Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Nov 20th 2011
Grand Guignol Orchestra
After learning the truth behind the events at the Vienne Abbey, Lucille, Eles, and company head to the manor of Duke Rhodonite. The duke is part of the anti-queen faction, so Lucille hopes to learn more about both his plans and those of the mysterious Le Senat. But what he finds is much more sinister than he could have dreamed of, and the duke is not above incorporating Lucille himself in his plans.
Are we in France? In what century does this story take place? Why is the weather always gloomy? These are just some of the pressing background questions that readers may have while reading Kaori Yuki's latest translated series, and they are unlikely to be answered. But Viz' favorite Mistress of Goth is in top form if you can look beyond those niggling details, and the “Tragedie Lyrique” and “Ma Cherie” arcs flow almost seamlessly together, giving this volume a readabilty that isn't always present in her works.
“Tragedie Lyrique,” which concludes in the first chapter of this volume, reveals the mystery behind Cinnabar's death while uncovering the tragic secret of one of the other nuns. Unfortunately this secret has to do with Lucille, or rather, someone's jealousy of his skills as a chanteur. The Abbey has had a hand in the creation of the new strain of guignols, and Lucille fears that his former partner in the Grand Orchestra, cat-mask wearing Berthier, has had a part in it as well. This, and the aforementioned nun with a secret, leads the group to visit Duke Rhodonite. At his manor house the story really picks up.
This volume gives readers the most plot we've had in the series thus far. Among the important revelations are the origins of the guignols and some facts about Lucille's family. One of the other Orchestra members also has his past revealed, with surprising results all the way through. Just when you think you know what's going on with a character, Yuki drops the floor out from under you again. She is not above pulling this more than once per volume with the exact same character, and somehow she makes it seem exciting rather than melodramatic. The tension she keeps flowing through the panels is likely the reason for it. Pages are crowded, with details, screen tones, and text leaving very little blank space. While it can make it difficult to follow the panels smoothly, it also gives an almost hyper quality to the story. In a work of Gothic suspense, that's a good thing, or at least most of the time it is.
Although sometimes overwhelming, Yuki's artwork is one of the highlights of this volume. The guignols, the doll-like zombies at the heart of the series, continue to be visually stimulating. Bearing a distinct resemblance to ball-jointed dolls, the guignols achieve a scariness that the rotting zombies that lurch through other stories can't quite mimic. Dolls, particularly ball-jointed ones, can be frightening in general because of their near-human appearances. Now imagine them walking after you, life-size and thirsting for your flesh. Barbie wants to eat you and make you just like her.
In other areas, the artwork can be distracting. Yuki can't seem to settle on a time period, with, in a single frame, characters wearing clothing from the mid 18th century, the late 19th century, and Gothic Lolita. These styles aren't mashed together – separate characters are dressed in period-specific outfits. If you know your historic costume, it's a bizarre sight, giving the series the air of a costume party. And yet, with all of this mishmosh, we're meant to accept that Eles prancing around in pants is clearly cross-dressing. In a world where women sometimes wear modern police uniforms with mini-skirts, this is asking a bit much of the readers.
Cross-dressing is a prevalent theme in this book, with four separate characters doing it. Again, this beggars the readers' suspension of belief a bit, as do some of the names. By this point readers should be mostly okay with a man named “Lucille” - after all, anime has done that to us before, in Baccano and The Tower of Druaga - but when we're expected to accept that “Garnet” is clearly a female name while “Carnelian” is unquestionably male, it gets a to be a bit much.
Happily the story moves so fast, and the other details of it are so engrossing, that gender issues can be partially overlooked in the rush of information. The truth about the guignol virus tells us much about both the characters behind it and the world of the story, ultimately providing more serious plot development than the previous two volumes combined. Throw in a heartbreaking (and gut-churning) back story and some hints about Lucille's true nature, and you have a winning entry in an already fascinating series. Kaori Yuki is a worthy successor to the women who fostered the Gothic novel back in the 18th century, and despite some oddities, Grand Guignol Orchestra just gets better with every new volume.
Overall : B+
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Major plot development, some of the scariest zombies out there, and lushly detailed artwork make this a winning volume.
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