By Aki Irie. Released in Japan as “Hokuhokusei ni Kumo to Ike” by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine Harta. Released in North America by Vertical Comics. Translated by David Musto.
If you enjoyed Ran and the Gray World but wish it had 100% less of that one creepy guy, then this may be the title for you. It’s the author’s followup to that series, after she took a vacation around the world, including driving around Iceland. That informs this new work, which does star a tall, handsome and difficult to like fellow, but this one is the protagonist, and far easier to get along with. In fact, over the first half of this volume I was wondering if this was going to be an episodic title, with each chapter having Kei solving a different problem using his detective skills and ability to talk to machines (which might be the same as his grandfather’s ability to talk to birds). But it does pick up a plot in the second half, and it’s darker than I expected. His aunt and uncle are both dead, and his younger brother is in Iceland and says he’s innocent… but Kei is the only one who believes him.
There’s a sort of odd supernatural-ish tinge to this title, but unlike Ran and the Gray World it never quite dips its toe into the genre full speed. Kei, as I noted, seems to be able to speak to the soul of machines, particularly the car he’s driving around Iceland. There’s also Lilja, a young Icelandic girl Kei’s age, who’s introduced to us in a way that makes the reader wonder if she really exists or is some sort of spirit. Later on, she seems far more real – she’s the niece of a woman who’s dating Kei’s grandfather, and her introduction after the initial chapter is very much meant to be a “romantic interest ahoy” sort of thing, though I was very amused that after he interrupted her without clothing – twice – she insisted on ripping off his boxers to get her own back. Is she a normal girl? Probably as normal as Kei, and she seems to be good at hearing the truth behind sounds – which sets up the cliffhanger, which may put her at odds with Kei.
As you’d expect with this author, the art here is gorgeous. Lots of stunning Icelandic landscapes, striking men and women, and even an action scene or two – there are some lovely poses here. I suspect this may be the lightest volume of the series, which likely will get deeper into the behavior of Kei’s brother next time. But it’s a terrific read, never feeling boring even as you realize that not a lot has happened for the first hundred pages or so. Kei acts like an ass a lot of the time, but as his grandfather notes, that’s very much a front – and, I suspect, a contrast to his brother, who is seen in Kei’s flashbacks to be young, weak and somewhat hapless, but I’m fairly sure isn’t. That said, I’m not sure I’m ready to think him evil either.
This series does what most really good manga want to achieve – makes me really want to read more. Definitely worth a read. Also, what a title.