Reviewby Casey Brienza, May 14th 2009
Rakan Sawa is an orphaned high school student who lives alone in his grandfather's house, surrounded by a glorious garden. Then one day out of the blue, he finds an unconscious man lying amidst the flowers—who turns out to be from another world! The man's name is Chigusa, and the world he comes from is one of bleak and barren desert where virtually nothing grows and the sun never shines. Which is unfortunate, given that plant life is the basis of all their technology! There is a prince in this other world who is offering the people salvation, but Chigusa knows that the prince is really the enemy. So why does Rakan look just like the prince? And why do things from this other world grow spontaneously when Rakan lays his hands upon them?
Do not ask yourself what business a parallel universe fantasy about a bishounen whose touch causes plants to grow has been titled Silver Diamond. It just spoils the fun. And Shiho Sugiura, who made her debut in 1994 with the boutique publisher Tousuisha, certainly knows that girls (and women) who are passionately devoted to her fantasy-laced tales of boys with ambiguous feelings for each other just want to have fun.
And as long as you do not take the plot premise of Silver Diamond too seriously, that is exactly what this epic, ongoing manga series is: fun. And lots of it. The story begins innocuously enough, with Rakan, a pretty boy and his big bouquets of flowers that he passes around every day at school. He seems awfully privileged and independent for a high schooler; all of his relatives are dead, but he has been bequeathed with a considerable inheritance, so he lives by himself in a nice house and cooks his own meals.
However, even he never began to suspect the extent of his inheritance. In the wake of the appearance of a mysterious, self-healing man with a gun made out of a tree in his flower bed, Rakan learns that he is a “soname,” a person with the miraculous ability to make plants grow just by touching them. Don't stop now to think about any of these particulars; you will just be disillusioned by the patent ridiculousness if you do. Anyway, the mysterious man in question, named Chigusa, is determined to 1) protect Rakan, and 2) take him back to the other world where he came from. Creatures called Ayame are sucking what little life there is left out of Chigusa's world, and only with a genuine soname like Rakan at his side does he have a prayer of thwarting them. Worse still, the Prince (who looks just like Rakan) is an Ayame himself!
This plan is soon complicated, however, by the appearance of new misfit personages from the other world, including Narushige Shigeka, a man born to a family that only desires female children, and Touji Touno, a young man who was born blind. One after the other, Rakan, with his ordinary manners and sense of morality, is able to win their trust, loyalty, and even affection. By the time the Ayame Prince appears in volume three to stir up Big Troubles in our world—and steal away the baby soname that is growing from a tree in Rakan's back yard—Silver Diamond is practically a harem manga.
Those with a taste for the yaoi side of things will love Chigusa's interactions with Rakan. Chigusa's history, after three volumes, is still largely shrouded in mystery, but it's quickly made clear that he has very little in the way of memory and thus very little in the way of experience with the finer points of human interaction. To win Rakan over, he decides—using comically dubious logic—that he ought to make the boy fall in love with him. Needless to say, his seduction style could use some work, and it makes for some really good laughs over the course of the first three volumes.
However, the single greatest highlight of the series thus far is Shigeka's companion Koh, a deadly, talking viper from the other world that looks like a Pac Man gone all snake-shaped. Oh yeah, and Koh also turns into a katana for Shigeka when called upon to do battle. His encounters with our world are hilarious, and you will fall head over heels in love with the snake's many snarky interactions with and observations of the other characters.
Sugiura's artwork is not the greatest ever to grace the face of manga publishing in the United States, but her style is distinctively 1990s, which angles more toward the sublime and ultra-violent than the super-cute. Volumes one and two include lovely, double-sided color inserts. Still, even after nearly a decade, her layouts and background still seem somewhat sloppy and unpolished; fortunately, the story's entertainment value more than compensates for any moderate visual failings.
It should be noted as well that Tokyopop's translation is excellent—pleasing and natural sounding in English. Good translation notes have also been provided which explain the numerous names in the series that are spelled differently in Chinese characters but pronounced in the same way. This is a great license that has gotten good treatment from its American publisher; by time you reach the cliffhanger at the end of volume three, you are likely to be hooked but good.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Occasionally intriguing world-building, great character interaction (with yaoi flavor), and some sublime silliness.
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