Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Middle school third year Yachiyo is a volunteer extraordinaire – following in her mother's footsteps, she's planning on devoting her life to helping those in need. But an overseas opportunity sours when her plane goes down and Yachiyo finds herself transported to another world. The people think she's the reincarnation of the goddess Sakuya, which Yachiyo has a hard time accepting…until it turns out that the world is just full of people who need her help. What's a volunteer to do but what she does best?
Stories about teenage boys being transported to another world are heavily present in current anime, manga, and light novels. Stories about teenage girls being transported to another world? Not so much, at least not in English translation. That is happily changing, and Seven Seas' release of Jin and Sayuki's Nirvana is one of the latest titles to do so, bringing us the tale of fifteen-year-old Yachiyo, whose death in a plane crash isn't quite as final as it might be.
Yachiyo is one of those manic volunteer characters we typically see starting jack-of-all-trades clubs at their schools – the kind of girl who will help out anyone, at any time. But unlike many of her counterparts, Yachiyo is more focused on working with the needy in the world community, an obsession that looks to have something to do with her absent mother. This is what motivates her to apply for a special overseas opportunity, much to the disgust of her classmates, who see her as a weirdo best left alone. This may make Yachiyo's departure all the sweeter for her – not only is she off to do what she's always dreamed of, but she's also leaving her censorious peers. In any event, her original plans are doomed – when an engine catches fire during her flight, Yachiyo goes down with the rest of the passengers. The next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes in a strange, Mesopotamian-style temple, completely intact and still wearing her school uniform. When she opens the door, she is greeted as “Lady Sakuya,” the local legendary goddess apparently reborn.
This in itself is interesting, as Yachiyo's death isn't just an expedient way to get her to another world. There are no apologetic gods or special opportunities – just samsara, a Sanskrit word that in a religious sense refers to the cyclical nature of death and rebirth. According to the lore of the world she has been transported to, people who die in Yachiyo's reality are reborn, generally as babies, in this one and vice versa. That Yachiyo has been simply reincarnated as herself with her old memories and appearance is a sign that she is the goddess' new form – her karma has brought her to this new life. This not only helps to inform the mythological base that the series is working with, but it also gives Yachiyo a reason to have been who she was before: it was her volunteerism that led to this moment. (Or perhaps she was so passionate about volunteering because she is Sakuya's reincarnation.)
Interestingly enough, the name “Sakuya” is part of the name of the Shinto goddess of blooming flowers, Konohananosakuya-hime, which may suggest a Shinto component to the story as well. That would make sense given the heavy mix of Hindu and Buddhist gods and themes within the volume's mythology, details which creator Jin says were put in intentionally as Easter eggs for readers. While you certainly an enjoy Yachiyo's adventures without recognizing who Hanuman is, knowing those details, as well as spotting religious iconography, definitely adds something to the reading experience. On that note, it might have been nice to have a glossary of Sanskrit terms and gods mentioned in the text, but most of them are easily looked up online if you're curious.
As for the actual story, Nirvana reads like a good old-fashioned shounen adventure. Yachiyo and her first companion Maru Barrah do come to their working relationship a bit abruptly, but their quest to find the Nidana, the twelve disciples of Sakuya, is a good mix of exciting action and small bits of humor. If Maru is a fairly stereotypical character, with “fussing” being one of his defining characteristics, Yachiyo is an appealing mix of strength and uncertainty, making creator Sayuki's hope that she can stand out as a strong female lead in a shounen series feel possible. This volume feels as if it could easily leave out the demographic label, as it works nicely with elements of both traditional shounen and shoujo to tell its story; its sense of adventure and mythological base are much more defining than its purported intended audience.
The flow of the story is not always as smooth and consistent as it can be, with the transition between acclimation and leaving to search for the Nidana being particularly clumsy. Maru also suffers a bit from initial inconsistency, and the profile for Ruuna, who comes in in the second half of the book, does not appear to fit the character we meet, although that could change as she spends more time in the story. Artwork can be very crowded, both in terms of page layout and what happens within each panel, but the iconography is nicely done, and despite the crammed pages panel order is fairly easy to determine.
Nirvana's first volume seems to mark the start of an interesting take on the fantasy adventure, basing itself on themes we don't often see and introducing an engaging heroine in an interesting new world. It could end up dragging depending on how it paces itself from here on out, but right now this looks like a good series to keep an eye on, especially if you're interested in Indian mythology.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Interesting use of mythology and the isekai genre, Yachiyo has potential as a character, nice iconography in the art
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