of view that can be done, is linked to the trimming of the pages which does not always allow an optimal reading of the balloons. From an editorial point of view, however, the translation and adaptation are smooth and, although there are no editorial contributions, there is instead a good section of studies and preparatory sketches with notes by the same author.

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