So, to go over the basics of this series: it starts off with a hint of nuclear testing and some weird faerie stuff, then moves into a storyline which is mostly about a war between two countries… largely due to a personal disagreement between Notarlin and Duke Red. By the end of the first volume, most of the main characters have gathered together in a weapons facility in Duke Red’s country where citizens are worked like slaves to make stuff for the army.
In this volume, the story morphs into what I mentioned earlier, which is where a bunch of spaceships are built (at first by what appear to be faeries, but are actually either a mutant animal species or aliens… I’ll call them faeries to make things simple) to evacuate the planet before a deadly space cloud comes in to kill all life. You may be asking yourself how this transition takes place. I’ve read the thing and I don’t know, but I can tell you its magical and seamless.
The faeries decide they would not like to take all humans with them, only around 500, and they wind up grabbing a large group from a Christian church who believes they’ve somehow wound up in heaven, or on Noah’s arc since the faeries have also gathered representatives from all animal species. Everyone’s broken out of the weapons facility at this point, and Kenichi is in a big group with Rock, Duke Red’s son, and two girls with the faeries. Because the faeries refuse to let humans know about the deadly space cloud, Kenichi goes rogue and steals a spaceship so that it can be duplicated and everyone can be saved. There’s a really cute scene where he’s finally reunited with Higeoyaji, then the mass production of spaceships begin. In a totally random move, Lamp is put in charge of production, and you can imagine that things don’t go well after that. Things blow up, the cloud comes, and it’s got a really surprising twist ending that I liked a lot.
The one good thing about Tezuka’s cast of characters is that he doesn’t really have to establish their personalities every time. I know that Duke Red is a softie bad guy, for instance, I know that Higeoyaji will always stick his nose in to do the right thing, and I know that Kenichi is going to go on some fantastic adventure to save everyone. In stories like this, I know how everyone will react, which makes things a lot more fun somehow. The only wildcard in this story was Rock, who actually started off as a good guy before getting surly and mean. But I kind of like that about these short little pieces.
Lamp dies a horrible death here, just like in Lost World. Not quite as disturbing, but seeing him plummet was not a pleasant thing.
The art is once again kinda good in this really gimmicky, polished way. It’s really simple and cartoony, as you can imagine from something this old, but there’s a bunch of little flourishes that are appreciated. A lot of the chapters in Nextworld end with what appears to be a gradual circle wipe transition. The design on the faeries (which are called Fumoon) is also really cute.
In the essay at the end of this series, Tezuka explains that the titles for this “sci-fi trilogy” (which was apparently a designation by fans and not by himself) all come from… well, not him. Metropolis is obviously from the Fritz Lang movie though the work itself has nothing to do with it, Lost World is from the Doyle book even though the only common ground is dinosaurs, and the title for Nextworld comes from “Shape of Things to Come” by Wells (well, really the movie version, just called “Things to Come”), translated into Japanese, then translated back into English. Once again, he only took the title and didn’t actually adapt the work, though they both share the theme of… I don’t know, he says maybe the future of mankind? He said he actually saw the movie many years after he wrote the thing and thought it was very boring.
But yes. This has been the best of the Dark Horse Tezuka manga, at least for me. People who don’t like the random weirdness of Ode to Kirihito or Apollo’s Song might not be as into it, and this one is still probably a little dated and definitely very old, but I still really enjoyed it.
Woah! The story in this one was way cooler than I expected! I thought I would like this one the least in the sci-fi Tezuka books, but it’s way better than the other two.
But let me talk about the characters for awhile, since I have two separate entries to cover this series. The one cool thing about reading these Dark Horse books, especially Astro Boy, is that I got introduced to Tezuka’s regular cast of characters. I’d only ever read Phoenix before, and while that does feature some reoccurring characters like Saruta, it doesn’t have the regulars in it (though I’m told Lamp is in one of the first volumes). Astro Boy is probably the best example, because everyone appears in it over and over again for the entire run of the series, then over and over again in everything else Tezuka wrote before and after Astro Boy. Acetylene Lamp is my favorite of these characters. He’s a villain that’s not quite as soft as Duke Red, nor quite as bumbling as Hamegg. As a result, he’s slimy and hardcore, and meets a bitter, frightening end a lot of times as a just dessert for his actions. The three Tezuka scenes that I can think of that terrify me the most all involve Lamp, and the worst was in Lost World.
Lamp is in Nextworld, but only as a bum at first. He eventually works his way up in the world, eventually corrupting the kind-hearted Rock for good and causing the catalyst at the end of the story. He’s the eventual true bad guy, and he’s driven only by money. Anyway. This story’s about nuclear testing that creates a race of super beings that can rule over mankind. For some reason (perhaps because they’re actually aliens, I don’t know), these super-beings have their own spaceships, and eventually the story becomes about evacuating the planet before a deadly space cloud engulfs it and kills all life. Things like this are what makes Tezuka great, really.
These super-beings look like faeries. A scientist (one of the same ones from Metropolis) finds them on an island where nuclear testing has been going on. Higeoyaji finds him, and as the scientist is explaining why he has imprisoned this tiny faerie yelling for help, it breaks free and transports Higeoyaji to a sort of gulag. I don’t know why.
The country conducting the nuclear testing is called Uran, and is headed by Duke Red. Eventually, they go to war with the country of Star, headed by Notarlin. This is largely because Notarlin hates Duke Red a lot. Rock is also a main character, a kind-hearted newspaper boy who is dating Notarlin’s daughter. He is eventually corrupted into the usual somewhat deranged evil Rock when he is thrown into the Uran gulag after being caught spying in a giant bird costume (well, he was initially caught in the costume… he got busted later under more normal circumstances). The gulag is a factory where Uran is making its weapons, and Rock is held there with Higeoyaji and Duke Red’s son. Everyone eventually escapes, which is where we leave the first volume.
Oh, and the escape? Higeoyaji is by himself, and he winds up in with some religious zealots headed by Lawton. Everyone else meets up with Kenichi and is held by the faeries. Just so you know.
While it sounds like it’s got just as many characters and manic details as Metropolis, it all comes together much easier and more simply. The plot is also much more awesome and more grand in scale, and we get lots of random action and science to keep things interesting. Let’s see where volume two takes us.