Beauty and Grit in Tamura’s Chicago

Chicago begins with fire and crisis. Two members of the Self-Defense Force Rescue Squad Four, Rei and Uozumi, rush in to save any survivors. Amidst the smoke and the dead bodies, they’re surprised to hear the strains of a familiar melody, the Fourth movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor — better known as “From the New World.”

It’s a melody that becomes a repeating theme — both in the musical and in the narrative sense — throughout the first volume.

It’s a tune that Uozumi notices doesn’t fit with the destruction that surrounds them. Seconds later, they hear the ominous sound of a plane and then bombs. In Chicago, this juxtaposition of the beautiful and the gritty is common. The nightclub itself is another example of this: it’s classic and “looks like it attracts a fine clientele” but as soon as they enter, the figures hidden in the shadows don’t necessarily look too respectable. Rei herself is the same way: she comes off as tough, seasoned by the harsh demands of the job, but at the same time, she’s a calendar/pin-up model.

The Dvorak symphony comes up again two more times: when they’re looking for Billy, the kidnapped boy, in the first hideout; and then once again when they move Billy and when Rei finds herself trapped in the room with the explosives. In the second instance, I find it was extremely clever that Uozumi used the length of the movement to figure out how much time he had left. He knew that the movement typically lasts around ten minutes, but that particular arrangement was slowed down, giving him an additional two minutes to escape.

Looking at Uozumi, you initially wouldn’t think that he would be such a connoisseur of classicial music. He looks and sounds like the classic warrior; even with bombs dropping above their heads, he wouldn’t miss the opportunity to tell Rei how much the situation reminded him of his experiences in Somalia, Rwanda, and Iraq. Yet, in prison, he’s that guy playing the cello, practically lulling the guards with his rendition of Concierto de Aranjuez.

Chicago exemplifies what I adore about Tamura’s works: it’s terse, yet manages to still toe the balance between action and characterization. Rei and Uozumi (and later Shin) find themselves in dangerous situations, where’s somebody’s bound to possibly lose a limb or two. The page of the three of them floating in the air just after they jumped off the plane was absolutely gorgeous. I could practically hear the air whooshing in my ears. The first volume alone is as packed with guns and bombs as any summer blockbuster movie. Yet at the same time, throughout all the noise, we still hear Rei. We hear her confusion and  her loneliness. We hear Billy and his fear about never reaching his dream and about being too scared to face his dream even as the chance offers itself.

If Yumi Tamura can build this world in one volume, now imagine what she can do with twenty-six more.


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