The collaboration between Jumpei Mizusaki, Takashi Okazaki (the folks behind the wildly inventive Batman Ninja) and country music star Sturgill Simpson on an anime for Netflix was an unexpected thrill last year.
Netflix presents…Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury
Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury was something between a series of music videos in line with Toei Animation/Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 and a Japanese-American fused mood piece on the end of the word.
Sturgill Simpson has said he recorded the album while Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo played in the studio. An appropriate connection, given both the director’s touchstone influence on American cinema with Star Wars and A Fistful of Dollars, as well as the anime’s contrast of Shaw Brothers Studio wuxia/samurai action and End Times capitalism unleashed on a post-apocalyptic landscape.
As films go, it’s a trip.
The album itself is immensely enjoyable, blending 80’s disco, funk, scuzzed out country with a concept of switching channels on a car radio while burning rubber.
Music and Comics
Z2 Comics, having produced titles inspired by the music of Gorillaz, Anthrax and Major Lazer, are behind this graphic novel collection of vignettes set in the same world of the anime. Takashi Okazaki returns for a series of non-consecutive chapters involving the muscle car driving/soul sword wielding ronin Nozomi.
Jason Aaron and crew
Readers will also find further digressions into Nozomi’s life with Vasilis Lolos (The Pirates of Coney Island) depicting a fateful pit-stop for repairs; Rufus Dayglo tracing the history of the brothers Slick and Slim, who tear down the world as we know it with their greed; a fun return to the eponymous Sound and Fury in their prime by Rosi Kampe; and a bittersweet epilogue by artist Deathburger promising a continuing rescue mission adventure to come.
The comic adaptation is marshalled by Jason Aaron, with Ryan Cady. With his career to date oscillating between Oglala Lakota reservation noir Scalped and the cosmic weird of his Thor run for Marvel, I can see why Aaron makes for a good fit given the material.
Where Sound & Fury the comic falls down is the need to explain the timeline of this world. If the anime was a group of artists riffing on discordant skronk and dreaming up a post-apocalyptic world seemingly fixated on 1980s disco, funk, and America’s fears of Japanese economic hegemony, Aaron is more interested in telling us who these characters – Nozomi, Sound and Fury, Slick and Slim (and revealing a third brother, Sly) – are. In this manner, Sound & Fury becomes, instead of a manic, scuzzy mood piece, just another post-apocalypse.
The opening narration describing a nuclear exchange, comparing the destruction of cities to popping zits, turning ‘’seas of shimmering skyscrapers to a desert of smoldering pockmarks” is an effective statement of intent for Aaron and Cady. This is a throwback to the post-apocalypse as adolescent power fantasy. More A Boy and His Dog, than the grinning nihilism of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Watching the Watchmen
The cheeky bugger even slips in an egregious nod to Watchmen that simply lies there on the page. Oh yes, I remember you of yore Aaron, with your company man screed against Moore.
Social Media Do’s and Don’ts
The narrative low point of the book is Chapter Three’s ‘The World According To The Brothers Slick And Slim’. Here we learn the maddening post-apocalypse was brought into being by a ….social media company called Thousand Likes. The company logo, initially resembling the flag icon for the Isle of Man, eventually is positioned to look like the Nazi symbol. It’s that kind of subtlety that we’re working with here.
A direct line is drawn from Trumpesque political upheaval, police violence, rioting, unemployment and social media influencers, to Slick and Slim taking over the world.
Essentially the comic makes a satirical stab at the influencer economy and our corporate Pantopticon in a far less interesting or engaging way than the wonderful Crowded by Sebela, Brandt, Stein and Farrell from Image Comics.
Where Sound & Fury had an opportunity to explore the fertile soil of shitkicker doomsayers and Milton William Cooper conspiracy theory fanaticism – the album opens with Joe Rogan attempting an impersonation of Alex Jones after all – kamikaze influencers have little bite as a piece of commentary.
Why have a race commentator spell out emojis? Only Chelsea Peretti has earned that right!
In terms of the art, Vasilis Lolos’s chapters could use a richer colour palette given the psychedelia of the anime. Lolos is also underserved by repeated dialogue sequences between Nozomi and a sheriff attempting to carve out something like social order in the wake of Thousand Likes (myself and Bobsy Mindless touched on how presenting the character of Rick Grimes as a symbol of order is similarly problematic on Deconstructing Comics). Rufus Dayglo, also, is underserved with a story too heavy on the blunt social satire to truly explore the imagery of this world. That said, Rosi Kempe, Deathburger and of course Takashi Okazaki all nail the brief. Their chapters are the highlights of this collection.
Summing up the end of the world
This is a mixed bag that doesn’t quite capture the tonal shifts and digressions of the album and accompanying anime. Where the comic page has limitless potential to depict the strangest and most extreme, Aaron et al aim for an also-ran effort.