Art books are arguably my favorite item of anime merchandise (of which, I own 18). And Imai Kami is undoubtedly my favorite manga artist. So when the Imai Kami Visual Collection, Nirai Kanai, was announced to be sold in June 2014, I was positively ecstatic. For the first time, there would be a printed compilation of his various works from both Needless and Shirasunamura, as well as other works in magazines and online sources. However, there was a major bonus to this art book that made it even more unique and exceptional among its peers. Since its completion as a doujinshi in 1999, Imai Kami’s first printed work, the 330 page BLACK SPOT, was being reprinted and bundled with the art book. After 15 years, the work that originated Imai Kami’s career and was the foundation and basis for my favorite manga, Needless, was finally available to the public. Without a doubt, the Imai Kami Visual Collection is the best thing to happen to me in 2014.
The art book is an accumulation of Imai Kami’s professional work since 1999 when he was creating graphics and comics for Arcadia magazine. Like most art books, it features full page color images that are bonuses or extras were printed in volumes, concept art, sketches, and other behind-the-scenes work. However, this art book is a real treat for foreigners since it compiled a number of comics that are unavailable overseas, including his most recent mini-series in the Arcadia magazine from the past year. And when flipping through the 240 pages, one can tell the vast improvement in his art style over the years which is a testament to his effort and dedication to his work. It is worth noting that the art book does not contain any images from Imai Kami’s 4-koma gag series Katatsumuri-chan, which is odd considering that it ran for a number of years and produced 5 volumes. Still, I am thrilled with the art book and how much new content was available between the covers.
The other half of the Visual Collection was the reprinted BLACK SPOT doujinshi. Since only a handful of copies were available from its only printing back 15 years ago, the doujinshi was incredibly rare and very little information was available on it than what is printed on Imai Kami’s website. That issue, however, completely disappeared with the advent of the Visual Collection, making the work available again after the debut of his professional career. As one might expect, the art work is rough, but it has a distinct style, and readers can tell that this was the foundation for his later works, especially with how similar it looks to the early chapters of Needless and Shirasunamura. What is also very interesting is how similar the story and setting are between Black Spot and Needless, with Black Spot essentially being the storyboard of Needless some years later. Of course, Needless greatly expanded upon the ideas and concepts of Black Spot, not to mention changing the genre to also be an ecchi comedy series with lots of action and some gore instead of one focused on action and gore alone, and you can tell that a number of scenes and developments are similar between the two. It’s fascinating to finally see his earliest work, and to understand what inspired him before he became a mangaka. Not only that, but finally seeing the groundwork and basis for my favorite manga is something I will never forget for this year. While it may not be the greatest art book or doujinshi, the combination of my favorite mangaka’s work in an art book and his first printed work is a truly special piece of merchandise that I am very happy to own. Without a doubt, the Imai Kami Visual Collection is my favorite moment of the year and the way I want to conclude my 12 Days of Anime for 2014.