A manga about flight and friendship that could use a bit of retooling in spots, but is a beautiful read overall.
Writer/Artist: Toriko Gin
Translation: Christine Schilling
Adaptation: Brynne Chanlder
What They Say:
When Jack, a wartime field medic, decides he's seen enough of war and leaves, he gets more than he bargained for - his travels take him through the mountains, where he meets a young, winged boy! After nursing him back to health, he realizes the child must be one of the "bird-folk" of legend. Though they soon become friends, the rest of the boy's tribe isn't so quick to accept the human... In fact, they want him dead!
What We say:
The front and back cover for Song of the Hanging Sky present a couple of images that contrast interestingly. The front cover features three members of the “Bird Men” tribe, dressed in traditional costumes and coloured beautifully with watercolors. On the back cover is Jack, staring distractedly over his shoulder while he tries to write in his journal (and his dog nudges him for attention).
Song of the Hanging Sky is about a mythical race of people who are inadvertently caught up in the worldly affairs of humans, especially war. There's obviously a story going on between the front and back covers that's worth getting into.
The end of the manga contains a postscript from Toriko Gin that talks a bit about influences, challenges encountered during the creative process, etc.
The artwork in Song of the Hanging Sky is a curious mix. On one hand, the Bird Men are a beautifully-drawn race, etched in details common to aboriginal tribes. On the other hand, their faces have a uniform look which makes it hard to tell characters apart. Bird Men lose their wings as they grow older, which does help to distinguish one from another age-wise.
The manga's backgrounds also have a tendency to be bare and empty, but given that the story takes place in snowy isolation, it's to be expected.
The manga's protagonist, Jack, speaks a different language from Nut, the Bird Man he takes in at the start of the story. As a result, the manga is presented in a mix of English and chirps. From Jack's perspective, the Bird Men speak like birds; from their perspective, Jack speaks gibberish. It puts an interesting spin on the dialogue, though towards the middle of the manga everyone speaks English and the bird-speak is left behind.
Otherwise, Song of the Hanging Sky's localisation is much what you'd expect. Nuts (whose name is changed to 'Hello' after his contact with Jack) is an energetic teenager who doesn't understand the dire trouble his fading Tribe is in. The Tribe leaders are cautious, rigid and stuck in tradition, and their speech reflects as much.
GoComi has left the original Japanese sound effects intact with English translations running alongside the calligraphy.
Song of the Hanging Sky crosses two destinies: Jack, a recluse ex-soldier finds some unusual company when a winged boy, Nuts, drops into his life. Jack nurses Nuts back to health and even tries to teach him some human speech to little avail. Nuts' tribe returns for him and plot to kill Jack to keep their existence a secret. Jack falls in with the tribe instead, bringing human knowledge to their way of life. In turn, he finds some peace with the Bird Men's uneasy companionship. Growing closer to Nuts, Jack tries to protect the tribe from human eyes even as its prophets dream of “another Day of Destruction,” the cataclysmic event that initially decimated their race.
Song of the Hanging Sky certainly has a unique feeling to it; it's hard to categorise the manga as shonen or shojo. There's action, there's romance and there's an intense bond of friendship between Jack and Nuts that can appeal to anyone.
If Song of the Hanging Sky can be criticised for anything, it would be the jarring perspective changes between Jack and Nuts. With any luck, future volumes of the manga will give us more insight into the Bird Men tribes, doubtlessly the most interesting aspect of volume one. Nuts' elders are sombre, but not solely because of their dwindling numbers. The race actually loses the ability to fly as they grow into adulthood, which visibly makes them a melancholy people. This casts Nuts' people in a very different light from “traditional” stories about flying men, which are always portrayed as a vain, powerful race. Instead, the Bird Men in Song of the Hanging Sky are secretive and drawn into themselves. They make up for their loss of flight through other traditions they hold sacred.
That's not to say that the character Jack is a boring tag-along. He's intriguing in his own ways. Song of the Hanging Sky looks to be a series worth following as it unfolds.