Concluding thoughts on these three series.
Feels good to write on here again! I’ve been occupied elsewhere for the last couple of months, but my manga consumption rate remains strong. There’s a bunch of new volumes that I wanted to gush/rant about, but for now I’ll wrap up my experience with these three titles, which I’ve covered to various degrees in this blog.
KOE NO KATACHI/THE SHAPE OF VOICE (Yoshitoki Oima, Vol. 6-7 [Finished])
And thus, one of my favorites from the past year concluded with, if not a perfect and completely ‘neat’ resolution, certainly one that remain consistent with the tone and characterization that Oima had established.
Let’s begin with the penultimate volume, in which my wish to see the inside of Shouko’s headspace is finally fulfilled. Well, not just hers actually, as Volume 6 shifted the focus to everyone else around the comatose main character. Kawai’s portion is particularly revealing, showing the mindset of a young woman so comfortable with her mask that she’s not even fully aware she’s wearing one. There’s also a nice moment when Shouya’s mom reacted very awkwardly to the profuse apology of Shouko’ mom, underlining the contrast and similarities between these two single mothers. The obvious highlight is Shouko though, as indicated by the conspicuous cover design of Volume 6. Shouko faced the aftermath of her suicide attempt with a heart-breaking sort of dignity and resolve, and when the narrative shifted to her perspective, Oima pulled off a nifty trick by obscuring the word balloons of the other characters and making them harder to read (*this effect is missing from my local published version due to editorial oversight, though. C’est la vie).
In the final volume, Shouya wakes up, the kids’ film project is brutally eviscerated by a jackass director, and… things just sort of calmly wind down. It lacks explicitly cathartic moments typically found in the finale of this kind of series, as Oima refused to have Big Moments, spell out the character arcs, and/ or redeem the questionable behavior of some of the characters (most notably Ueno). I can appreciate that. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is exactly this uncompromising honesty and characterization that made Voice so appealing to me. I also love that, while there is ultimately no romantic commitment between Shouya and Shouko, the final moment of the manga clearly illustrates how they have risen above the past together. That’s enough of a catharsis for me.
Yes, there are things that could’ve been better. Some pieces don’t quite fit together, and I do wonder if it has one or two supporting characters too many. While Oima is undoubtedly a great artist with significant amount of creative flair, there are often times when her choice of panel size and facial expression don’t feel like the best fit with the corresponding narrative. Volume 1 also remain the high point of the series, setting a very high bar that the subsequent volumes have a hard time to match.
However, The Shape of Voice is a great series that left a lasting impact, one that feels essential to me on a personal level and whose young author’s exciting development I would continue to follow (here’s an interview in English and a teaser on her new project). This is certainly not the last time the series is mentioned here, especially with a theatrical adaptation coming this season…
ORANGE (Ichigo Takano, Vol.4-5 [Finished])
The final stretch of narrative shifted from typical shoujo romance drama (and thankfully, the stereotypically bitchy senpai) into an emotionally powerful climax as the kids scramble to save Kakeru from his future demise. The way they flail around and mishandle their moves might test the patience of some, but I think it’s fairly realistic and well-thought-out considering the circumstances. In portraying deep-rooted depression and suicidal intent, Takano made it clear that there is no clear cut solution to the situation—sadly, this kind of thing don’t just go away quietly, even if you have kind people around you doing their best to cheer you up. In that regard, the chapter depicting future Kakeru’s POV is an absolute heart-breaker, packing an almost unbearable amount of frustration, guilt, and self-loathing that would eventually lead to the young man’s self-inflicted demise.
Looking back at the series as a whole, I gotta say that reading the entirety of The Shape of Voice and Orange in roughly the same time frame didn’t do the latter any favor. It’s hardly a fair comparison and personal preference (in terms of what kind of characters interest me the most) contributed a lot to this, but after the prickliness, complexity, and subtlety of Voice, the precocious feel that colored most of Orange can feel a bit much. You can certainly find much worse than the budding romance between Nao and Kakeru, but all the furious blushing at the most trivial of gesture + bitchy senpai drama feel tedious and repetitive, especially when the space could’ve been better spent by highlighting Kakeru’s bond with other non-Nao characters and/or providing more nuances to the group dynamic as a whole.
Even so, Takano’s bold and compassionate interweaving of such heavy theme alone is worth the appreciation. Orange is still a recent stand-out in its genre, and a work that I feel comfortable enough to recommend to everyone.
Oh, and the bonus story Spring Coloured Astronaut: it’s basically five chapters of love pentagon, but it’s enjoyable enough fluff in small dose. There’s also the simple pleasure of seeing my favored pairing making it, haha.
GREEN BLOOD (Masasumi Kakizaki, Vol.4-5 [Finished])
Well, it kind of ends with a whimper.
It’s not as if Kakizaki’s Wild West action drama had been spectacular all along—we’re not exactly talking about the manga equivalent to Unforgiven here—but the early going was at least fairly compelling. In comparison, these last two volumes magnify just how the manga’s storytelling couldn’t quite match the level of its sterling artwork. As the brothers Luke and Brad embarked on a journey to find and kill their dastardly father, the mix of caricature villainy, ultra-violence, and sentimental cheese has gotten even more awkward. Tragic black servant an Indians make appearance seemingly just for the sake of it, and the final volume in particular feels very weirdly paced. The final confrontation is executed in sudden and obligatory manner, before we then cut into a post-timeskip ending with a granddaughter and reminiscence of the past. I dunno, the emotional impact isn’t what it should be, and the whole story reeks of having to be finished in a hurry.
That art, though! Kakizaki is a mite too fond of night-time and/or rainy scenery, but the collection of impact frame alone makes the manga worth collecting for me. Horses, guns, and gun men are rendered in loving detail, exuding the kind of intense beauty you rarely find in the medium. I would love to someday see such artwork married to a proper crime drama with tighter narrative than what Green Blood has to offer.