This manga kept surprising me with its deep themes and heavy gore and drama. It was made to be a bit of every genre there is without ending up being a lukewarm soup with no distinct flavor. Plus, it has a conclusion. These things alone are enough to place it quite high in the ranks but there is more.
Quite realistic compared to an average manga out there. The detail in weaponry and machinery is superb and human figures look and act quite lively. Only grip is the rather low variety in characteristics that eventually makes a lot of characters to look alike. And imagine we are talking about a series that has hundreds of them.
Another distinct feature in this manga is the really bloody mess of corpses it depicts. Gore and splatter enough to fill a water reservoir are shown throughout the story resulting to some really edge of the seat moments. Plus, it actually shows a lot of well made hardcore sexual encounters without becoming smut, so good for it. Very few manga have the guts to boldly show this much dread and war realism.
When it finally gets to some really scientific or religious parts, it still shows a lot of graphs and simple depictions of a given science or fringe techno-freak experiments and even then it doesn’t make you feel it’s that improbable.
All the above are given through a line of smart camera angles and cinematics that aid in atmosphere building. The final result is incredible and as I said, the only minor set back is the lack of facial variety as well as some scenes that were made in a rather rushed way and ruined the feeling of the moment. Otherwise, it’s perfect.
The elements in the story vary from religious, to scientific, to romantic, to social tragedy, war drama, erotic exploitation, or simply brainless slugfest. In all occasions it makes a great effort showing the weight of the situation through very close-to-real-life situations. While reading it a lot of other famous works came to mind (check at the bottom at the suggestion list) yet it manages to stand on its own without feeling like a rip off of anything else I have read or watch as of now. That is a really hard thing to achieve and I salute it.
The setting is our world in about a century in the future, when environmental disasters, viral infections and cybernetics have been added to the already basic problems humanity faces today, resulting to a world in chaos at the brink of total extinct by the coming of a new era, both religious and globalized. I must say that it manages to include all basic human folly in it, like racial discrimination, religious hatred, and public cynicism without being afraid to mention real names of areas or religions. It takes lots of guts to do that and it’s probably the reason why it will never be adapted in anime.
The story is very complicated and is shown through the eyes of dozens of different people, in a span of decades, all around the world. Although very few are actually important to the main story, everybody manages to add something to the feeling of the story so nobody is really useless. Also, the social, religious and scientific backdrops shown in the story are presented almost identical to the real-life ones and they are not used as flavor, as they usually do with them. This adds even more to the greatness found in the story as it doesn’t feel amateurish or randomly made based of fallacious stereotypes.
Still, the pacing of the story is not without its minor problems. Most battles are really unnecessary and exist to the most part only as superficial entertainment or cheap shock effect. 99% of all important characters die with a simple headshot, irrelevant to how powerful or careful they are. Thus there is no real agony in wondering if someone survives a battle, as even an elite commando can be killed as easy as an average Joe. Some may think it’s realistic this way but I say it got tiresome and repetitive after the 215th time someone got killed by a sniper out of nowhere. The mangaka himself realized that and dropped all form of dragged action in the last volumes, resulting to most important people just headshooting each other like there is no tomorrow.
Besides that, there are also parts that could be left out entirely as they seem to repeat same situations shown elsewhere better, or simply having far less interest or impact on you or the actual story. Even all the fringe science gets out of control in the last part of the story and everything feels too random and forced by the mangaka, leaving the characters to feel like peons in a game they don’t chose to play themselves.
But that is a really minor aspect compared to the whole planning and duration of the story and in theory can be left out entirely. The story is amongst the most complicating and best planned I have ever seen and deserves a good mark regardless of its flaws. If only there were more like these known to the majority, scores in anime and manga would be far stricter and not an endless parade of 8s and 10s.
Although the pacing issues damage the importance and presence of the characters to some extend, it is a downright fact that very few manga have such a huge amount of characters, such a high amount of character development and such a huge pile of corpses lying around. I won’t hide the fact that out of the hundreds of characters in the story, very few manage not to get killed (though headshot most of the times) by the end of the story. Although the main lead Ennoia and his family were more than enough to tell the story, everybody manages to affect it and enrich it through his/her own personal way of life resulting to a multi-layered drama that unfolds from so many points of view that stops being “just another post-apocalyptic story”. The mangaka manages to make them all look and feel real to the viewer and in many cases creates sympathy with them. I myself got to moments I almost cried and I NEVER cry while reading. It was THAT engaging.
Some may of course feel that a lot of drama is forced and superficial as in many cases the worst possible thing happens to the best of characters in almost out of thin air and a lot of people die unnecessary. Yet the story itself focuses on that and offers a whole “useless death” side story, showing how many people can die for not much of a reason at all. Their deaths don’t need to be relevant to the plot or result to something at all. Very few stories have the guts to admit that and I thus excuse all those wonderful characters I liked being killed without so much of an aftermath. Their deaths were meaningless, just as murder is most of the times in real life. Very bold and I liked it.
I won’t lie that some parts felt really unnecessary or far-fetched or dragged out for no reason. But in all this is a great work of fiction that anyone looking for something more mature and better planned than the typical teenager with superpowers goes to save the world and resurrects dead people as easy as changing a shirt. It definitely went in my top 10 manga and I am a veteran who is very hard to please in the first place.
If only there were more like this one around.
Ghost in the Shell
Neon Genesis Evagelion
Full Metal Alchemist
Xenogears – Xenosaga (videogames)