Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 13th 2008
King of Thorn
Shy Kasumi and her more outgoing twin Shizuku have been infected by the Medusa virus, an incurable and little-understood plague which lies dormant in victims for six weeks before petrifying them in a matter of hours, resulting in a painful death. When Kasumi is one of 160 victims chosen to go into suspended animation until a cure is found, she only reluctantly goes at the insistence of her twin, but wakes up after an indeterminate amount of time to a reality out of a nightmare. Thorny growths abound and monsters stalk the ruins of the facility as she and a handful of others infected with Medusa scramble for their lives and try to discover what happened. Sometimes separated by circumstance, they slowly start to gather the pieces of the puzzle, but they also learn that some amongst them may know much more than they let on, and everyone seems to have at least a few secrets, including Kasumi herself. Meanwhile a mysterious girl with a malevolent smile watches from the shadows.
It is an unwritten rule in sci fi media on both sides of the Pacific that nothing good ever comes from going into suspended animation. Something nearly always goes wrong; you sleep too long, people die from malfunctions, or you wake up to discover that the world has gone to hell in your absence. King of Thorn chooses the latter option to spin a horror-laced adventure story whose first three volumes manage to entertain despite a decided shortage of originality.
Sometimes something fresh can be made by borrowing elements of unrelated stories and combining them in a new way, but that is not the case here. The basic premise – a hero/heroine with an incurable disease put into suspended animation until a cure can be found, only to wake up to a reality fraught with people-eating monsters – was either influenced by, or outright ripped off from, the anime series Blue Gender, while the personality types amongst the sleepers represent a cross-section of common archetypes seen in group survivor stories: the shy girl, the kid, the big guy, the bad boy, the smart one, the self-centered rich/powerful one, and the motherly woman. (In fact, the characters so tightly fit into their roles that most beyond Kasumi do not have names by the end of volume 1 and one of the survivors does not even have a name by the end of volume 3.) Naturally a bigger picture exists, some of the survivors know more about it than others, and everyone seems to have some kind of secret. The girl observer who periodically pops up in the background also reeks of Common Plot Device.
The series does show some sparks of creativity, however. The nature of the Medusa virus, as silly as it may sound on paper, is effectively horrifying in application, and that cloud hanging over the characters helps reinforce the tension and desperation of the survivors' situation. Kasumi's repressed secret, when revealed in volume 3, is a genuine shocker, and manga-ka Yuji Iwahara wins points for making one of the nasty dinosaur-like monsters abnormally clever for voracious critters of its type. Iwahara loses nearly as many points for the amphibian debacle in volume 3, but wins some of them back by at least occasionally giving main character Kasumi (the requisite “wilting flower” character) a backbone.
The main selling point of the series so far lies in its effective establishment and maintenance of a high degree of tension and danger. Whether internal threats like the Medusa virus or external threats like monsters, the thorny vines, or drowning, the characters always seem at risk, even when in comparative safety, and some of the situations they find themselves in get truly nerve-wracking. Add to that numerous involved action scenes, concerns about what bad-boy Marco Owens is really up to, and (possibly unfounded) suggestions made to Kasumi that the survivors have a traitor in their midst and you have an excitement level that rarely falters.
On the downside, the series concentrates so much on building up tension that it skimps on opportunities for character development. We get to see inside Kasumi's head enough to know what she's about, and Marco's character gradually comes into focus, but so far the rest of the cast has not progressed beyond one-note performances.
Iwahara's drawing style is so detail-rich that it cries out either for the use of color or for larger pages to exploit all the thorny growths and nasty critters, and in fact the handful of color pages at the beginning of each volume show the artistry at its best. As is, some of the fine background details get lost in all of the dark shading, as does a full appreciation of the inventive critter designs. Beyond Marco's intricate tattoos the character designs are not the sharpest, and in some cases take on a cartoonish look, but they do strongly visually delineate the characters and are effective at conveying mood and emotion. Iwahara offers no shortage of well-planned and crisply-executed action scenes and spares little effort in background detail or setting design; they never get dull or give a run-of-the-mill feel. While the series offers no actual nudity and little that could be considered fan service (contrary to the image on the cover of volume 3), it has plenty enough graphic content to justify its Older Teens rating.
Tokyopop's releases of the series always opens with four color pages, followed by a brief plot summary beginning with volume 2. Each closes out with a couple of self-referential bonus pages by Iwahara and an advertisement for the next volume. Most of the time the sound effects remain untranslated, which in this case is to the content's detriment since several instances come up where the sound effect being used is not clear from context and would be beneficial to know.
As the series progresses into its third volume it starts to give off a vague video game vibe, but that does not detract from how involving the tense, action-packed story of these survivors in a hostile environment can be. Its lack of complicated ideas and light use of flashbacks makes each volume a quick read, and it poses enough drama and mysteries to keeps its readers coming back.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Tense and involving.
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