Saki Hiwatari – Viz – 2007 – 21 volumes
The ending to Please Save My Earth… part of it was a little disappointing and anti-climatic, but it was mostly just really, really great. I could not read this fast enough. Tokyo Tower is the final stage, and it was mostly one non-stop action scene the entire volume. It was exciting, a little bittersweet, and beautiful. Just wonderful.
I don’t want to say too much to spoil it, but the scene where Rin is rattling off all the passwords was one of the most memorable in the series for me. Far better and more effectively maniacal than a simple psi battle would have been. It’s exciting because it balances on whether or not Rin will do the right thing with the passwords, but it is devastatingly effective at dredging up all the flashback history as well, since you recall the history and reasoning behind all the passwords as he’s reciting them. Such a good narrative device.
I also loved that Shion spent seven years trying to decode them, when two of them were simply the full names of the crew members. As if that wouldn’t have been one of the first things to try. He would have had three of them. I would like to think four, since Gyokuran’s password would have also been easy to guess.
Anyway, I’m going to cut for spoilers.
Saki Hiwatari – Viz – 2007 – 21 volumes
So, big reveal in this volume. A couple of them, actually. The bizarre circumstances surrounding Mokuren’s death, both in the past and present; and Alice wakes up after regaining all her memories and talks with Rin. It’s the latter that takes up most of the volume and has my full attention (there’s also some background story about how the other characters are searching for Alice), but the former is worth commenting on, as well.
It almost… doesn’t make sense? The last thing that Mokuren does. Actually, I can’t comment on it too much since I’ll spoil it, but I was a little puzzled. It was almost too new age-y for my taste, but it does tie everything together nicely, and it does attempt to give Shion hope in a rather hopeless situation. Of course, it’s not much hope, and we find out it didn’t do much good in the past. But still.
I did love and adore the conversations between Alice and Rin, though. Both make a distinction between Alice and Mokuren, and Rin and Shion. Alice tries to clearly make that distinction when it becomes obvious that Rin’s plans are conflicted because he and Shion are disagreeing about a plan of action. The distinction is also important, because Alice tries to use it to convince Rin that he’s not Shion, and that they’re two different people. Rin refuses to hear it. If he’s not Shion, then why does he love Mokuren? He can’t, and Alice would never love him if she wasn’t also Mokuren. But then Shion also doesn’t really think Mokuren really loved him back, nor does Mokuren believe that Shion loved her back, both because of the kiches on her forehead.
And that’s really the rub in this volume. Neither Alice nor Rin can properly convey the fact that they really love each other, no matter the time or place. Rin is too ready to give up, and lacks confidence in himself, where Alice still believes that Rin only loves her because she’s Mokuren, and Shion only loved Mokuren because she is a Kiche Sarjalian.
That they just can’t, no matter how hard they try, convey their feelings without running away or disbelieving… it’s an amazing handful of scenes. Adding to this is the fact that the conversations are interspersed with flashbacks to Mokuren’s death and its affect on Shion, and some glimpses of Shion’s years of isolation after that. The whole thing is tragic in so many ways, and Hiwatari pulls no punches.
I want to talk about Alice and Shin a little more, but unfortunately I don’t want to spoil things any more than I already have. I do want to talk about the ending next time, though, and I’ll do a big old spoiler cut for that so I can be satisfied. The ending is… both amazing and a little disappointing. It’s worth reading, though.
Saki Hiwatari – Viz – 2006 – 21 volumes
Well, after Alice dropped that bomb at the end of the last volume, you had to read this volume next in order to see the scene in question in light of that new perspective. And this volume leaves off with Mokuren’s last moments on the moon, and Alice kidnapped by yakuza in the present. So of course you have to read the next one right away.
In this volume, Alice finishes remembering, and Rin springs a plan that takes almost the entire volume to set up, but when it happens, it is absolutely masterful. He moves every single person exactly where he wants them, and he winds up with the result he expected. And he does a major part of it with children, and while acting like a child himself. This is quite possibly the creepiest Rin scene in the entire series, and the best part about it is that you don’t get the full effect until all the pieces fall into place well after the actual Rin scene. Yet another amazing bit of storytelling.
The Mokuren flashback winds up here, and we get both the rape scene fallout and the events leading up to her death. Her rehearsed speech to Shion… this is the third time we’ve read it, right? The second time was definitely a slap in the face, because you realize it might not be sincere, but the third time is just painful, after you know just why she says it, and what she’s feeling and covering up. The whole situation is far uglier and sadder than it initially seems, and it was pretty damn ugly the first time through. Again, I love that the retelling here is shifting everything around so much. It’s really amazing stuff.
I’m going to stop here for now, without dwelling on the characters too much, but I promise I’ll make up for it in 20 and 21. How can I not?
Saki Hiwatari – Viz – 2006 – 21 volumes
Okay, I’ll admit. I had been reading one volume of this a day, then writing it up here. I limited myself. I did this for about a week. I skipped a day, then read two the next day because I “had to make it up.” Then I read two more, thinking I’d just skip a day again. Then I read the last 14 volumes in a row on Saturday, because this series is that good. But my restriction was that I had to write the review here (but not post it) before I could read the next volume. Well, that broke down at the end of this volume. I read the last four volumes in what felt like fifteen minutes.
The ending to this volume… wow. I did not see that coming. That flipped things around. Quite a bit. I did wonder if there was more to the Big scene than meets the eye, because that would be very much like PSME. But I can’t believe Mokuren’s perspective flips things around that much. Or maybe it’s not her perspective, but the truth behind the feelings in the act. Or something.
Anyway. It made me realize that, frequently, we are left to interpret the characters’ thoughts ourselves based on the dialogue. I’m not sure why this took me 18 volumes to figure out. This is particularly difficult for Shion, since he’s constantly trying to hide his real feelings. We do get a lot of narration during his flashbacks, but during scenes with other characters, we are forced to interpret dialogue exchanges as we see fit. I have a hard time telling when both Shion and Ren are being sincere about something, since they can both lie pretty smoothly. This shouldn’t be difficult for manga characters, but the reader is usually in on it when it happens, and Shion’s lies are both in character and exactly what the reader wants/expects to hear. Or maybe they aren’t lies? I’m still not sure.
But yes. I literally threw this volume aside and grabbed the next one, at 2am, when I had to be up at 6am for work. I needed to know what all this meant that badly. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read a series this addictive, where I liked the characters and the story this much. Even Basara was something I could read in big chunks. I think the last series I read like this was Let Dai, and even then, I read it on a night when I didn’t have to go to work.
The password collection continues. I wondered how Hiiragi’s password was going to be obtained, since he was so dead set against giving them out, even in the present when it would’ve been worthless. It happens… well, the same way Rin gets everything he wants to happen. Actually, he uses one of this threats over again. But it’s effective.
There’s a confrontation between Mr. Tamura and his old Yakuza rival, engineered by Rin. I wondered if that went at all how Rin planned it, since Mr. Tamura’s psychic friend got involved and stopped anything from happening. I had thought the point here was to eliminate Mr. Tamura, but it’s interesting how the Yakuza rival is actually used. That comes later, though.
And the rest of it is the present, where Alice is puking her guts out and trying not to remember the Conflict between Mokuren and Shion. Actually, I’m going to cut this for spoilers. I want to talk my way through this, but I can’t do it without giving a bunch of the plot away.
Saki Hiwatari – Viz – 2005 – 1 volume
The opening to this volume as a very cosmic circle of life talk given to Mokuren by her father. In response to whether or not she can hear plants dying as she picks them, we find out that the plants ask that of her. And that plants, trees, and animals all accept their death, knowing that they are going to be fed back into the earth, or nurturing humans to become a part of them, only to become dust later themselves and be reincarnated later. It was pretty heavy stuff to be telling a little girl, but I loved trying to wrap my brain around it.
More flashbacks, although it hasn’t quite made it to the big Shion scene yet. Mokuren, Shusuran, and Enju all have a point, though. Shion does obsess over Gyokuran quite a lot. That was one of the other things that bothered me about the big moment in Shion’s flashback. He kept asking Mokuren about Gokuren. It was… a little terrible. And yes, it makes Mokuren think things, apparently.
And wow, things are really getting intense. Not only do we have several situations where Mokuren can have everything she wants in Gyokuran, she continues to pine after Shion after he makes it more than obvious he wants nothing to do with her. This type of drama is just my style, and watching Mokuren trying to parse the situations, especially in regard to Gyokuran, is really interesting.
But really. Gyokuran is a little bit too persistent. It’s unfortunate.
At the end of the book, we get some really sweet Shion memories. It’s completely out of character for him, honestly, and I almost don’t believe they happened, but they’re sweet all the same.
Once again, I’m going to cut this off a little short. I really, really want to read the rest of this Mokuren flashback, and I can’t read the next volume until I finish writing. I need to know about the crime!
Saki Hiwatari – Viz – 2006 – 21 volumes
It’s an act?! Seriously? Holy crap, that is cold.
This is the more interesting part of Mokuren’s flashback, the time just before and right at the beginning of her stint on the moon base. I thought that Mokuren would somehow turn into her sweet and mild self through some event. Mostly, she just becomes a good Kiche Sarjalian. Watching everything play out from her point of view is very, very amusing.
Aside from the comedy, I also like all the expectations she went onto the team with. Her prayers to Sarjalim just before she met the rest of the team cracked me up too, and her… perspective on the team members made reading some of the same scenes again a lot more informative.
Also, I did like that Hiwatari saved a lot of new material for this flashback. Some of the differences between the two flashbacks are simply a matter of things Shion witnessed on the base verses things Mokuren witnessed (different talks with Gyokuran and Shukaido, for instance, or more of certain events that Shion only saw the aftermath of). I didn’t realize that until just now, and it appeals to the side of me that is fanatical for alternative narrative techniques. That one is BRILLIANT. Some of them are new for this flashback, though, such as a really terrible Shion/Mokuren moment that the volume ended on. I wonder if that will be a turning point in their relationship. Hmm… That Mokuren remembered it and Shion didn’t might be a clue that Shion didn’t think it was worth remembering, or that it was more important for Mokuren.
I do like that certain events were finally explained. The ones that were mentioned in passing by other crew mates during Shion’s flashback, and then perhaps again in conversation in the present, were driving me crazy. Now I know for sure what was going on.
I also like Mokuren’s perspective on some of the characters. How certain friendships are too impenetrable for her to enter. How she hates being treated special because of her Kiche, and how it pushes her away from certain people. And how friendly warnings seem to reveal ugly intentions to her. I can’t figure out if her memory is painting a more accurate portrait of the characters or not. Maybe just different. I’m not even sure if Mokuren and Shion’s memories together really give us a good idea of the characters in the past. And maybe that’s one of the major themes. What face are you showing others, and what do they do with that information?
It’s pretty amazing, and I’m 16 volumes in. I can’t get over all the subtle nuances and storytelling and whatnot, and that all this work is still being put into it. It’s obvious Hiwatari is telling the story she wants to tell, and it makes me so happy to read it. I just can’t get enough.
One more thing. My favorite scene in the volume, and one of the most beautiful in the series so far, was when Mode, Mokuren’s attendant, asked her if she found anyone she could be friends with. There was a page that lingered on Mode and Mokuren, before Mokuren told Mode that nobody would be a friend like her. Which is true, she told Mode everything without putting on her Kiche face, and Mode was one of only a few people that treated Mokuren like a regular person. Their friendship really was special.
Saki Hiwatari – Viz – 2006 – 21 volumes
…and here’s the beginning of Mokuren’s flashback, where we find out about her time in Paradise. Again, I’m not all that interested in this, but there are two things that caught my eye:
1. Paradise is still a no clothes facility, at least for the Kiche Sarjalians.
2. It’s interesting that I mentioned Alice being a passive character last time, because we see Mokuren really, really isn’t during her early days in Paradise. She’s quite a troublemaker, actually.
It was rather amazing how similar Mokuren and Shion’s stories were. I wasn’t expecting that at all, though I knew Mokuren’s time in Paradise wasn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows. The story about her parents was simultaneously sweet and also… well, a little much. Really? They’re so caring they burst into tears over everything? They have a perfect love? Then that happens to them? Even I have my limits for drama-tastic situations.
I can’t spoil this too much, and there are no other characters involved just yet so that I can comment on their development, so this entry is rather short. Plus, I’ve been flying through the volumes and want to read the next one now. I’m really, really, really enjoying this.
But one more thing. Something young Mokuren says here turns an unbelievably sweet and forgiving scene between she and Shion in one of the earlier volumes into an act that seems like it’s nearly as cold as Shion himself. I couldn’t believe it. I’m dying to see her thought process behind those lines. For the time being, they’ve been robbed of all meaning, though.