A review of the first volume & first impressions
Lost Lad London by Shima Shinya is a political thriller about a college student teaming up with a grizzled detective to solve a murder. Serialized in Comic Bean from 2019 to 2021, Lost Lad London is an award-winning short series, clocking in at 3 volumes. (The manga won the New Face Award in the 25th Japan Media Arts Festival Awards held in 2022.) As of this review, Yen Press has released 2 out of 3 volumes. Barring no delays, we can expect the third and final volume in January 2023.
Yen Press describes the story:
The whole of London is shocked when the mayor is found dead on an Underground train, but perhaps none more than university student Al Adley. Though he took the Tube at the time of the fatal stabbing, he doesn’t remember seeing anything unusual—certainly nothing to explain how a bloody knife found its way into his pocket that night. However, in spite of this damning evidence, Detective Ellis believes Al’s claims of innocence. Now the two must work together to conceal Al’s involvement and clear his name in the face of shadowy forces working to see Al take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit...
Prior to reading this first volume, a few things caught my attention. First, it's a short mystery series, and I like to read those. Second, the artwork is different. It's not realistic a la Naoki Urasawa (creator of Monster, Pluto, etc.), "typical," or minimalistic. As others have already pointed out (and I very much agree with the assessment), the artwork is reminiscent of Natsume Ono's manga. (Natsume Ono created Acca-13, Gente, House of Five Leaves, Not Simple, etc.) Lost Lad London's artwork is unique. It's scribbly, rough, and cinematic. A lot of information is delivered via the artwork and character dialogue. No one is monologuing like they're Conan from Case Closed (aka Detective Conan). Furthermore, the artwork is detailed and expressive in select places. I especially love the facial expressions. In short, the artwork is aesthetic af.
Moving past the artwork, another detail that caught my eye is that this particular mystery takes place outside of Japan. As the title implies, this story is based in London, and while stories outside Japan, especially in London, aren't exactly "rare" (not the word I'd use anyway), they aren't the "default" setting. Most stories take place in Japan so it's always a treat to stumble across one that doesn't. (Although, there are plenty of stories that take place in London or somewhere in England...) Anyway, stories set outside of Japan don't always catch my eye, and it's always amazing which stories set outside Japan, especially in the U.S., publishers decide to pick up for distribution. There are dozens of stories set outside of Japan that I'd like to see licensed. Examples include Kuro Hakushaku wa Hoshi wo Mederu by Hisamu Oto (London), Veil by Kotteri (European ambient setting), and Akagari—The Red Rat in Hollywood by Osamu Yamamoto (USA).
Finally, it's refreshing to see black, nonwhite, and non-Japanese characters in lead roles. While not a requirement, otherwise I'd read few manga, it's a nice cherry-on-top aspect of the story. I'd struggle to name 1 manga or light novel besides Lost Lad London that features a black character in a lead role rather than as part of an ensemble cast like Dutch from Black Lagoon or Simon Brehznev from Durarara!! . Furthermore, the search becomes all the more daunting when I discount "stereotypical" characters or characters that make me inwardly cringe like Skippy from Banana Fish or Sister Krone fromThe Promised Neverland. Keeping all of this in mind, I'm happy to report that both protagonists of Lost Lad London are solid. They feel real.
Lost Lad London is centered around a college student named Al Adley. He's of South Asian descent and was just settling into his apartment for winter break when he's framed for murdering the mayor of London. Al has a predictable schedule, which made him an easy target and fall guy for the crime. Fortunately, Al is a smart, (mostly) honest kid with good luck as Detective Lenny Ellis is the police officer who knocked on his door for routine questioning.
Detective Ellis is the other minority protagonist of the story, and he's also a smart character. However, he's troubled by a past case where an innocent man was falsely accused and died before being fully investigated. Carrying that burden around literally, with the recent injuries he incurred near the anniversary of the man's death, and believing in Al's innocence, Ellis decides to team up with him to solve the case on the sly. Their investigation paid off. By the end of the first volume, Al discovers that he's more intrinsically entwined to the case than earlier thought. Al discovers a startling fact about his past, and his life is at stake because of it. Ellis orders Al to stay at his place until they solve the case.
Finally, let's address the elephant in the room—racism. With two minority leads and a story set in present-day London, it shouldn't be surprising that racism would be a component of the story, and it is. The racism presented in the story is not "in your face" but rather "casual" much like it is in everyday life. It feels real. As a minority living in the greatest country that ever existed, the U.S.A.🦅🦅🦅, I can appreciate a story where characters deal with racism time and again, especially when it comes to criminal justice.
Going beyond the story and looking at the translation, it's cool to note the attention to detail in localizing the text. Beyond using UK slang and vocabulary like "tube" for "train," "flatmate" for "roommate," or "f*cking hell" instead of a more colorful or American expletive, the translation team also paid attention to the British spelling of words. For example, "apologized" is "apologised" and so forth. I notice that because I struggle with spelling. I always have a few words that I have to look up to ensure they stay American af like "canceled" or "catalog." So, kudos all around!
In summary, if you're looking for an intriguing political mystery thriller set in modern times, you should really check out Lost Lad London. If you're searching for stories starring minority, non-Japanese characters or stories with atypical art, you should check out Lost Lad London. If you can't stand racism and other "woke" themes in your manga, then definitely do not check out Lost Lad London. I enjoyed the first volume, and I look forward to concluding the story soon!
Yen Press publishes Lost Lad London in print and digital. You can check the manga here.
So, what do you think? Are you reading Lost Lad London? Let me know below (if I can get the comments to work properly) or via Twitter @ThatMangaHunter.