The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?After a devastating car accident followed by a cataclysmic event dubbed the “Burst,” high schooler Aico Tachibana is the last of her family, trying to live a normal life near a quarantined area full of the “Matter,” rapidly-growing synthetic organisms.
When new student Yuya Kanzaki drops into her life, he brings her to a group of scientists, who reveal that the current Aico is actually an organic brain in a synthetic body—and that her real body is trapped in the quarantined area, along with her mother and brother. To get her family and body back and save the world, Aico must venture deep into the danger zone in a specialized suit and miniature mech along with Yuya and other “Divers” who want to stop the spread of Matter, all while dodging other organizations that want to claim Aico's artificial body for their own.
A.I.C.O. Incarnation volume 1 (4/10/2018) is based on a net anime series from studio BONES with the original story by BONES (storyboard by Nanako Ohse) and the manga adaptation by Hiroaki Michiaki. It's a digital-first series available for $10.99 from Kodansha Comics and on comiXology. The 12-episode anime series is available in its entirety on Netflix.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
The first volume of A.I.C.O. Incarnation packs a lot of material into its pages, dumping an overwhelming amount of exposition and only a limited amount of action so far. Character development is secondary in this plot-heavy series, but it's so secondary as to make the characters and the dynamics between them feel flat and uninteresting. Aico discovering she's got a virtually immortal synthetic body results in her being a little shocked, but she still absorbs it all rather uneventfully—along with the reveal about her role in what caused the Burst in the first place. Yuya oozes “mysterious” with his sudden appearance, grim expressions, and lack of much depth, but it's not in an enigmatic way, more like a simple, overdone trope. He literally sweeps Aico off her feet to rescue her too often. Aico seems to be enamored with this dashing young man, but the princess-carry moments just feel tiresome, especially when Aico is supposed to be fairly literally bulletproof regardless.
The information dump explaining the Burst is convoluted and requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. Even if you accept the science (this is the future, after all), there's little explanation as to why Aico was able to lead a relatively normal life for a few years after the event before all hell breaks loose. Secondary characters are mostly relegated to the end of the volume—fellow divers who all seem to have their own reasons for going into the quarantined area—but none stand out as of yet.
Michiaki's art, no doubt based on the anime's designs, doesn't suit this grim world at all. The characters are too cartoonish and soft—not just naïve Aico, but everyone, from morose Yuya to the villains after Aico's body. However, the backgrounds are often finely detailed, painting a nice picture of the contrast between the quarantined area and the “normal” part of town. The mech elements don't appear until the end of the volume, but they're nicely designed, if not amazingly original. They resemble construction equipment more than proper mech robots.
Fans of the anime will no doubt appreciate A.I.C.O. Incarnation volume 1 more than the new reader, who might find it both tedious and overwhelming, at least this early on. With no single character who makes an impact, the plot plays a heavier role in trying to capture the audience's attention, but the series is off to a rocky, complicated start. However, with the volume ending as the Divers make their first visit to the quarantined area, the volume finishes with the promise of delivering more action in the installments to come.
A.I.C.O. Incarnation is trying very, very hard to sell its story and to make you want to read more. Unfortunately, it isn't doing a terrific job of that. Largely this stems from the fact that this first volume is putting far too much information into its opening chapters, hoping that starting things in medias res will prove intriguing enough that we'll overlook specialized jargon (wherein words have totally different meanings in the story's science than in our own), a few too many characters for comfort, and the fact that the hero has very little in the way of personality.
That last may turn out to be important for one reason or another. At this point, he's the one with the most information about what happened to Aico two years ago and whether or not her mother and younger brother are, in fact, alive. Everyone else seems certain that they're dead or just isn't going to touch that particular issue, so the fact that Mysterious Transfer Student (is there any other kind?) seems to know so much may speak to him being some sort of artificial being as well. If nothing else, he may be the only person who genuinely cares about Aico, lack of personality notwithstanding; everyone else either sees her as a valuable asset or a fragile doll. The divers definitely are looking more trustworthy at this point than the government, and not just because governments in science fiction stories are notoriously corrupt – the branch that's trying to get its paws on Aico is “artificial creature control,” and that doesn't suggest good things about how they plan to treat someone who for all intents and purposes is a teenage girl.
All of this suggests that there's an actual, interesting story lurking here somewhere, and perhaps it comes across better in the anime this is an adaptation of. The art is attractive, with a variety of different figures all of the characters regardless of gender and a page set-up that's easy to read, albeit easier if you use a two-page view for this digital-first release, because two-page spreads are used relatively frequently and your standard one page at a time view can make things difficult. The easier thing, however, may be to simply watch the anime, because as this stands, it's not selling the story as a manga particularly well.
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