After all the buzz about Tokyopop publishing this series in the wake of its anime adaptation, I'm surprised by how average it's turning out to be so far. Creative Talent:
After all the buzz about Tokyopop publishing this series in the wake of its anime adaptation, I'm surprised by how average it's turning out to be so far.
Writer/Artist: Natsuki Itsuki
Translated By: Yuya Otake
Adapted By: Clint Bickham
What They Say:
In 2436 AD, young twins Thor and Rai are living on the space station Space Colony Juno. Their entire lives are turned upside-down when one day they discover their parents are murdered, and then they are kidnapped and ushered to the foresaken "Planet of the Beast King" by unknown masked men.
The twins must fight for their very survival in this bizarre, harsh world, infested with giant carnivorous plants and populated with criminal outcasts from across the galaxy. Not only that, they must confront the "Beast King" if they ever want to even hope of leaving the planet!
What We Say:
Take your standard Tokyopop paperback, glue two of them together, and you've basically got your packaging for Jyu-Oh-Sei Volume 1. The printing, like most paperback in this price range, looks okay but not spectacular: the worst of it is that white-on-black text can sometimes be hard to read. Excluding the front cover, the entire book is printed in black-and-white. A few of the chapter intro pages are printed in a muddy grayscale that implies they were converted from color.
A couple of small extras are included. There's a two-page planetary map of the Vulcan Star System where the series takes place, followed by a timeline of planetary exploration from 1999 to 2436 (present day from the series's perspective). Author Natsumi Itsuki includes a one-page postscript thanking the people she worked with during Jyu-Oh-Sei's print run and its more recent anime adaptation.
The art is mostly good, with some glaring exceptions. The landscapes are generally very well done -- the native wildlife of Kimaera has a pleasing organic look to it and some really wild designs. Not so much a critique as an observation, the character designs have a strong 80s manga vibe to them: short haired women, effeminate men, and bandanas everywhere.
The downside of the artwork is that there're a lot of inconsistencies in that 80s-influenced character artwork. The most egregious are the lengths and proportions of necks that never seem to stay the same; I also noticed a few panels where legs are contorted in ways that human legs aren't meant to bend. I'm willing to cut Itsuki some slack on the small stuff since she probably didn't have the luxury of computer-assisted "cheats" when Jyu-Oh-Sei first started; but still, it's kind of hard not to snicker at a page-height illustration of Third that looks like he dislocated both of his ankles.
The English translation reads well for the most part. A few very weird inconsistencies stuck out at me during the intro chapter; for example, the planet Kimaera is said to have 181-day-long days caused by its "irregular self-regulated rotation". Manga authors obviously aren't above peppering their stories with pseudoscience, but with two glaring contradictions in the same sentence I have to wonder if something was lost in translation.
SFX have been touched-up with English equivalents in some places, and kept untranslated in others. Honorifics have been removed from the English language adaptation.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Until recently, the twin brothers Rai and Thor Klein have lived lives of privilege among the elite of the third planet of the Vulcan Star System, a futuristic settlement that shares an uneasy relationship with its mother planet Earth. The brothers return home from school one afternoon to discover that their parents have been murdered and that they themselves have been sentenced to live on the secret prison planet Kimaera. A computer aboard the prison capsule gives them some information about their situation; a governmental official who worked with the Klein family ordered that their parents be killed and that the twins be exiled to Kimaera, although though neither Rai nor Thor seem to know exactly why their family was targeted. The computer also fills them on the makeshift societies that have formed to combat Kimaera's harsh environment: its 181 days of daylight followed by 181 days of frigid nightfall are incredibly effective at culling out the people who aren't willing to band together for survival.
When Rai and Thor land, they try their best to integrate themselves into Kimaera's society of "rings" segregated roughly by skin color. They seem to run into some luck with two natives of the dark-skinned Ochre Ring who take them in and offer them some survival tips; but the twins flee when they overhear plans to offer them to the Ochre Ring's leader (who goes by the unfortunate title of "Top" in Kimaeran society). The series's first conflict kicks in when the men trail the two boys into the wilderness to try to kidnap them back, forcing Thor to kill one with a light saber conveniently hidden in his backpack.
A group of yado -- men unassociated with any ring -- are impressed by Thor's survival skills and take in the twins, while quietly warning Thor that his brother's whininess is bound to kill both of them by next nightfall. The two never quite get that far together, as hunters from the Ochre Ring eventually come to punish them for killing an Ochre taxpayer. Thor gives Rai time to escape off into the wilderness -- and subsequently out of the storyline -- by killing off one of their pursuers. This just makes things worse for Thor, since his new victim was the Ochre Ring's "Second" (in command).
Thor's salvation comes with the conveniently timed arrival of Tiz, the acting leader of the women's ring. The women on Kimaera have a kind of special status because they make up less than 20% of society but control all the reproductive power; so when Tiz decides spontaneously to make Thor her husband, Ochre's "third" reluctantly gives up the chase. Thor is completely uninterested in Tiz's affections (especially when she asks to carry his first child -- a normal request by Kimaeran standards, but weird for an outsider like Thor) and prefers to spend most of his time plotting to overthrow the Beast King, the single person on Kimaera with the power to leave the planet.
All right, I 'fess up. I read my review copy of Jyu-Oh-Sei Volume 1 almost as soon as it arrived, but for months since then I've let it sit at the bottom of my review pile. Whenever it came time to whittle down my review pile, I was willing to let other titles take precedence for two basic reasons: Jyu-Oh-Sei Volume 1 is long, and it's mediocre.
I think a lot of the reason this release feels so mediocre is the frustrating way that Itsuki throws out germs of ideas and then repeatedly fails to follow through on them. Identical twins who like to take each other's places? Sounds rife for some clever plot twists, until one of them is gradually written out of the story. Primitive societies pushed to the brink of collapse by a harsh environment and almost no natural resources? Well, primitive until around the second chapter, when the characters start producing machine guns, hoverbikes, and bulletproof vests out of thin air. Strong female character? Eh, have her fall in love with the hero and get an instant spine-ectomy. I wasn't a bit surprised when Itsuki admitted in the afterword that she worked on this series off-and-on for close to a decade; it reads exactly like the kind of story that got picked up every so often, dusted off, worked on a little bit, and then shelved again for a while.
As frustrating as these underdeveloped plot threads are, they don't mean that this release is actually bad. Take them away and you're left with a basic science fiction survival tale that's occasionally creative, more frequently shallow, but nevertheless always readable. For genre fans, being consistently readable is probably a strong enough endorsement; but for most readers, this release is right at that threshold where I don't want to totally dismiss it, but I can't earnestly recommend plunking down $15 on a blind buy either.