The Fall 2017 Manga Guide

What's It About? 

When seeds are the most valuable commodity, underground cultivators work clandestinely to breed rare specimens to sell on the black market. Luca, a young man who relies on the sale of these seeds to support himself and his shut-in father, gets a rude wakeup call when the graineliers, an elite military force tasked with overseeing the legal production and distribution of seeds and crops, knock on his door—only they're there for his father, who's been cultivating the most dangerous and illegal kinds of seeds of all: the kind that grow inside people. On his father's urging, Luca flees and ingests some of the illicit seeds, only to wake up two years later as an evolved human with plant-like tendencies. He and his friend, Abel, vow to keep Luca's evolved existence a secret, but after Luca mistakenly does something that gets the graineliers’ attention, they're going to find it difficult to make sure Luca continues to blend in.

Graineliers volume 1 (12/19/2017) is an original manga by Rihito Takarai that will be published by Yen Press in paperback for $13 and digitally for $6.99.

Is It Worth Reading?

Amy McNulty

Rating: 3

Graineliers volume 1 starts off slow but ups the stakes by the end of the volume. The medieval-ish setting makes it easier to believe this is a world where plants and seeds are the most important product and that, despite the emphasis on scientific advancement's role in the quality and quantity of these seeds, magic can exist as well. However, the setting, though made up, feels anachronistic at times, especially in the way people dress in slightly more modern fashion—and the graineliers themselves would seem more at home in the 19th century. Yet, despite amazing advancements with plants, these scientists still work by candlelight.

Luca is a rather taciturn main character for the most part, though he does elicit a laugh or two with his straight-faced over-the-top reactions. Abel has more personality, but he's still not that memorable; his number one trait seems to be being concerned with Luca's safety. The story itself, despite the danger Luca finds himself in early on, doesn't really feel compelling until the graineliers get names as well as faces and become actualized antagonists for Luca and Abel to go up against. That doesn't happen until the end of the volume, and Gilles Nicolas’ interaction with the two is an amusing highlight of the story thus far. However, it is interesting before that how the little girl introduced as a seemingly throwaway plot device eventually demonstrates hidden powers of her own.

Takarai's art is more than serviceable, though there's not a lot about it that's distinct. The pre-modern-era backgrounds are often nicely detailed, but they seem almost at odds with the bishonen-style character designs. Since flora is so important in this world, it makes sense that the highlights of the art are the moments when plantlife is supposed to inspire awe, but most of the time, there's a lack of detail in leaves and blossoms that don't make them that amazing to look at.

Graineliers volume 1 presents an interesting enough story in a nice-looking package, but it's yet to pack a punch that makes it remarkable. The mishmash of some more modern sensibilities with some historical fantasy elements doesn't always gel perfectly. However, while it's a slow build thus far, by volume's end, Graineliers promises to become a lot more.

Austin Price

Rating: 2.5

Some artists work sui generis, creating stories out of what seems thin air. Others ape their inspiration for cues to synthesize an idea ultimately theirs. Still others, such as Rihito Takarai, parade their influences proudly. From the very first her Graineliers does absolutely nothing to disguise how much it owes to Fullmetal Alchemist, only in Graineliers the dominant science is botany, not alchemy. The people of this pseudo-Europe (more specifically pseudo-France, judging by the francs position as the dominant currency) exists in a parallel history where botanic technology and knowledge have advanced to dimensions almost mystical, where rumors fly that even the right seed might bring back the dead. So powerful are these flora that the government employs a paramilitary force known as the Graneliers to police their development and the population that might abuse them: any criminal found violating the state's strict control of the horticultural sciences is carted off. Among the most notable of these offenses is (of course) human transmutation, something protagonist Luca's father seems to be experimenting with in hopes of resurrecting his deceased wife.

It's not entirely derivative. Unlike Ed and Al, Luca is no party to the Graineliers but a fugitive due to a botched experiment that's left him a human-plant hybrid (a twist that itself feels deeply indebted to Tokyo Ghoul, another obvious inspiration here). Certainly there are worse influences to draw from, and as concepts go Half Wooden Botanist is an idea rife with possibilities. I only wish Grainelier had the same instinct for world building, thrilling action, or, perhaps most importantly, for appealing visual sensibilities these titles did.

For a story built on and around conspiracy, it feels more meandering than it should; there's little action here and little to see beyond the slow-building intrigues of the Graineliers and the day-to-day lives of Luca and adoptive brother Abel. For a manga built on and around the mystique of planets, its art needs to offer more than the plain style on display here. The three main characters are indistinguishable from one another save for hair color, their faces the same old messy nest of uncombed bangs and droopy, dopey stares. The flora we see is similarly nondescript: even the most mystical of seeds is identical to the most commonplace, even the trees we see sprout from them are not terribly dissimilar from a warped young elm or slightly more primal fern. Nothing seems sensitively observed.

As the son of a man who gladly plops down half a paycheck on exotic plants, a man who's nearly been arrested three times for smuggling illicit foliage into the country, I grew up cultivating almost against my will an appreciation for the beauty of flowers, trees, shrubs and vegetation of all kind. I've likewise learned to respect them from painful experience. They're alluring, yes, but they're also strange, exerting a fascination because closer inspection slowly reveals how alien a kind of life they are compared to our own; if Takarai has chosen plants as her subject out of love, and if she has plans to show something of this in her work, so she is growing into them slowly.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 3.5

I may not always love the direction Rihito Takarai takes her stories, but I always get pulled into them. Graineliers is no exception. Set in an alternate France-like world, the story's title is based on the French word for seed, “grain,” combined with the suffix roughly meaning “expert.” So the graineliers of the title are people who have a particular expertise in seeds, which in the story's world can have magical properties. It's a bit as if Takarai took the myth that if you swallow a fruit seed a tree will grow in your stomach and ran with it.

That's especially true for protagonist Luca, whose father was a rogue grainelier. When law enforcement comes for him two years before the story really gets going, he hands his son a few seeds and tells him to swallow them. Perhaps foolishly, Luca does so, and when he awakens from a two-year coma, he has plant-like characteristics: he only really needs water to survive, although he also enjoys foods rich in the nutrients that are beneficial for plant-life. He's basically still human, just with some adjustments…unless you ask the government, who now classifies him as a dangerous plant. Or they would if they could find him; Luca's best friend Abel has been hiding Luca ever since the night his dad was taken away. It's a dark set up for a story about those considered subhuman by the government, a story that is sadly almost always timely, and I don't doubt that Takarai has the storytelling abilities to pull it off.

This volume, however, is primarily tasked with getting things going. It does work, but Takarai doesn't seem entirely certain how far she wants to push things in establishing the world and the world order. That other plant-infused people have ended badly seems set, but we also know that Luca isn't the only one being kept hidden, and we don't know the consequences of that. It's implied that his father accidentally killed his mother in a similar attempt at human/plant hybridization, but again, that's hardly explored before we see Luca begin to use his skills. It's not that these things can't be explained later on, but more that it feels like they're skimmed over here – it might have been better to leave at least the mother bit until the story was well under way. On the other hand, I do feel like we get a good grasp of who both Luca and Abel are as people, which may ultimately turn out to be more important.

Graineliers has potential as a science fiction/fantasy hybrid with an unusual angle. I hope that it begins to develop its setting a little more in volume two, but between Takarai's delicate linework and the interesting premise, this should be worth following. The lack of female characters does feel a little weird right now (and speaks to Takarai's previous work in BL), but I do think that ultimately this series will pay off.

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