Reviewby Casey Brienza, Aug 13th 2009
GN 1-3 (Complete Series)
The eleven year old Thor has lived his entire life until now as one of the pampered elite on the Vulcan space colony Juno and aspires only to become a pilot. Then his parents are brutally murdered, and he and his timid twin brother Rai are abandoned on the secret prison planet of Kimaera, where carnivorous plants rule the land and human beings must become “beasts” just to survive. Determined to avenge the destruction of his family, Thor decides that he too must survive, even if he becomes the King of the Beasts in order to do it. His quest for revenge begins in the Ochre Ring, one of four human societies divided by skin color, and with newfound loyal companions, the native Kimaerian woman Tiz and the supremely confident, handsome man known only as Third.
Although she is not quite as decorated as such luminaries as Keiko Takemiya (Kaze to Ki no Uta, To Terra) or Moto Hagio (They Were 11!, Poe no Ichizoku), Natsumi Itsuki is one of the most important science fiction shoujo manga creators in Japan. Her not inconsiderable oeuvre includes epics such as OZ and Yakumo Tatsu, which, while little known in North America, are veritable touchstones in Japan and other Asian countries that consume large quantities of Japanese manga. With the recent animated television adaptations of Hanasakeru Seishounen and Jyu-Oh-Sei, her work is starting to attract more attention here in the West. Unfortunately, even with Tokyopop's release of the oversized three-volume kanzenban edition of the original Jyu-Oh-Sei manga, American readers, ignorant of the cultural and historical context, are unlikely to know what a treasure of the manga world Itsuki is.
And thus, they are more likely than not to pass up the joys of Itsuki's brilliance, in favor of more commercially known quantities such as Fruits Basket or Naruto. In as much as this is the case, it is a terrible shame…because Jyu-Oh-Sei, now fully available in well-adapted (if questionably edited) English, is one of the best manga series to see publication this year. The story, developed over the course of a decade from start to finish, is an operatic example of social science fiction, set in a far future where humanity has taken to the stars and colonized other solar systems. The protagonist is Thor, a pampered colony boy who comes of age on a forbidding prison planet where bloodthirsty plants rule the top of the food chain and eventually learns the terrible secret of his birth, a secret implicated in the future of all people on every world.
As befits a three-volume series, the story is arranged in a three-act structure that roughly (but not exactly) corresponds to each 400-odd page volume. The first follows Thor and his weak twin brother Rai as children as they attempt to cope with their new lives on Kimaera. The second act details Thor, now a young man, and his rise to power as the Beast King of Kimaera. The third act takes Thor back to the stars—and a shocking revelation very much in line with the apocalyptic science fiction popular in Japan in the 1990s. I will not spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that if you thought the use of the Gaia Theory in CLAMP's X was hooky, you probably will not be impressed by the denouement of Jyu-Oh-Sei.
Fortunately, scientifically unsound endings are forgivable, especially when, really, this is social science fiction in the tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin, not hard science fiction, and that is where Itsuki shines. For example, the colonists such as Thor and Rai have a very enlightened view of race, so when they arrive on Kimaera, they are shocked to learn that society there is arranged according to skin color. But lest you think that the Kimaerans are just retrograde barbarians, it must be noted that, although they are about 70/30 male/female, they treat women with the highest level of respect. Women choose their mates—and no one is allowed to question their choice…or refuse it—and a man doing physical harm to a woman is simply unheard of. It seems so improbable in the real world, but there is something undeniably hopeful about the formulation.
Those familiar with the anime will be pleased to hear that the anime does in fact track the story of the original manga quite faithfully. However, there is noticeably more character development of at certain stages. Third's psychology, and how he managed to succeed at what he did, was made much more clear in the manga. But it was Zagi, the eventual Top of the Blanc Ring, who gets the most extra in-depth treatment. At the end of the third volume, there is a whole side story that details his bid to seize the reins of power from the corrupt Baldur.
Those looking solely for beautiful, dynamic eye candy should look elsewhere. Itsuki, who made her professional debut back in 1979, draws in a style that look stuck in the 1980s. Although Jyu-Oh-Sei took about a decade to complete, you really don't see much evolution in her illustrations. Some will surely find her art appealing, and her male characters are without question quite handsome and sexy, but others will want more cuteness, more fanservice, more something akin to 21st century tastes. Luckily, she had an assistant to render all of the far-future technology, so that does not grate on the visual nerves. But even if it did grate on the visual nerves, you would not stay irritated for long—Jyu-Oh-Sei is such a great story that you will be too eager to see what happens next than to see how charismatically Itsuki renders it. Highly recommended to all manga fans.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : B+
+ A great story with great characters from a great manga creator. Economical to purchase in full.
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