Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
From the New World
Many years in the future, humanity has gained the power of “magick.” Children develop this innate skill sometime around puberty, at which point they graduate from elementary school and enter into special magickal training. Their world seems peaceful and loving...as long as their powers appear, they don't break the rules, and they don't get too curious. For Saki Watanabe, these rules are more difficult. Naturally curious and late to develop in magick, Saki embarks on a series of adventures that will ultimately challenge her view of her peaceful world.
We all keep things from children. It can range from small details to major information, but we always like to think that we only do this in the child's best interest. After all, what they don't know can't lead them to dangerous places or ideas, right? That seems to be the thinking in at least part of Toru Oikawa's manga adaptation of Yusuke Kishi's award-winning science fiction novel From the New World. In this story, some unknown terrible thing has befallen humanity. Now people live in a cloistered community, and there's even some question as to whether there are any people left outside of Japan. When children hit puberty, they develop the ability to use “magick,” which is basically a form of telekinesis. Once this happens, they move from primary to secondary school, where they begin to learn about their skills...although not, it seems, about the world around them. Saki Watanabe is a bouncy, cheerful girl who dreams of exploring the world beyond the town she lives in. Her magick comes in late, which worries her, but soon she's with her old primary school friends, having fun at the secondary school. It all looks fine and dandy, but Saki senses a darker undertone to her life. This encourages her to keep questioning the system, which by the second volume is starting to get her into a lot of trouble.
Perhaps the greatest strength of these two books is the way that the looming sense of danger is portrayed. Shadows lurk, allowing us to imagine greater monsters than we might actually see. Hints are dropped, but answers are withheld as long as possible, letting our minds roam freely. Essentially Oikawa and Kishi let our own imaginations do the work, even in this visual medium, invoking a degree of foreboding experienced by the characters as well. This encourages immersion in the story, and that certainly pays off.
The two main characters we follow across these volumes are the aforementioned Saki and her childhood friend Shun. Between the two of them, we see a world guided by unreliable adults who clearly have their own agendas. The welfare of children, it seems, is not based so much on their value as humans, but more on what they can do for the adults, and the world, in the future. Once we figure this out (which is pretty early in volume one), the books acquire the air of a surreal chess game, with the adults moving the children where they want them. We can probably all remember a time when we felt manipulated by grown-ups; From the New World makes that time you got tricked into taking out the trash seem positively fun. In other words, this is a frightening look at the power the adult wields over the child – and what little the child can do about it.
Powerful as the writing and the story in general are, this manga adaptation's art drags things down. It is not that Oikawa is not a good artist – he shows some very impressive skill, particularly in terms of backgrounds and the grotesque faces of the subhuman morph rat characters – but rather that all of the girls are sexualized to a ridiculous degree. Clothing is skin tight and low cut even when it doesn't have to be, the better to show off breasts and butts. Crotches bulge to the point where we find ourselves questioning whether or not Maria's a hermaphrodite, and overall the way the girls are drawn is a distraction rather than a bit of fanservice. Also off-putting are the graphic lesbian sex scenes. There's nothing wrong with having them, but there really doesn't seem to be much of a point to them besides prurience, particularly the threesome in the bath early on. They feel as if they were put in the story to attract an audience that wouldn't normally read serious science fiction and don't really enhance the character relationships at all – in fact, in the case of Saki, they simply serve to create confusion about her feelings.
Apart from the gimmicky feel to the spelling of “magick,” Vertical's translation of the books is very readable and engrossing. The manga really feels like it was adapted from a novel that was good enough to win awards, and the natural way the characters speak helps to keep it flowing. The small trim size makes this a very easy travel book and comfortable to hold, although images run a little close to the spine at times.
From the New World's first two volumes begin a fascinating and yet unsettling story of a possible future with no transparency. It is easy to get pulled into Saki's world and to encourage she and her friends to question it, even when the consequences become dire. The art can get far too sexualized, and the story itself gets very dark and disturbing, but if you're looking for something new in the dystopian way, this adaptation of Yusuke Kishi's novel is absolutely worth checking out.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B-
+ Fascinating story that is hard to look away from, even when it gets disturbing. Nice, even translation and mostly immersive art.
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