Opus, Satoshi Kon's Unfinished Magnum Opus
If it’s not evident already, I’m a huge Satoshi Kon fan. I’ve seen everything he has ever directed from Perfect Blue all the way to Paranoia Agent. But it was only recently that I got introduced to his earlier work, more precisely, his manga. Unlike his anime movies, Kon’s manga are mostly unfinished with only one of them having a definite ending that being, “Tropic of the Sea”. And reading these unfinished stories stirs up a lot of emotions in me mainly melancholy since I know these will never be finished, and Kon won’t ever touch anything again(he passed away in 2010). However, there’s this one manga that walks the fine line between finished and unfinished, it’s Kon’s “Opus”, a metafictional action story.
The story in the manga Opus follows a mangaka named Chikara Nagai, who is just about to wrap his long-running hit series, Resonance. He’s planning on ending it with a big bang, by having the series villain, Masque kill one of the main characters, Lin. However, due to all the pressure and working long hours Nagai begins to slowly lose his mind, or at least that’s what he thinks. Until he actually gets sucked into his own manga Resonance. Now he has to escape his creation and take back the last page of his series which was stolen by Lin. Is this a dream, or are Nagai’s realities merging?
Reading this manga felt a bit weird, the premise was both familiar and new. Some of the story beats and themes resembled those of Kon’s future films, however, there was something here not really found in his later works. Yes, the story has a challenging narrative and also plays with themes like dreams, dream worlds and losing grasp on reality, but it also extremely meta. So meta in fact that at one point I forgot I was reading something by Satoshi Kon. And believe me when I say this story is as metafiction as it can get. At least it’s quite easy to follow and you can probably grasp the whole story on your first read-through, which in itself is strange considering how most of Kon’s films require multiple watch throughs.
When it comes to the story of the manga, I think it was masterfully executed. The characters are interesting and engrossing and the narrative never gets boring or slow. I read the book in one session in around an hour and a half and never let it go. Even beyond its themes and ideas, the manga has great twists and turns that keep you engaged the whole way through, all the way to the end...
And here comes the sad part, as I mentioned earlier, Opus was never officially finished. It ended on a cliffhanger right before the big conclusion. However, after Kon’s death in 2010 it was revealed that he had drawn an extra chapter, these were rough sketches but they gave an overall feel of completeness. In this last(lost) chapter it’s revealed that Kon did have plans to finish the manga but never got around to it. Reading this last chapter felt like an emotional punch in the gut and that’s as far as I’ll say as to not spoil anything.
Overall, Satoshi Kon’s Opus is a masterclass in suspenseful writing and metafiction. Its characters are great, the story is amazing and the artwork is superb. Its only downfall is that it is unfinished and will never get finished. But there are rumors that Madhouse are planning on adapting the story into an anime, so maybe we might get an anime-only conclusion at least.