When Ryuuhei Tamura first burst onto the scene in 2009, he carried with him a win on the prestigious Golden Future Cup. Regardless of what you think of it, Beelzebub ended up becoming a huge success, spawning twenty-eight volumes and one sixty-episode anime series. Considering this, his subsequent career is a little disappointing: Hungry Marie only ran for four volumes, while the recent ending of Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin means that it will meet a similar fate.
Launched in June of last year, Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin (or Shakunetsu no Niraikanai in Japanese) came to an end in Weekly Shonen Jump two weeks ago after almost exactly a year in publication. It will be collected in five volumes, putting it slightly above Hungry Marie in terms of length, but still measures up as a similar disappointment.
There was clearly so much more that Ryuuhei Tamura wanted to do with the world and setting of Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin. Orpheus’ arm, for example, was said to be but one limb of the mysterious ‘Poseidracon,’ suggesting that the ideal trajectory of the series would be to go and recover all of these body parts. The cast was also expanded significantly back in chapter 24, suggesting that the world was much larger than we initially thought. Alas, many of these ideas will now never see the light of day.
It became clear several months ago that Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin was heading towards an early ending. What first appeared to be a simple mission to rescue Yukari quickly turned out to be a confrontation between the dolphin officer Orpheus and his traumatic past, mainly because his former partner Murofushi was there as an antagonist. The story then pivoted towards answering all the reader’s questions and tying up all the narrative’s loose ends, particularly when it came to why Orpheus was a dolphin in the first place.
In almost all cases, this is a warning sign. The pace of weekly serialization means that any story must constantly maintain momentum to go forward, and one of the best ways to do this is to get your reader to grapple with questions. Why is the main character the Chosen One? What are the antagonist’s true intentions? When these questions are answered one after another without posing any new ones, it is either the sign of an imminent conclusion or self-sabotage on the part of the author.
To be honest, it’s a bit of a shame that Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin saw such an early ending. The series had some truly fascinating ideas: not only was the idea of doing a shonen manga based on aquatic mammal life something we’ve never seen before, the idea of doing a battle manga underneath the surface of the ocean sounds about as bonkers as it actually is. This alone made it stick out like a sore thumb in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, but one part in particular made it truly something to remember.
The Self-Sabotaging Brilliance of Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin‘s Cult Storyline
As part of what became the final arc, Ryuuhei Tamura explored the idea of a cult and what ‘going native’ can do to people. More specifically, Haebaru and Murofushi were tasked with infiltrating the mysterious ‘Ocean Cult’ as undercover police officers to find out if they were engaged in any suspicious activity. Once again, I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen something like this in Weekly Shonen Jump before, but some of the scenes and situations that this cult storyline led to were actually pretty disturbing: Haebaru was imprisoned early on as part of a show of good will towards the guru, while Murofushi’s ascent to the top also came alongside his descent into corruption and madness.
The fact that Chako came about as a result of Murofushi’s illicit relationship with Sae, one of the cult members, also conjures up the real-life issue of ‘spy cops’ in much the same way as one of My Hero Academia’s latest storylines. Unfortunately, this fantastic material was also part of the reason why Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin met an early ending: as mentioned, answering questions without posing new ones can sap a series’ momentum, and the cult storyline did this in droves.
We should also mention the fact that while the latter portion of the series was good, Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin did not get off to the best start. Launching as it did during the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests, its focus on the police and a particularly heavy-handed cop in the form of Samejima came off as a little tone-deaf. Undoubtedly, this was simply a matter of bad timing, but things didn’t exactly get better from there.
It took a long time for Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin to sit up straight and actually tell us what it was about. Chapter 8 finally saw Orpheus and Samejima given a mission to take down the Osawara family ‘ocean gang,’ which would end up foreshadowing the series’ later pivot towards full-blown battle manga. Even then, this was interspersed with more comedic escapades, such as Orpheus and Samejima moving into a new house managed by a particularly spiteful landlord.
At the very least, the actual ending of Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin is pretty good. Set ten years after the death of Orpheus, we get to see Chako all grown up and appreciative of her ‘three dads.’ Samejima is up to his same-old antics, but he still chose to stay on the isolated island he once resented. The penultimate then delivers a pretty poignant message about love, loss, and why we come up with ideas like the afterlife.
In hindsight, Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin probably should have come swinging out of the gate as a battle manga. Lots of people were willing enough to trust the Tamura name to pick up volume 1, but sales declined thereafter. A well-established author may already have an audience, but that doesn’t mean much if they don’t give them a reason to stick around.
Why did Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin fail and come to an early ending? To use an aquatic pun, it never really found its flippers. Too much of its best material came towards the end, when readers were already disengaged, and it never started out in the best fashion.
Hopefully, Ryuuhei Tamura can learn the lessons from this, mainly so that he can finally craft a worthy successor to Beelzebub, over a decade later.
You can read Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin for free via VIZ Media.