by Carlo Santos,

ES: Eternal Sabbath

GN 4

Shuro and Isaac are two "brothers" born years apart as products of the ES (Eternal Sabbath) genetic experiment. Although they both have the ability to control people's minds, they have grown up very differently: Shuro has become a polite young man, while Isaac is a murderous 10-year-old hellbent on destroying the world that created him. Thrown into this conflict is Dr. Mine Kujyou, a neuroscience researcher whose odd personality has made her immune to ES mind-control. As a helpful research assistant, Shuro willingly submits to some brain tests so that Mine can better understand the battle against Isaac. However, what Shuro discovers about himself presents new dangers. Meanwhile, Isaac's telepathic murders have caught the attention of an unsuspecting detective. With more and more lives at stake, Shuro must come face to face at last with his nemesis.

ES is Death Note without the silliness and the mess. It's got all the good things you want in a suspense thriller—strong-willed characters, twist-a-minute plotting, and a premise that keeps things teetering on the brink between life and death. Perhaps the only thing it's lacking is an obsessive fanbase, and that might just be because it doesn't rely on cosplay-ready character designs and supernatural gimmicks. The world of ES is smart without being pretentious, mature without being sensationalist, and as this volume shows, willing to dive even further into an intense mental battle. As always, the value of humanity is questioned, morality is put to the test, and yes, people die. If the constant escalation should seem monotonous, or the dream sequences too predictable, just know this: by the end of this story arc, you'll see that even godlike beings have weaknesses.

The first half of Volume 4 sees Mine probing into Shuro's mind, an amusing reversal of what typically happens in the series. More than just a cute twist, however, it also reveals the truth about Shuro's past—and uncovers memories he'd much rather forget. For the first time, Shuro loses his cool, and it adds a new dimension to what had been a rather one-sided character. In the past three volumes, he's coasted along with no real challenges, but now that he has to confront his memories of Isaac, this all-powerful character shows that he's not always in full control of his powers. The only letdown is that this subplot resorts to a typical flashback scene, despite its highbrow billing as "going into Shuro's mind." In the end, however, it gives Mine a key insight into the making of an ES.

So how are things going with the enemy? That's what the second half of the book answers, showing more chilling scenes of Isaac manipulating people's minds and causing murders. With spare, understated storytelling, Isaac's acts of depravity cause more of a scare than most "horror" stories do. Perhaps it's the matter-of-fact way that he goes about things... or that cold, heartless stare. It all leads up to a climactic chapter that leaves things hanging beautifully—a satisfying plot point, but one that leaves you longing for more. Unfortunately, the short chapters dilute the effect of that last cliffhanger, as there have been nine other minor cliffhangers already, each one trying to lead into the next chapter. The effect is one of constant escalation, which gets tiring after a while and emerges as the story's main weakness: if you keep going for thrills every 20 pages, it eventually loses its impact as a thriller.

One thing that doesn't lose its impact, though, is the confident artwork throughout the series. It seems that Fuyumi Soryo has never doubted where to draw a line; the sharp, precise style is a perfect match for the analytical (yet intense) mood of the story. Even something as shocking as death is presented with just a handful of sparsely drawn panels, letting the event speak for itself rather than crowding it with sound effects and speedlines. Completely rectangular layouts prove to be no hindrance as well-placed panels take care of the page-turning pace. If the artwork ever gets fanciful, it's only during the dream sequences engineered by Shuro or Isaac, where surreal backgrounds take over and Soryo proves that she can go all-out with detail as well. In this way the line between reality and fantasy becomes clear. Such an understated style has its drawbacks, though; the characters—despite their distinct features—end up having the same vacant expression on their faces about 80% of the time. Yes, perhaps this ongoing battle of superhuman wits has left them too shellshocked to experience any other emotion, but a little variety would be nice.

Much like the art, the dialogue in this series is clear and to the point. Compared to that other popular thriller series, it's refreshing to see a mind game where the combatants can face off without spouting entire paragraphs at each other. The translation avoids any sort of pretense, sticking to everyday vocabulary and style, although a bit of slang creeps in during a scene involving some street thugs. Sound effects are also handled with businesslike efficiency; even the most minor characters get an equivalent English sound placed nearby. A language and culture glossary is provided in the back, although there's not much this time around, as the story and setting—laboratory research and crime investigation—should be familiar to Western readers. Print quality is sharp for most of the book, although the grayscaled marker illustrations look a little blurry; nonetheless, 225 pages of material make it a better value than the typical manga volume.

The biggest problem with ES before this volume was that it centered around a godlike character that was too powerful and one-dimensional to be interesting. Now, however, we see that even reality-bending telepaths have their own weaknesses—especially when they are products of a very flawed, very human experiment. Fuyumi Soryo continues to charge ahead with this quietly intense thriller, showing that a calm, measured pace can be just as effective as shocking melodrama. Even within this subdued mood, new twists and cliffhangers await—a mind-controlling killer can't go ignored when victims start popping up everywhere. And the only man who can stop him can't hide in the shadows anymore. It was interesting enough when a veritable god was interacting with humans; now it gets even better as that god comes face to face with his own devil.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : B
Art : A

+ Tension-packed story and artwork, with new insights into the main character.
Constantly escalating twists and cliffhangers might get tiresome after a while.

Story: Fuyumi Soryo
Art: Fuyumi Soryo

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ES (manga)

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ES (GN 4)

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