Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Grand Guignol Orchestra
Lucille is determined to confront the four ancient members of Le Senat, but the government has declared he and his orchestra outlaws – will they even survive to reach Le Senat's seat? Meanwhile more truths about the members of the band are revealed, and Eles comes to understand just what it was that caused Lucille to take her in in the first place...and what he plans to do about his sister.
This is it – the penultimate volume of Grand Guignol Orchestra. The series feels a bit short and lacking in general development, but once you realize where things are headed – namely, towards the finale – it is easy to sit back and enjoy the ride. The story opens with Lucille preparing to confront Le Senat, the parliament to his sister's queen, and Eles is all set to learn the truth about these mysterious centenarians. Unfortunately for her, she and the rest of the orchestra have been branded murderers after Duke Rhodonite's death in the previous volume. In their attempts to remain disguised, the group finds themselves in violinist Kohaku's home region. This gives Yuki the chance to explore this final cast member's past. While his past is not as moving as Gwindel's, as bittersweet as Eles', or as twisted as Lucille's, it does shed a lot of light on the character and his motivations, giving him a reason to be the way he is. Unfortunately his is the most typical of all the back stories, with an almost Dickensian flavor that may make it seem too familiar to some readers. Mind you, Dickens rarely wrote about zombies.
In the previous volume, readers were offered a possible explanation for the spread of the virulent guignol virus and may have walked away feeling that they had figured everything out. Kaori Yuki is not an author to let you wallow in self-congratulatory contentment, however. As the truth about Le Senat is revealed, so too is more of the virus' puzzle than we suspected existed. This is one of Yuki's greatest strengths as an author – the ability to construct a mystery that is a seemingly endless conundrum. Of course, such a twisting plotline may not work for everyone, and at times the series can seem hopelessly tangled; however in a shorter work such as this it is more a plus than a minus.
On the subject of confusion, Yuki's layouts certainly fit that bill. Pages are packed with panels and usually crammed with text and tone, making it difficult to smoothly follow the action across the paper. While this particular volume is clearer than most, it still is on the shady side of easy, and you really need to pay attention to fully understand what's going on. In some cases, such as time period, that extra attention will not help you. Yuki seems torn between the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, borrowing liberally from all three with the result that anyone with any knowledge of historical costume will be tearing their hair out. Technology is similarly confused, with the coexistence of contemporary guns, early cars, and no electricity creating something that is way beyond steampunk and into the realms of the bizarre. Viz's translation compounds this by having the characters speak in contemporary idiomatic English. While it is a perfectly fine English adaptation, when combined with the period-confused tech and dress, it does little to alleviate muddiness.
This volume spends more time on Lucille's sister Gemsilica/Cordie, and some of the mystery behind her transformation is revealed. As Lucille grapples with the reality of who and what his sister has become, he is also forced to confront his feelings for Berthier and Eles and the truths about his relationships with them. The Berthier question has a much more vintage Kaori Yuki feel to it than the Eles one, and overall is the better piece of character development for both Berthier himself and Lucille. The Eles moments feel rushed and perhaps a bit out of tune. Fortunately the revelation about Lucille that accompanies it more than makes up for it.
With the story moving closer and closer to the queen at its heart, along with the French influences in the world's language, one begins to see a link between Lucille's quest and Revolutionary France. “You vex me...how you vex me!” Gemsilica says at one point, looking down on her subjects. It is easy to see her as a villainous Marie Antoinette, callously telling her peasants to eat cake if there is no bread. While it would not be fair to call this a Gothic Rose of Versailles, the overtones are there, making one wonder if the guignols are not some sort of metaphor for the mindless masses who do as their leaders decree...under she tires of them.
In the grand scheme of Kaori Yuki's English translated works, Grand Guignol Orchestra falls somewhere between Count Cain/Godchild and Fairy Cube. It is not as fascinating as the former, but better put together than the latter. Deeply Gothic, nicely mysterious, and well – if not somewhat confusingly – drawn, this penultimate volume moves us rapidly towards an ending that may very well mimic those of many of the original fairy tales – by being deadly.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Mysteries upon mysteries keep you guessing, good development for several characters, interesting possible French Revolution metaphor.