Silver Diamond, Vols. 1-4
By Shiho Sugiura
Published by Tokyopop
Rakan Sawa is a relatively normal seventeen-year-old boy living on his own after the death of his mother and grandfather. He likes to study, cook, and take care of the house, and he craves normalcy on all fronts. So he’s got this little issue where the trees and flowers in his yard seem to grow abnormally well, so what? Even when things aren’t quite normal Rakan can do his best to ignore them, and he’s awfully popular at school for all the lovely cut flowers he brings in every day. Unfortunately, all pretense of normalcy flies out the window when a tall, handsome man falls into his backyard from another world.
Among the unfortunate truths that Rakan is forced to face through all this are the fact that he greatly resembles the cruel prince of Chigusa and Narushige’s world (enough to be repeatedly mistaken for him), and that fact that he actually remembers (when he is being honest with himself) that he and his mother originally arrived in the backyard of his house in a manner identical to Chigusa and Narushige’s arrival–landing in a bed of flowers–and that the man he called “grandfather” was just the elderly owner of the house who kindly took them in. The conclusion here is unavoidable, but still Rakan is able to convince himself he belongs in this world, even after another intruder, Touji, arrives to assassinate Rakan and his visitors. It is only when he is finally confronted by Chigusa’s true loneliness that Rakan is able to admit that his place may be with these men on the other world, which only he can save from total destruction.
There is so much charm to Silver Diamond, I hardly know where to begin. As usual, what draws me most is the characterization, so I’ll try starting there. One thing that comes out midway through these volumes is that all the men from the other world who ended up in Rakan’s yard (including the would-be assassin) were considered troublemakers or “useless” in their own world, which of course makes them all the more interesting to us.
Chigusa is from a clan who was wiped out (but for him), and his only memory of his life up to that point is the directive that he must destroy all “Ayame”–beings who live by sucking the nutrients out of the soil around them, killing all plant life. One of the revelations that comes out early on is that the other world’s prince (who looks so much like Rakan) is actually an Ayame disguised as a human, something that only Chigusa has the power to see. When he meets Rakan, his only thought is that he must take this precious Sanome back to his world to defeat the prince. What Chigusa does not expect, is that he will begin to care for Rakan–something that pretty much blows his mind and throws a serious wrench in his plans. His methods of dealing with this issue are alternately sweet and ridiculous as he becomes convinced (thanks to dubious advice from Koh) that what he must do in order to avoid liking Rakan too much is to “seduce” him, so that Rakan will like him more. Fortunately, he actually has no idea what this really means or how to go about it, so he straightforwardly declares his intent in awkward moments, making something that could easily be cringe-worthy into a genuinely humorous running gag. Chigusa is a fierce warrior–an immortal being who feels no pain (his wounds transform into scarlet bandages, to great effect)–but is also charmingly awkward and deeply broken, which makes him a very likable character indeed.
Despite Chigusa’s obvious charms, however, I admit I’m partial to stoic, elegant Narushige–a son born to a family that only has female children. Since his family’s females are the main source of their world’s Sanome, Narushige is not only considered to be worthless, but his birth was also seen as a bad omen for the family and their society. This belief was reinforced by the fact that the Sanome began to decline shortly after his birth, though of course the true cause was the arrival of the Ayame prince. Though Narushige wears a mask of humble stoicism, it is obvious that he actually believes himself to be useless, and even admits this to Koh at one point early on. It is his dynamic with Koh, actually, that is a great part of Narushige’s charm. Though Koh is officially a weapon–one that Narushige uses wisely and well (“Koh. Don’t do that. There’s no antidote for your venom,” he says coolly in the company of the prince)–and can even turn into a sword when needed, it is his personality that Narushige truly treasures. Fascinated with language and endlessly talkative, Koh stands in stark (hilarious) contrast to Narushige’s cool elegance. It is clear, however, that Koh has been Narushige’s only friend for years, and they tolerate each other with humor and affection.
Touji is the character least explored by the end of the fourth volume, though as a “numbered child” he is considered useless to his family and the world. His desire to perform an important task for the prince in order to finally be considered useful is really quite touching, and it’s difficult to dislike him even before he finally becomes accepted by the others. Flabbergasted by Rakan’s insistence on feeding him, even as a prisoner, it is with these three other men that Touji finally finds a place, something which surprises him more than anyone.
The real heart of the series, however, is Rakan. Sweet and kindhearted from the beginning, as the story goes on he learns to be strong and decisive as well–finally unafraid to be who he really is. It is his warmth and trusting nature that bring the other characters together and it is clear that without him, they would likely have destroyed each other (and themselves) upon first meeting. How Rakan and his mother ended up coming to this world when they did is still greatly unknown, but though much attention is paid to the fact that Rakan truly belongs in the other world, it is this world that made him who he is. Removed from the cruel, cold society in which he was born, Rakan never learned to protect himself against real human cruelty, something which seems to be key to his ability to bring people together. His sense of family with the three men he brought into his home, however, is what makes it possible for him to lead. It is also what drives the story and makes it really work. Though Rakan’s innocence and kindness could easily become cloying in a story like this, it never does, thanks to the wry good humor and contrasting personalities of his cohorts. It is this contrast, too, that keeps the story’s BL hints from becoming too unbelievable to be enjoyed.
Though characters are what I read stories for, Silver Diamond also benefits from strong world-building and a solid (if not wholly original) fantasy plot. The story’s alternate world is very nicely conceived, with some interesting touches, such as tree branches that serve as “guns” (though the oddly pro-gun message mixed with environmentalism is a bit unusual). The plight of that world’s “useless” children is especially poignant, and has only begun to really be explored in the story’s fourth volume. Sugiura’s art is honestly gorgeous, with lovely character designs and just exactly enough detail to be both beautiful and easy to read.
With just four volumes released at this point, it’s hard to know whether Silver Diamond can truly pull off the epic fantasy it has begun, but its characters are so charming and its world so compelling, I can’t wait to find out!
Michelle Smith saysJune 10, 2009 at 10:38 pm
A lovely review, and I’m so very happy that you like it as much as I do.
You wrote, “Despite Chigusa’s obvious charms, however, I admit I’m partial to stoic, elegant Narushige,” and if I think about it, I am, too. And if I think further I’m pretty sure it’s because he’s the Hatori. :)
Melinda Beasi saysJune 10, 2009 at 10:51 pm
What’s interesting, is that I had a few small reservations while reading it, but then when I sat down to write about it, all that came out was love. :D So I think that must be what it’s really all about.
Thank you so much for loaning me these books!
And if I think further I’m pretty sure it’s because he’s the Hatori. :)
Ha! Yes, I can definitely see that. I was thinking that he’s the Doumeki, and his Watanuki is awesomely a snake! :D
Michelle Smith saysJune 10, 2009 at 10:53 pm
I guess Koh does have a little bit of Watanuki’s spazziness. :)
Melinda Beasi saysJune 10, 2009 at 10:57 pm
Though he’s more sure of himself than Watanuki. Heh.