Grand Guignol Orchestra 5

November 2, 2011

Kaori Yuki – Viz – 2011 – 5 volumes

Uh… yeah. I do like Kaori Yuki, and this is probably my favorite of her series. But man… she really knows how to write a complicated and convoluted plot. And this was probably the simplest! It’s probably much better if you read all five volumes straight through. It has a lot of complicated things going on in its world that are difficult to remember from volume to volume, but not so many that it’s actually difficult to understand.

But here, we finally find out the truth of what happened when Lucille entered the chamber to become the new queen and Cordie wound up saddled with the responsibility instead. We find out Morion’s role in their childhood, and how all three were deceived. Well, two of them were deceived. Morion actually had a role in what happened. He loves Cordie though, which is the important part. There’s dolls, corpses, forged letters, evil servants, a chair made of heads, and a curse. All of it is good, and feels right at home in this story. It’s just as sad, dark, and gothic as you’d expect from Kaori Yuki, and this flashback was my favorite part of the series.

The actual resolution to the problems in the present was… problematic. I hated that Lucille forgave Eles her deception, and I hated that the solution was supposed to kill everyone, but didn’t. That’s unlike Yuki, actually. It was a little half-hearted. She mentions herself that a happy ending is unlike her, which makes me feel a little better. I wasn’t expecting something too far out in left field.

There’s an unrelated short story that fills the last third of the volume. Normally, I hate these space fillers, but this one was quite good. It was about a strange purgatory world full of students ranked by card number and suits (hearts, spades, et cetera). Among the students, there’s a White Card that is exempt from the laws and rules over all. He’s the only one that can heal wounds, and he’s generally worshiped by all the other students. The main character suddenly shows up, and is the only one that calls attention to all the strange customs, rituals, and laws in this world. He insists that he will save the White Card. The reality of the situation is a maddening puzzle throughout the whole thing, and I kept waiting for it to go all After School Nightmare on me. The truth of the thing is the usual slightly-too-complicated Kaori Yuki explanation, and I was disappointed by the ending, but it was still a really good story.

But yes. Grand Guignol Orchestra has been my favorite Yuki series so far. The art and atmosphere are first rate, and I loved the dark singing and infectious puppet zombies. Plus, Lucille was one of her best characters yet, and the series is worth reading for him alone. There’s lots of interesting details crammed into every chapter, and Yuki is quite good at fleshing out her own unique world here. I thought the ending was a little disappointing, but again, maybe I would have liked it better had I read all five volumes in a row. Yuki’s a great artist to check out, and this is definitely her best work in English.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Grand Guignol Orchestra 4

August 31, 2011

Kaori Yuki – Viz – 2011 – 5 volumes

Hmm… it always takes me a bit to get my bearings in a new volume of this series. There’s a lot going on, and it can be complicated, but I like it. It’s definitely less complex and character-heavy than Angel Sanctuary, but it’s still probably best enjoyed by reading all the volumes back-to-back.

This volume starts off with a focus on Kohaku, the only member of Lucille’s orchestra who hasn’t had his own storyline yet. His storyline was a bit disappointing, since his situation was very similar to what happened to Eles. His story is a little anticlimactic as a result, especially since you know what the eventual outcome is. Not a whole lot of time is spent on him, and I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t fleshed out as much as Gwindel and Lucille. He’s still a fun character, though.

After a disappointing opening, things get much better when Lucille and company infiltrate Le Senat. I was a little baffled by this storyline. It’s suitably creepy, and Le Senat’s role and what they’re doing make sense in the context of the story, but I was confused since… they just send Lucille off to retrieve the Black Oratorio, the item that Lucille has been looking for, and he does. Granted, there’s a living corpse and a complex wind-based booby trap blocking his way, but not a whole lot of time is spent on this. Lucille just… goes and gets it, and brings it back. The Le Senat story ends abruptly after this, too.

If I’ve noticed a weakness in Yuki’s stories, it’s that she gets these really great, creepy ideas and then condenses them down and rushes out the details too fast. This series would be amazing if it spent a little more time developing the plot and characters, but as it stands, it’s just pretty good, with a lot of good ideas that seem to be wasted too fast. Then again, part of the charm of her stories is that there’s something inhuman about her style of horror writing, and lingering on it any further would take that away since it would give things a face, so to speak.

And in case you’ve forgotten, even with the quibbles I have with the story, the art is still very much worth reading this series for. Yuki does excellent period pieces, and this is no exception. It’s the main reason I put up with Fairy Cube, after all.

The end of the volume sets things up for the finale. Now that I know everything that’s going on between Lucille and Queen Gemsilica, I’m prepared to forget all of this and then be confused when the final volume comes out.

Just kidding. I have no idea where the story is going right now, which is rare. They hint at a kind of revolution, both magical and political. I’m intrigued.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Kaori Yuki – Viz – 2011 – 5 volumes

Okay, yes, I like this series an awful lot now. There are still some confusing things about the plot (mostly with the cast of side characters that appears infrequently but are often discussed and important to the story), but this volume did a good job of making the characters a whole lot more likable and the plot a little more clear. Sort of. Plus, the art is still wonderful to look at, and suits the story well.

The convent story from last volume wraps up quickly here, but not before introducing two new reoccurring characters and a “shadow organization” that opposes the queen. One of the characters is interesting, the kind of crazy Victorian psychopath that only Kaori Yuki can bring to life (well, Kaori Yuki and Black Butler’s Yana Toboso). I like him well enough, but unfortunately he’s yet another piece of the complicated Lucille backstory, something that involves a lot of minor characters and confusing flashbacks. While Lucille’s backstory is proving to be more and more interesting, it’s annoyingly involved and told poorly, and really, it’s about the only thing dragging the series down right now.

The next story in the volume is one that finally spotlights the mysterious Gwindel, the tall cellist of the orchestra. He’s got guignol arms and insists that Celes is better off not knowing too much about the other members of the orchestra. The group shows up at the home of a powerful Duke that opposes the queen, one whom raised a character behind the atrocities at the convent in the last story. There, they find that the Duke is preparing to marry Spinel, a spy for the queen.

Just kidding. The duke and Gwindel suddenly turn on everybody and Lucille is bitten by a guignol.

This story is awesome. It was difficult to tell how things would go for Celes and Kohaku, because Lucille really is bitten and infected by a guignol, and Gwindel did turn on his traveling companions rather spectacularly, and is insane to boot. Could the series continue as a story with Celes and Kohaku looking for a way to cure and/or free Lucille, trapped in the body of a guignol? Sure, I could believe that. I was looking for ways the characters were going to squirm out of the setup, but I was prepared for the worst all the way through.

Lucille’s backstory continues to unravel. We see flashbacks of his time with Spinel, we learn about some of his days with crazy Berthier in the orchestra, and we learn a bit more about his… nature. It comes off as rumor and speculation, but part of me wonders if it may actually apply to the story.

Every volume gets better and better, though. The series isn’t without its flaws, but the convoluted backstory with a thousand characters is way better than the one in Angel Sanctuary, the plot is far more interesting than Fairy Cube, and the characters more fun than the ones in what I’ve read of Earl Cain. I like Kaori Yuki, and so far, this is my favorite of her series. Good news!

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Kaori Yuki – Viz – 2011 – 5 volumes

Strangely, the same day I read this, I got Lychee Light Club in the mail, which is apparently based on a Tokyo Grand Guignol performance from the mid-1980s, a performance that mangaka Suehiro Maruo acted in. Strange that such an obscure form of theater should come up twice like that, though Grand Guignol Orchestra has less to do with the Grand Guignol style than Lychee Light Club.

Grand Guignol Orchestra is growing on me, though. While it hasn’t knocked my socks off yet or anything, I do like the story so far, I like the way things are developing, and I love the art. Typically, I’m already lost or bored by volume two of a Kaori Yuki manga (I’m sorry, I try to like them, and I will always buy her books, but it’s true).

Part of that is that everything is still a mystery at this point. Sometimes, the lack of information in a story can be annoying. This story walks the line, but everything is so interesting that I forgive it the obvious secrets. Some of the information does reveal itself by the end of the volume (the link between the Queen and Lucille, some of Lucille’s past), and what Lucille is looking for and why becomes obvious, but what exactly the nature of the current relationship between Lucille and the Queen remains the mystery, and there is currently still some ambiguity about what happened to former members of the unofficial orchestra. The nature of Lucille’s powers are also still something of a mystery.

All of what is revealed is pretty dark and tragic on some level, and some of it is also a bit bizarre. It’s melodramatic dark gothic fantasy at its best, and Yuki’s art is well-suited to this type of story. It’s not too terribly deep or complex at this point, and I’m still trying to sink my teeth into the characters, but it’s definitely going places.

And how are the characters as of this volume? Well, Kohaku and Gwindel, the two other members of the orchestra, are still just warming the bench at the moment, though something happens to Kohaku at the end of the volume that makes me wonder how he’ll continue doing his thing. Lucille is either completely transparent in his motives or deceiving everyone in a very clever way, I can’t tell which right now. He’s a very cheerful and fun character though, and watching him work these dark, disturbing jobs as if they were a game, and being very clever about it, is most of the enjoyment I’m getting from the series right now. Eles is still the stereotypical perky newbie, and she’s not really doing anything new or interesting, but I haven’t given up on her yet.

The first half of the volume is a strange story that talks about Lucille and the Queen. I can’t comment on that story, partially because of spoilers, and partially because it’s so bizarre that I don’t know what to say about it. But I LOVE the second story. Lucille and Eles have to infiltrate an evil convent said to be guarding the Black Oratorio, the book that Lucille is after. The convent is full of creepy nuns, and the story is pretty good at letting the nun’s masks slip, little by little, so that what seems like a cover-up turns into something much, much more disturbing and sinister by the end of the volume. And I’m not entirely convinced that it’s all the nuns’ fault.

Again, it’s still not rush-out-and-buy-it good, but it is definitely interesting and getting a little better with each volume. The unique art and gothic flavor of the story also make it stand out in the shoujo manga pack. It’s definitely worth a look if the story sounds at all interesting to you, and I’m looking forward to future volumes to see if it gets better.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Kaori Yuki – Viz – 2010 – 5 volumes

Kaori Yuki and You Higuri are two artists that fall in the same category in my mind. They have almost nothing in common. But both are artists whose new series in English are always must buys for me, despite the fact I almost never really like the books. Why bother? For You Higuri, it’s because Ludwig II was really spectacular. In the case of Kaori Yuki, I just love her art. Her stories, though… she has really awesome ideas, but I always get at least a little lost in the execution. But her ornate art and interesting premises usually keeps me at least mostly satisfied when I’m working my way through one of her series (of which there are several in English, but the best one is probably still Angel Sanctuary).

I was hoping the narrative problems would have mostly worked themselves out with this, her most recent series, but I found myself more than a little lost within the first few pages. Set in medieval times (says Yuki, but they drive a car and use electricity), it tells the story of a land overtaken with a kind of zombie virus that turns people into “guignols,” or living marionettes that are after humans and can turn people to their kind with a bite. The main characters are a team of traveling musicians that can keep the guignols at bay, and also cure the ills of the human heart when it comes to grieving the dead/recently turned. The first half of the book focuses on a character named Eles, the young prince of a town recently struck by guignol-related tragedy, and helping him and the rest of the town come to terms with the deaths that took place there. The second half has the orchestra moving on to a different town, this one inhabited by an older ladykiller-type prince that wants the head of the orchestra, Lucille, as a bride.

It… took me a bit to wrap my head around the fact that the guignols are just zombies (this is never explicitly stated, but that’s more or less what they are). It was harder for me to take in since the zombies do gain marionette hands and appear to get cracks in their body and… I don’t know, shatter or something as well. This is awesome, and Yuki’s art makes it even more so, but there’s no real good reason for it other than looks. There doesn’t have to be, of course, this is a manga, but even so, this really, really doesn’t make sense. The explanation at the beginning of the book, for both the guignols and the introductions for the members of the orchestra, is also really rushed, and I was about a third of the way through before I felt like things calmed down enough for me to start making sense of it all. I was a little disappointed, too, that the characters were still rather under-developed by the end of the book, but what they lack in depth they make up for in mysterious pasts, and I’m definitely looking forward to that.

That aside, there’s still a lot to like here. Though Yuki says it’s the middle ages, it looks more like Victorian times, and a lot of the best fashions from Godchild/Earl Cain make their way over to all the characters. I did like Lucille, who makes for a fun main character, even if not a whole lot has been revealed personality-wise just yet. And even if it doesn’t make much sense, I can’t fault a story about a band of misfit musicians traveling from town to town to stop zombie puppets and those who love them. It’s hard to make that subject boring, and that alone is enough to fill the five volumes of this series with interesting enough content to keep me coming back.

Basically, the first volume is confusing, but… you know. Zombie marionettes and misfit musicians. Gotta love ’em. And even after a little break (I believe she took a hiatus in order to raise her children), Yuki’s art still looks amazing. She uses a lot more intricate detail than you’ll find in most shoujo artist work, puts a lot of thought into her settings and scenery, and has wonderful fashion sense in series like this one. Again, that alone is why I will come back to her series every time, even though I’ve never really loved any of them. This one has the most interesting premise yet, so I’m curious to see how far the story can go in five volumes.