In the mid-1990's Yokohama yakuza scene, "W·A," or "Wild Adapter," is hot. It's a dangerous drug that amps its users up into a superhuman state, and then their organs explode, effectively killing them. The corpses left behind are transformed into an animalistic state, i.e. fur and claws. Two powerful yakuza groups, the Izumokai and the Toujougumi, are fighting for control over W·A, and the police continue a baffled investigation over the gory remains of W·A users.
Kubota Makoto [age 17ish at the beginning of the series] manages to stumble into a leadership position of the Izumokai youth division; he comes across as aloof and indifferent, even
oblivious, but he can also shoot someone with no real problem, only complaining that the gun was loud. After seven months of the Izumokai, he murders 12 high-ranking members of the Toujougumi, and then he disappears from the yakuza world. Not long after, he finds a stranger unconscious in an alley--a boy with a furry, clawed hand--whom he takes home and names Tokitoh. Tokitoh has no memory of his past or why his hand looks the way it does, so he and Kubota set out to investigate W·A. In the process, they're plunged back into yakuza politics, and the body count gets high, fast.
It's hard to pass judgment on a story when I don't even know how long it's going to be, but I'm taking a stab in the dark with a solid 8. Things haven't been explained to the reader at all yet, maddeningly enough, such as why Wild Adapter changes the body's physicality so drastically, or what it means that Tokitoh's hand is the way it is or how, according to recent chapters, it seems to be spreading up his arm. It seems ridiculous that the yakuza is actually seeking out the drug to sell, considering how its mortality rate, and it also seems strange that despite the fact that everyone seems to know about the drug and how "good" it is, no one seems aware that it makes its users' organs explode..
Somewhat characteristically of Minekura's work, the main characters are all male and, for the most part, attractive. None of her female characters have recurred after their allotted volume, and the series fails the Bechdel Test [Google it] so spectacularly that it kind of hurts. While that representation of women in 1990's Yokohama may be accurate to a degree, it's still jarring. It's not like there is no opportunity to portray women as people--like the housewife in volume 3 who was driven to suicide because of debt, and her daughter who was at least partially responsible; they were, for the most part, discussed while off-screen, by male characters. Volume 2's Saori is still the only female who has an opportunity to narrate her own story, and she spends the whole volume discussing males with males.
Minekura's character-work, aside from issues with female characterization, is very strong. Kubota and Tokitoh have a multi-faceted, facinatingly believable relationship that borders on sick attachment and need, and their dynamic is so delicate that it affects other characters as well. The motivations of the yakuza--Sanada and Sekiya in particular--are complex and unpredictable, and the police are not the good guys. It's almost like Yokohama as a city has character that seeps into the people, making them a part of it; no one is truly clean, but it's not clear enough to claim that any of them are really bad.
A big part of this characterization being effective is Minekura's art. She can express emotion and action so well, with such aesthetic lines, that the story and characters draw a huge amount of strength from the medium. The beginning of the series is a bit off stylistically, but that's a major part of the artist maturing into the story. One interesting aspect of the manga is that the space around the panels is black, rather than white, which traditionally symbols a flashback sequence; it's impossible to tell if it's a stylistic choice or if the entire series is a flashback of the people Kubota and Tokitoh meet. It definitely puts a morbid cast on the whole story, like it's a collection of accounts from secondary sources because the primary ones are dead or missing.
Overall, Wild Adapter is a very slick piece of work. It's very close-knit and fast-paced, especially when compared with Saiyuki, Minekura's other major work. Where Saiyuki is sprawling, Wild Adapter is local and tight. Where Saiyuki has a huge cast of characters who may or may not recur, Wild Adapter works within a set group of main characters who become dynamic through filling different roles throughout the story. It's grungy and real, strong like a punch to the gut.