Toriko Gin – Go!Comi – 2008 – 6 volumes

The loss of Go!Comi is heartbreaking to say the least, since they publish a lot of things I like to read.  This is my second favorite of the series they published, and I’m the most broken up about this one not continuing (I held onto the second volume forever as a good luck charm that Go!Comi would pull through the rough patch).  In my secret heart of hearts, however, I am very relieved that the last volume of After School Nightmare came out before the company was forced to close.

The one problem with holding onto the second volume for so long is that this series has quite an involved story.  It’s a good one, and well worth following, but I’d definitely forgotten all the details by the time I pulled this out.  It took me a minute to re-orient myself, but it didn’t matter too much since the volume launched immediately into a lengthy flashback that told the story of the recent tragedy that wiped out a very large number of the bird tribe members.

As far as I remember, the first volume was about Hello and Jack, and about introducing the reader to the bird tribe in general, but this volume is more about the history of the bird tribe, its older members, and how it got to be as it is today.  This flashback is interesting for several reasons, but my favorite part was the fact that their apocalypse was not immediately apparent.

This series excels at building a world for itself.  It constructs the bird tribe’s culture, characters, and history completely from scratch, and goes into incredible detail with everything.  And while we have these nice fantasy portions to enjoy, we also have to keep in mind that the human world moves alongside theirs, and that the bird tribe will more than likely need to deal with the harsh realities of the human war that is being waged not far from their borders.

I can’t praise this series enough.  It’s got a well-developed fantasy world, excellent characters (you learn about nearly every member of the bird tribe in this volume), and a present-day plot that seems like it sets out to study problems in both the internalized bird tribe and the human world.  Wonderful stuff, and it really is very much a shame we’ll never see more than this in English.

You know, I didn’t realize I wasn’t buying any Go! Comi series until someone pointed out that they were one of the few studios that don’t allow for Right Stuf sales.  I always bought After School Nightmare elsewhere since I don’t like to preorder things I’m going to want to read right away, so I actually didn’t notice I hadn’t been following anything else.  I thought I’d change that with this, which sounds like their most critically acclaimed series at the moment.

It’s really, really unique!  It’ll be a good replacement for After School Nightmare, even though the series are nothing alike.  It’s got a really ambiguous sense of time and place, which lends itself well to the fairy tale nature of the story.  A man who is escaping the war (I’m not sure he explicitly states that it is World War II or if it was just heavily implied) camps out by himself in a remote, wintery land and accidentally stumbles across a tribe of bird people.  He can’t communicate with them, and initially they want to kill him in order to keep their existence a secret, but later they adopt him in as part of their tribe.

Most of the story focuses on the human, Jack, and the small boy he finds named Nuts.  Nuts is scared and resists Jack at first, but eventually the two bond.  Nuts is so fond of Jack, in fact, that the tribe reads the bond on Nuts’ soul and decide to change his name to “Hello,” the word that Jack tried to get Nuts to say.  As time passes, Jack and the bird people eventually learn a common language and Jack even helps them trade in human villages to raise their quality of life.

A lot of the story focuses on the fact that the bird tribe is about to go extinct and their old ways are dying.  Lots of signs point to this in the first volume alone, including repeated prophecies from the tribe shamen/seers, the fact that some of the older members of the tribe disappear, the fact that they adopt some human ways, and, more seriously, that there haven’t been any new children born to the people in a long, long time.  The story also reflects a quiet maturation and coming-of-age in Hello and his friend Wolf, who seems jealous of the bond that Hello and Jack share (father/son, while Hello is technically Jack’s “father” in the eyes of the tribe after the adoption, Jack is the one that watches over Hello).  The bird people will also likely have to deal with the war sweeping through their land and invading their solitary life, as Jack already has.  There is also a chance that one of the women who has recently come of age will choose Jack as a partner rather than one of the bird men.  There is some talk that the tribe, since it is so small, is too closely related (hinting at inbreeding, but there are no signs of it), so I’m quite curious to see if merging with human society will somehow help save them.

The artwork also has a certain soft, sketchy quality that lends itself well to a storybook tale like this.  There are lots of interesting details in the designs of the bird people, and although most of the book took place during a rather bleak winter, I also liked the scenery.

It’s an absolutely wonderful story, a nice balance between fairy tale, coming-of-age, and perhaps an anti-war message as well.  Despite the fact that the outlook for the bird tribe is incredibly dark, there was a wonderfully positive mood throughout the book.  I’m definitely going to pick up the second volume the next chance I get.  It looks like there are at least two more volumes available, so I imagine I’ll be dying for more once I polish off the second.