Thursday, December 25, 2008

King of Thorn (manga, vol. 4) by Yuji Iwahara

(There's really no way I can do a decent summary without some spoilers, so beware.)

In the last volume, Kasumi learned that there's a traitor among the small group of people who were cryogenically frozen during the attempt to deal with the Medusa Virus, and the things she saw led her to believe that Marco Owen was probably the traitor. In this volume, the few remaining people in the group discover the probable origin of the Medusa Virus and that it is not actually a virus at all. Medusa is something in a person's mind, and there is a slim chance that those in the group infected with Medusa (which means everyone except Marco) can cure themselves - one of the very first people to get the virus, a young girl, managed it. Marco has Kasumi watch a video and keeps her, the other young woman (Katherine), and the little boy (Tim) from following him as he goes off on his own to settle things with a hacker named Zeus. There are lots of flashbacks to Marco's past, showing him when he was asked to infiltrate the complex and showing him when he tried to follow through with NSA and CIA's plan - obviously, the plan didn't work. While Marco is gone, Kasumi continues to watch the tape and finds evidence that her twin sister is alive and probably somewhere in the complex. Kasumi's twin isn't the only one still alive - one of the people in the group who was recently killed is still kinda-sorta alive, in an "is he a zombie?" sort of way.

I'm still loving this series, even if parts of this volume confused me. Mainly, it was the stuff with Marco's past that confused me - I had trouble keeping track of what Marco was supposed to be doing for the NSA, and I couldn't remember what it was exactly that Zeus did to Marco (he set him up for something, but I can't remember what it was - it'd probably help to reread the previous volumes). By the way, if you've seen the Tokyopop cover for this volume and you're wondering, the guy on the lower right of the cover is Marco before he went to prison. As usual, Marco made me go embarrassingly fangirly, so I'm a little more forgiving of any confusion the bits about his past caused me than I might have been if those bits had been about another character.

The revelations about Medusa were great and kept me at the edge of my seat, although I don't have Marco's confidence that everyone in the group will figure out how to cure themselves. For one thing, the guy in the recording who was explaining things as much as said that it was no longer possible for people to cure themselves the same way the little girl who was among the first to catch it did. For another, Katherine is doing pretty badly by the end of this volume - I doubt it'll be long before she shatters herself on something. I did enjoy finally finding out who that creepy little girl is who's been following the group around, although it's hard to believe that she's the same cute girl shown in the flashbacks - she seems darker and meaner now than she looked to be then.

Once this volume reveals what Medusa is, the next question is "whose messed up mental image resulted in all those horrible monsters found throughout the compound?" Apparently, Zeus played a part in their creation, although it's not quite clear how he managed it and how they can be gotten rid of. This is bad, because these monsters aren't just in the compound - they're all over the world. Zeus's reason for making this all happen is either massively stupid or massively crazy. Maybe both.

Although there are a lot of explanatory flashbacks and video footage in this volume, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of action. In fact, the flashbacks and video footage constitute most of the action in this volume. It all reminded me a lot of the movie Jurassic Park - everybody goes in, things go a little wrong in a planned way, then things go a lot wrong in an unplanned way, with lots of people dying quickly. The main difference is that in this manga, the dinosaur-like creatures can hurt you with more than just teeth and claws (although that's bad enough) and some or all of them can sprout more nasty creatures. I don't think this has been made into an anime yet, but it really should be - this would make a fun, adrenaline-fueled survival thriller. Marco's the lean and muscular convict who can handle himself in any kind of fight and then go hack into a computer system if he needs to. Kasumi and Katherine are the pretty women with painful pasts, Tim's a cute kid who needs to be kept safe, and then there are a few other characters to keep the mix interesting. The slowly unraveling mystery, as well as the question of whether any of them will actually survive Medusa, even if they survive the monsters, keeps this story from just being about all the action.

Overall, I really enjoyed this volume and this title in general. With this volume in particular, you get a lot of story for your money - I think there are probably at least 200 pages here for $9.99. You could also do what I've been doing (before I moved, anyway) and just get this manga from your local public library, if they're nice enough to have it in their collection. Personally, I'm hoping that this actually does get made into an anime - right away, it'd end up on my list of anime I plan on buying as soon as I'm able. I'm only hoping that the ending doesn't turn out to be a total letdown. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to all the characters, whether they survive or not. I'd also like to know if there's now a zombie problem, if Marco will manage to kick Zeus's crazy butt, and what Kasumi's twin has to do with Zeus.

As far as extras go, the volume begins with four full-color pages and ends with a couple pages of the author's comments and random drawings. For those readers who are guys, the drawings include Katherine from the waist up, in a bikini, and Kazumi from behind, in her underwear and some kind of strapless top (there's probably a name for this kind of top, but I've never been a clothing fan, so I don't know it). The four full-color pages were depressing. The cover illustrations are always gorgeously colored, so I was expecting something of that quality, but the pages I saw looked a tad blurry and a little muddy here and there.

I continue to have problems coming up with read-alikes and watch-alikes for this series. My usual resources aren't much help, either - NoveList seems to choke when it comes to manga, WorldCat's list of supposedly related items (for another volume in this series) is just odd (a Tom Sawyer comic? Huh???), Amazon.com's "also bought" list isn't much better, and Anime-Planet doesn't even have this series.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Jurassic Park (live action movie) - A very wealthy man has the brilliant idea to create a park filled with dinosaurs. Unfortunately, things go wrong, and he and a bunch of visitors are suddenly trapped on an island with a bunch of large prehistoric reptiles, quite a few of which are carnivorous. Those who'd like another survival thriller with heart-pounding action and dangerous monsters might enjoy this movie.
  • Pitch Black (live action movie) - A group of space travelers are stranded on a seemingly lifeless sun-scorched planet. Unfortunately, when darkness falls they discover that the planet isn't as lifeless as they thought. Those who'd like another survival thriller with heart-pounding action and dangerous monsters might enjoy this movie. In addition, there's a convict character who, at times, reminds me of Marco Owens.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who'd like another story that often deals with the strange and sometimes horrific things people's minds can produce might like this series. Unlike King of Thorn, however, this is not an action-oriented series, but rather a character-oriented one.
  • Red Garden (anime TV series) - There's been a lot of strange suicides in New York lately. One day, four girls with little in common wake up feeling tired and dizzy, unable to remember what happened the previous night. They discover that one of their classmates has committed suicide. Not long after that, the four girls are told that they all died the previous night and must fight when called to do so if they wish to continue to live. Those who'd like another horror-thriller with supernatural weirdness and dark and unnerving aspects might enjoy this anime. I'll admit, I haven't seen it yet, but I'd like to - I've read a few reviews, and it seems like it might be worth the money.
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - Ichijo Mashiro is one of several students at his school who are made to attend a special class, in which students battle each other in a dream world. Almost everyone's dream selves look nothing like their waking selves, but, unfortunately, this is not the case for Ichijo. His dream self reveals his most closely guarded secret, that he is neither male nor female. As the series progresses, more students' secrets are revealed. Those who'd like another strange horror story in which characters' secrets, as well as their environment's secrets, are gradually revealed may enjoy this manga.

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