Saikano (aka: Saishuu-heiki Kanojo) Vol. #03 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, February 05, 2005
Release Date: Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Translated by:Yuko Sawada
What They Say
Shuji and Chise, a teenage couple in a small town, struggle to nurture their relationship while keeping Chise's identity a secret - She's been engineered to be the Ultimate Weapon for Japan's military force.
When Chise chooses to meet Shuji for a date instead of going on a combat mission, her decision has calamitous consequences. While waiting at the rendezvous spot, Chise is shocked to find out Shuji's been with his former girlfriend.
The Review: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
At the end of the last volume, and earthquake was hitting the high school Shuji and Chise attend. But with her weapon systems not fully under control, Chise isn't able to completely hold back the response to danger her body cries out for. The two of them leave the school, but the head count of surviving students shows them missing. The Self-Defense Forces come to claim Chise, who is "broken" from her effort to restrain herself. Shuji loses his temper and yells at her, then demands that she meet him that night at the observation deck that overlooks the town, their special place. When Shuji returns to school, it leads to an ugly confrontation between him and Akemi, Chise's best friend who also secretly loves Shuji.
When Shuji starts out to the observation deck, he comes across Fuyumi, the woman he had slept with when he was only 13. The devastation of the earthquake is everywhere, and Fuyumi is injured. He takes her home and tends to her wounds, which leads to more. Meanwhile, Chise leaves her unit to go see Shuji. But he never shows. Meanwhile, men are dying on the battle field because of her absence. When Shuji finally arrives early in the morning, he tells her everything, which leads to them breaking up. But it's never that easy.
Saikano, short for "Saishu Heiki Kanojo" or "She, the Ultimate Weapon", is an extraordinary story. Takahashi's combination of high school romance and war drama is a surprisingly good fit. His writing story is full of pain and anguish, but it's never over-the-top. It's never played to extremes. Instead, it all comes off very honestly, with real emotions and believable motivations. His style of story-telling is uniquely paced, with scenes of terrible tragedy leavened by gallows humor, or characters popping into cartoonish caricatures during emotionally powerful scenes. And it always works. The art style is goes from thick, strong linework to wispy thin, giving an almost watercolor feel. Scenes of real power are masterfully handled, such as Chise's threat to level the town if the SDF attempts to stop her from seeing Shuji.
Viz is doing an excellent job with this title. The art reproduction, which must be quite difficult with artwork like this and so much screentoning, comes out quite well. I didn't see any noticeable moiring, and all the varying shades of gray looked good and sharp. Takahashi's almost delicate linework looks very good as well. Lance Caselman's adaptation is beautiful, heartbreaking and funny at the same time. It walks that thin line between accuracy and naturalness with skill and subtlety. All sound effects are translated and retouched into English. It all looks very natural and fits in well with the artwork. Interestingly, this book is completely about the story. There isn't a single advertisement page. It's Saikano from front to back. Even the "Hey, you're reading in the wrong direction" page is printed on the inside back cover. This volume, because of the sexual situations, came completely shrink-wrapped and with a warning label printed on the wrapping, not the book. There is a bit of nudity, but within context of the story, it's appropriate and not terribly stimulating. The front cover shows Shuji and Chise sitting on the floor of the observatory, being boyfriend and girlfriend, sharing a Coke and reading a book together. The back cover uses an image from inside the book of Shuji in his dirty and torn school uniform behind Chise, wrapping her in his arms. Everything on the back cover is printed in purple, and there's a small thin purple bar across the top of the front cover with "editor's choice" and Viz logo printed on it. The front cover has that same soft watercolor feel of much of the artwork inside the book, with the pale colors reinforcing that impression. It all works effectively, giving the book a strong presence, without grabbing the reader by the lapels.
Saikano continues to impress me with its emotional honesty and frightening intensity. Shin Takahashi makes us care about his characters, and their struggle to maintain their relationship under the most extraordinary circumstances. It's an amazing story, told amazingly well.
Mania Grade: A+
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
Orientation: Right to Left