Jyu-Oh-Sei 3

August 21, 2009

Natsumi Itsuki – Tokyopop – 2009 – 3 volumes
The Tokyopop edition of this series matches the thick kazenban release in Japan.  The original series was five standard volumes.

I’m a tough judge when it comes to the endings of my manga.  I usually don’t like them, and for good reason: they are all-too-frequently tacked on, the product of a series that has been running for years that the artist has just gotten the okay to finish up and is more than likely very eager to put it to bed.  It is the nature of manga, but such circumstances understandably don’t make for a good ending.

Jyu-Oh-Sei somehow pulls off an excellent ending, one of the more satisfying conclusions for a plot I’ve had in awhile.  It’s even more incredible when you realize how long it took to finish the series (it was serialized off and on for 8-10 years).  It reads a lot like an action movie, with lots of explosions, edge-of-the-seat thrills, romance, last minute reveals, and lots of luck for the charming hero.

Though Thor was never the charming one, that was all Third.  The dynamic the series had going between Thor, Third, and Zagi was very interesting, since Zagi and Third wanted very different things and Thor wasn’t sure who to believe.  This volatile situation comes to a head early in the volume, and… actually, the plot goes through with all its promises.  I was a little surprised by this, since I wasn’t entirely sure where things were going to go once Thor started down the path for uncovering the secrets of Kimaera.  It goes… well, a lot of places I wouldn’t have expected.

Suffice to say that some of the themes that the series ties in are quite amazing an appropriate, and the topics it chooses to use for tie-ins fit in so well that I can’t begrudge it the message.  I also liked the author’s admission that she had decided on the fates of all the main characters before the series began.  I loved that, actually, since she does things most authors do not dare with their characters.

If you were thinking of picking this up, if it sounds like it would appeal to you, go for it.  It’s a tight shoujo sci-fi title, and I’m a really tough customer when it comes to this type of story.  I enjoyed it quite a bit more than To Terra and Andromeda stories, though it’s definitely got a similar feel to those.  It makes me think of Apothecarius Argentum too, but only because of the elaborate society and world it builds up for itself throughout the course of the story.  I’m still very impressed by how much detail was created and was so simple to grasp and read through.  Normally I have a lot of trouble with that, but not in Jyu-Oh-Sei.  And there’s the action and romance.  It’s hard to deny the pleasure in the characters getting stalked by man-eating plants through a supercomputer, or the ridiculous shoujo moments between Thor and any of the native Kimaerans, whose idea of romance is getting his “seed.”  He does get at least one very girly scene before the book is finished.

It had the perfect explosion panel towards the end, too.  I love how much meaning such a simple image can convey, and it was very loaded here.

Jyu-Oh-Sei 2

July 19, 2009

Natsumi Itsuki – Tokyopop – 2009 – 3 volumes

Like Fruits Basket, I waited to read the second volume of this until I had the third.  Unlike Fruits Basket, I then waited some time before reading it, which is a shame, because this is a wonderful series.  It reminds me a lot of To Terra… and Andromeda Stories in spirit, but I like Jyu-Oh-Sei a lot better than those two series.

I really like this series for its somewhat desperate, fatalistic fantasy setting.  I like any manga series with a well-realized, non-generic fantasy world, really, and there are so few good examples in the US that aren’t total fanservice.  On one hand, it’s kind of ridiculous at the beginning of the book when Thor seems to be besting a group of adolescents and people in their 20s at the age of 11, but on the other hand, I like that a mix of luck and Third cheating for him get him his place.  His luck and destiny in becoming the Beast King are emphasized more and more as the volume continues, and I simultaneously love and hate the fact that Thor isn’t really master of his own destiny, but is being controlled almost entirely by Third and later Zagi.  He seems to have little mind of his own aside from a survival instinct and a desperate need to get off the planet (a prize awarded only to the Beast King).

I also still really enjoy the fully realized social structure present on Kimaera.  This was mostly established last volume, and it’s one of the more fascinating things about the series, because of its simplicity, the way it works with the weather patterns on the planet, the fact that the discrepencies between Thor’s colony upbringing and the native residents of Kimaera keep coming up, and because crashing this social struture will bring the Colony government running, for some reason.  The government’s interest in and the secrets surrounding Kimaera are a little less well-realized, but that will probably come next time, since we get two rather huge bombshells at the end of the volume here.

The shoujo elements are floating around, adding a soft touch to everything.  Rai’s death still haunts Thor, and at this point, I’m less sure that Rai will come back unharmed.  I was sure that was going to happen at one point towards the end of the volume, but the vicious ecosystem of the planet won out over my hopes (yet another really awesome detail, simple but very important).  Thor is also shaken by the reappearance of Zagi, by the fact that the entire planet’s social system is crashing down around him, and by love, as any good shoujo hero should be.  The situation between he and Tiz is a sad one, and a new contender joins the fight for Thor’s heart, though Thor is still thoroughly shaken by the “mating rituals” of Kimaera, and tries to explain his feelings yet again to Tiz and the new girl.

The outside government will factor into the next volume and the ending, so I’m looking forward to how that will be integrated into the rich plot and setting of the series.  I’m very much looking forward to it.

Jyu-Oh-Sei 1

March 30, 2009

I usually don’t go for sci-fi, but I felt like I should probably support this series.  It’s hard for me to pass up shoujo series for an older audience like this (or, at least, it seems like it’s for an older audience, the subject matter is a bit more mature, though the main characters are 12 or something).  I was a little surprised when I learned the history of this series.  Apparently it’s five volumes, with the complete edition that’s being published by Tokyopop clocking in at three volumes.  The gap between volume 1 and volume 5 was… ten years?  I was a bit taken aback by the retro art in the first volume of this.  I assumed it was a contemporary series because of the anime a few years back.

I was pleasantly surprised by the plot, too.  As I said, I tend to hate sci-fi, but this one drops a pair of twins off on a death planet after a political opponent murders their parents.  The planet is biologically set up to kill anyone on it, with 180 days of daylight with blistering hot temperatures, 180 days of winter with subzero temperatures, man-eating vegetation, and a population of cutthroat convicts.  Among the convicts and the native residents, there is an interesting society on the planet that the main character, Thor, sort of taps into in his attempt to escape the planet and figure out his parent’s death.  He’s got a long way to go ahead of him, but a lot of the connections he makes in this volume are pretty interesting.

The politics on Kimaera are probably the biggest attraction for me so far.  The races are broken down into separate “rings,” or cities on the planet, and from there, a select few get to winter in each ring’s fort.  There’s a society of children that are offspring of the convicts that raise themselves in the deadly jungle, there’s separate rings for the few women, there’s lots of etiquette about the tops of the rings and what to do and not to do around women and authority figures.  As tedious as some of this sounds, the series goes into a fascinating amount of detail.

The only thing I actually didn’t like about it was the whiny kid factor when Rai and Thor were together at the beginning of the book.  Rai couldn’t take care of himself and complained a lot.  This sort of set things up for Thor’s change of heart about Rai, and Rai’s departure, so it was necessary whining.

This volume was mostly exposition, but I’m already looking forward to the next, where Thor will likely continue to climb the ranks on the planet, we’ll get to see winter, more information will be revealed about what Kimaera is actually used for (there is a prison planet, so a death sentence planet like this one doesn’t make much sense), we’ll get to see the intentions of a few dark horse characters, and I’m sure Rai will put in a surprise visit as well.  It’s an extremely well-constructed story, and I’m looking forward to where it goes in five volumes.