Thursday, May 22, 2008

King of Thorn (manga) by Yuji Iwahara

Originally posted in A Library Girl's Outlet on May 18, 2008:

Because of my public library's awesome manga collection, I've gotten to read the first three volumes of King of Thorn by Yuji Iwahara. It's a strange, interesting series. A disease called Medusa is killing humanity - a person infected with Medusa eventually turns into stone, or something like it, and shatters to bits. A group of people with Medusa are chosen to be cryogenically frozen while scientists attempt to find a cure. Among them are Kasumi, a girl who had to leave her twin behind in order to join this group, Marco, a dangerous-looking man with secrets, a child, and others (I can't really say much about any of them without spoiling things). The group is awakened too soon and find the island they're on to be overrun by thorny vegetation and monsters. They try to figure out what went wrong, where all the scientists are, and how to get off the island before Medusa claims their lives. They begin to discover each others pasts and secrets and have to deal with their own dark sides.

I like this manga, although I'm not sure if I like it so much that I would start buying it if I ended up moving somewhere with a less awesome public library manga collection. It depends on how long the series ends up being - right now, I think there are five volumes out in Japan, the last one released in 2005. That means about five or six volumes in the US, which isn't so bad.

The story makes me think a little of the TV show Lost, with all the strangeness, the flashbacks, and the gradual revelations about everyone's pasts. For some reason, this series also reminds me a little of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park - don't ask me why, maybe it's the dinosaur-like monsters, all the people getting eaten, and the "scientists mucking around with things they shouldn't" theme. The character Marco reminds me a little of Riddick from the movie Pitch Black - he's strong and scary with a criminal past, but he's got enough of a soft spot to keep on helping Kasumi. I can't really think of any other manga series like this, although that's not too surprising, since I don't read much dark, suspenseful manga.

As for the art... Well, for the most part, I like it. It's dark enough to fit the feel of the series, and yet it's clear enough to convey what's going on without me having to do a lot of backtracking. When a series has as much action as this one, that's important. On a purely shallow level, Marco is some serious eye candy. There's his tattoos, his long hair, his lean, muscled body - very nice. Too bad I don't have a scanner, or I'd post one of the panels from the manga. Maybe I can find a good picture of him somewhere. Anyway, Marco looks great. The women, on the other hand, look much younger than they are. I didn't realize until book 3 that Kasumi is maybe 17 years old and Katherine (who didn't get a name until book 3) is at least that age as well. The way they're drawn, all rounded with big eyes, isn't that unusual for manga or anime - you'll often see age 15+ characters who look younger than they are because they're drawn this way. However, in other anime or manga, something about the look of at least one of the males tends to match the females - there's usually a boy the same age as the girls who's drawn in the same rounded, big-eyed way, to convey his innocence. In this manga, there's no such boy (the child doesn't count). In comparison to the way the men are drawn, then, these two young women look really young, and the way they act (vulnerable and frightened) only emphasizes the impression that they are very young.

It's not really a big criticism, but it's things like this that tend to really upset people who are just starting out with manga and anime. Personally, I can't wait to see what happens next, and the squealing fangirl in me is looking forward to seeing Marco kick more dino-monster butt.

POST EDIT:

It's taken some thinking (and it's not like I've been doing any research on this issue or anything), but I believe I've come up with a half-way decent manga recommendation if you like King of Thorn. A few weeks ago I read After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro. This series is more sexual than King of Thorn, but at least as odd (probably odder, actually). According to my Excel spreadsheet, I've only read one volume of this series, so I only know a little about it. A bunch of students at a strange school are made to battle each other during dreams. Since hardly anyone looks like themselves during the dreams, they don't know who everyone is in the waking world. Because this dream world reveals their inner selves, they each end up revealing more about themselves than they'd like.

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