I feel like this manga has removed my insides, very slowly, and replaced them with cotton. I'd call this story depressing, except it's not quite that. I don't know. I'll try to explain.
I wasn't very impressed with Olympos, at first. It was slow-moving, it seemed somewhat episodic in a "meh" sort of way, and the characters confused me. The character designs were usually very pretty, but a few of them were a little hard to tell apart – Ganymede looked like Artemis, except with a hair ornament, and Apollo's darker hair was the primary reason I could tell him apart from Ganymede (the person on the cover is Apollo, by the way). Backgrounds were almost nonexistent – it was a little like watching a bunch of actors on a very minimalist stage.
The story focused primarily on Apollo and Ganymede. When readers are first introduced to Ganymede, he is almost without hope. He cannot die, and he has been trapped in Zeus's changeless miniature garden for ages. Apollo brings Heinz, a young mortal man, to Ganymede in order to snap him out of his funk and make him more interesting again. Heinz's great wish is to become rich and marry Mina, his sweetheart. Apollo has told him his wish will be granted, if he can convince Ganymede that there is a way out of the miniature garden – in order to leave, the two of them must go to the edge of the world and jump off.
Ganymede initially struck me as dull. My impression of him changed after a flashback showed exactly how he came to be in the miniature garden, and what it cost him. Then, for a while, I disliked Apollo. Another extended flashback caused me to reevaluate my impression of him, as well.
Ganymede was a young prince who'd been torn from his family and had, without fully understanding it, permanently lost his brothers, Troy, basically everything he'd ever cared about. He wanted to leave the miniature garden and, eventually, didn't really care what he needed to do in order to accomplish that goal. He teetered between depression and hope.
Apollo's primary motivation was boredom. He didn't understand mortals and couldn't understand Ganymede's depression. A flashback showed what his life used to be like: he spent his days conversing with his beloved sister Artemis and didn't care about anything else. His unchanging existence was interrupted by Iris, a naive and pleasant mortal girl who, despite her stupidity, still managed to capture his interest. However, once change was introduced into his life, he couldn't go back to the way he was. This was the part of Olympos that began elevating it from “okay” to “good,” for me.
Although these characters shared names with figures from Greek mythology, they were different from those original figures. It wasn't that Aki rewrote the mythology – from the perspective of the mortals in Olympos, I think the mythology was still the same, it was just that they got things wrong.
Instead of the original Greek pantheon, there were only three primary Gods: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Zeus was of the sky and was mostly uninterested in the things below him (so, basically uninterested in everything). Poseidon was of the sea and was constantly annoyed and looking to overthrow Zeus, not that he had any kind of workable plan in mind. Hades was of the earth and questioned everything, to the point that he even caused Apollo to reevaluate what he assumed was the truth.
I'm still not sure how Apollo and Artemis fit into this world. What caused them to come to be, and, if they existed, why didn't all the other Greek gods exist as well? That's one thing about Olympos – it leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and it doesn't really have an ending, just...acceptance, I guess.
All in all, this started off slow and a little boring, and then grew on me. I'm glad I read it, even if I now feel like I need to spend a few hours immersed in my fluffy, happy Nora Roberts book.
Several full-color illustrations (which are gorgeous), a few pages of author's notes, and two pages of mythological and historical background information.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- 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. Those who'd like another very reflective story featuring bored god-like beings may want to give this a try.
- Antique Bakery (manga series) by Fumi Yoshinaga; Antique Bakery (anime TV series) - This may seem like an odd series to include in my read-alikes/watch-alikes list, but I do think it's appropriate. As in Olympos, the characters have more depth than one might initially think, and the series often has a slow, reflective feel. Of course, that's also mixed with a nice dollop of humor and delicious food imagery. I've written about this entire series, both the manga and the anime, but beware, my posts are filled with spoilers.
- Natsume's Book of Friends (manga) by Yuki Midorikawa; Natsume's Book of Friends (anime TV series) - This one might be a stretch, although I could imagine Olympos looking somewhat like Natsume's Book of Friends if it had focused on the mortals rather than on the gods. Those who'd like something else that explores the somewhat bittersweet relationships between mortals and gods (or, in this case, spirits) may want to give this series a try. I've written about all four seasons of the anime.