by Zac Bertschy,


G.novel 6

Saikano GN 6
As the war rages on, Chise finds herself fed up with being the ultimate weapon and implores Shuji to run away with her where nobody can find them. They come upon a bay village where Chise starts working at a ramen shop and Shuji finds work at a fishery, but their domestic bliss (however impoverished and desperate it may be) doesn't last; someone from the military catches up with Shuji and asks him to kill her just as Chise's all-important antibiotics run out...
Relentlessly sad and depressing, Saikano sells itself as both a touching romance and a character study, but in truth it's a very visceral and heartbreaking war story that focuses mostly on human pain, suffering and even brutality in times of absolute crisis. There's been a rash of stories like this in popular media lately, including Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds and even the Sci-Fi channel's remake of Battlestar Galactica. Saikano focuses a little more on the relationship between two lovers than those two American productions did, but particularly with this penultimate volume, the heartache and destruction are turned up. It's a difficult read, not for the sensitive or easily upset, but it's certainly worth your time.

Saikano has never been easy reading, and with the particularly thick volume six, the going gets even rougher for poor Shuji and Chise. While the basic storyline seems to be following Shuji's growing sexual attraction to Chise and their final “normal” days in a tiny bay town, it's pretty clear that the message in this volume is that war reaches every part of a country engaged in it, and that death, chaos and pandemonium will destroy even the most innocent of villages. In a manga with so many messages about so many things, it's hard to pick out a prevailing viewpoint this story is trying to get across, but the “war” message stands out the most, and it's a pretty potent and well-executed message at that. In terms of having a serious emotional impact on the reader, few can match Saikano's depth.

That said, Takahashi does lay it on a bit thick. There isn't a single interpersonal relationship in Saikano that doesn't end in tragedy and everyone's always dying or suffering or cheating on their lover or lying. Shuji asks himself questions – literally talking to his genitals in some scenes – that raise a few interesting (and cynical) points about young men, and Chise is basically a walking challenge of the Japanese concept of femininity, a concept that's brought to a head in this volume when Chise lands a job and is able to feed both herself and Shuji much more effectively than he can. Add to this that the world's most powerful weapon, the one that's effectively destroying all of humanity, is a teenage girl, and you have some pretty strong comments on Japanese femininity and women's role in society. It'd probably be more effective if played a tad subtler, though; as it is the book is so message-heavy it's a difficult read at points. Occasionally, the characters stop being characters and simply become vessels through which the author speaks. It doesn't happen very often, thankfully, but it adds to the notion that Saikano is a little more didactic than it needs to be.

Drawn with a sketchy, somewhat minimalist style, Saikano's words pack a much stronger punch than its art, which is really something in its favor. Even scenes of physical and emotional devastation are drawn with a wispy, almost line-art feel that make the book much easier on the eyes than it could have been. What this effectively does is counterbalance how heavy and depressing the proceedings are; frankly, it's a brilliant balance of literary tone and aesthetic, and in some cases becomes a borderline satire of standard shoujo romance illustration. Here we have two doomed kids, one of them having nearly wiped out all of humanity, on the brink of death in each other's arms at the end of the world, and it's illustrated like Nana or Boys Over Flowers. Not exactly, per say, but it's a similar shoujo style.

In terms of story progression, Saikano is paced pretty well and with volume 6 you get a monumental number of pages, considering the price is a standard $9.99. This penultimate volume moves things right along and there's hardly space to catch your breath (although this could be because there's very little dialogue during large chunks of the book). In the end, Saikano isn't for everyone; anyone looking for escapist fantasy will only find the absolute depths of human suffering in Saikano. But for those looking for something harsher and deeper, with a fascinating series of messages and some gorgeously minimalist art, Saikano will be worth every penny.
Production Info:
Story : A-
Art : B+

+ Heavy-duty storyline, beautiful art
Maybe a little too heavy-duty at point, needlessly didactic

Story & Art: Shin Takahashi
Mechanical design: Shin Takahashi

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SaiKano (manga)

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Saikano (GN 6)

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